It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Florida Panthers
How they did last season: 47-26-9 (103 points); 1st in the Atlantic Division; 3rd in the Eastern Conference.
Notable acquisitions: D Keith Yandle; D Jason Demers; D Mark Pysyk; G James Reimer; C Jared McCann; C Colton Sceviour and C Jonathan Marchessault.
Notable departures: D Erik Gudbranson; D Dmitry Kulikov; D Brian Campbell and D Willie Mitchell.
When they will play the Caps: At Florida on Oct. 20; In Washington on Nov. 5.
Analysis: The Panthers captured the Atlantic Division and racked up a franchise record 103 points last season. But a stellar regular season was followed by first-round flameout, a disappointment that prompted ownership to really get after it this offseason.
The Panthers revamped their logo and uniforms. They shook up the front office, hiring a new general manager—Tom Rowe—and promoting Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations, among other moves. They also retooled the roster, focusing primarily on a backend that the organization felt let them down last spring.
Enter Yandle, Demers and Pysyk. Rowe says he wants his defensemen to lead a quick transition game and help create offense, much like the blue lines in Tampa Bay and San Jose that helped carry their respective clubs to the finals the past couple of seasons.
Yandle, who inked a seven-year, $44.5 million contract, is the centerpiece of the additions. He figures to skate alongside Aaron Ekblad on the top pairing while also providing a much-needed punch to a power play that ranked 23rd last season. Since 2009, Yandle has racked up 325 points, a total surpassed by only Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith during that span.
With the Panthers’ top seven forwards all returning—including 44-year-old! Jaromir Jagr—Rowe addressed the bottom six, signing Sceviour and Marchessault and acquiring McCann via trade.
Rowe also bolstered the goaltending, signing Reimer to a five-year, $17 million contract. Roberto Luongo, who is coming off hip surgery, is still the starter, but Reimer will likely be counted upon to spell the 37-year-old more often this season. It’s also possible Reimer will play early on if Luongo isn’t quite ready.
So, yeah, the Panthers were kind of busy the past few months.
Season prediction: There’s a lot to like here.
The Yandle and Ekblad-led blue line appears to be significantly improved. A talented top-6 forward led by Jagr, Jussi Jokinen, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau returns and, assuming there’s no drop off in Jagr’s game, it appears as dangerous as the one that helped the Panthers rank eighth in goals (2.83 per game) last season.
Luongo’s age and hip are a bit of a concern. But that’s why Rowe signed Reimer.
I’ve looked. And I’ve looked again. And I don’t see any significant holes in the Panthers’ lineup. On paper, they sure look like a team that’s ready to do some damage.
Will all the moves result in a long run next spring? It’s impossible to know, obviously. But you can be certain of this much: no one can accuse Panthers’ ownership of not going for it.
2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
— Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
— Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
— Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)
— Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
— Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
— New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
— New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
— New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming soon)