Hockey is played on ice by two teams.
Professionally the game is played by an odd number of 31 teams. The Florida Panthers is one of them returning on the ice for the 2018-19 season after falling short of making the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
Under first-year coach Bob Boughner, the Panthers missed the postseason by one point. Panthers were 25-8-2 from January 30th through the end of the season. Including winning five in a row to finish the season. The 52 points they finished with were tied with the Nashville Predators who won the Presidents Trophy for most points in the NHL for that time.
So close. So cold.
The point is valuable. However, the Panthers’ start to the first half of the season last year is what hurt their chances.
That was last season.
It is the Panthers 25th season, will the Panthers be that first half team who were figuring out their left skate from the right or the second half team who opposing teams feared to play because of their streak of winning.
In the NHL the goaltender takes the team to the promise land. For the Panthers that is the face of the franchise, Roberto Luongo.
Age is a factor for Luongo, the future Hall of Famer is entering his 19th NHL season, 11th season with the Panthers and only once has he reached the playoffs with this franchise. Luongo will turn age 40 before the end of this upcoming season. The goaltender has four years left on his 12-year, 64 million dollar contract.
“There is no doubt we are where we want to be,” Luongo said. “We want to be right up there with the best of the league; it will not be a given. It is something you have to work for every night.”
Luongo has missed 89 games the last two seasons due to injury. Off the ice, he has placed the burden on himself when the franchise faces the critics who say South Florida is not a hockey market.
There are concerns at goaltending because of Luongo’s longevity; moreover, can James Reimer carry the Panthers when Luongo is out? 50 starts from Luongo can be a successful season with Reimer filling in at the crucial times.
The bright side for the Panthers, this is a young and talented team. It starts in the center; Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck give the team depth. Barkov made his first All-Star roster last season and was announced as the team’s 10th captain at the start of training camp. Trocheck was an All-Star the 2017 season, last season, he had NHL career highs in points (75), goals (31) and assists (44).
“By game one we will be ready to play,” Boughner said. “We are looking forward to being more aggressive.”
On the defensive side, you have the former number one pick in Aaron Ekblad who has had a roller coaster career. Last season, Ekblad became only the 15th defensemen in NHL history to reach double-digits in goals in each of their first four seasons. Mike Matheson is an underappreciated defenseman.
19 of the original players are expected in the lineup on opening night. One key addition to help with scoring in the offseason is forward Mike Hoffman. He was traded to the Florida Panthers together with a seventh-round pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft for a fourth-round and fifth-round pick of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and a second-round pick of the 2019 Draft.
Hoffman was successful with the Ottawa Senators for four seasons. He needs to take his game to the next level; the fresh start with the Panthers is something both parties can take advantage off.
Panthers are still evaluating the talent of Henrik Borgstrom who was timid in the preseason and will begin the season in the AHL with the Springfield Thunderbirds.
General manager Dave Tallon’s plans for the team remains a work in progress with success and failure, but give him credit him for trying. The Panthers have the personnel to get back on the right path.
Panthers are a playoff team. They can score goals, however, in the Atlantic Division, they have to defeat the bad teams who are below the standings and pile up the needed points to not fall short again. The Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs are teams who raise the bar and have improved from last season.