Three questions facing Florida Panthers
Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team -- from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Florida Panthers.
1. Will their goalies hold up?
If this was “NHL 19,” the Panthers would just turn injuries off and the goalie issues would be pretty much fine. After all, Roberto Luongo is a probably Hall of Famer and James Reimer has frequently been an analytics darling who’s probably a platoon-level goalie more than a backup.
Luongo enjoyed a fantastic per-game season in 2017-18, generating a sparkling .929 save percentage. Unfortunately, he was limited to just 35 games played, and while Reimer was better than you’d expect a backup to be (few No. 2 goalies would generate a .913 save percentage, at least in 44 games), it wasn’t enough.
Injuries have been an unfortunate issue for Reimer during certain spans of his career, and they might just be an inevitable reality for Luongo, who’s now 39 and has played in 1,001 regular-season games. That’s a lot of hockey for a skater, let alone a goalie. Considering Luongo’s two stints with mostly-mediocre Panthers teams, many of those games were tough ones where he faced a barrage of shots, too.
Before you send out a Luongo-level snarky tweet, yes, it’s true that Panthers management is aware of the problem.
They went as far as to sign respectable former Jets backup Michael Hutchinson to a one-year, $1.3 million contract.
Such a signing should help avert total disaster, yet despite spending $9.23M on goalies (according to Cap Friendly), the netminder position remains a question for a team that is probably counting every penny spent.
2. Was last season’s hot finish a mirage or a sign of better things to come?
Since Jan. 1, the Panthers generated 57 points (in 44 games), tying them for the seventh-most in the NHL. Their 27 wins ranked fifth during that same span.
Appropriately enough, Florida got hotter as summer neared. From Feb. 1 to the end of the regular season the Panthers went 24-8-2, generating 50 points, second only to the Nashville Predators’ 52. The Panthers scored 111 goals while allowing only 87.
In many cases, struggling sports teams allow themselves to get duped into weighing success in a small sample size as a sign of bigger things to come.
Still, there are some reasons to wonder if Florida might actually be onto something special. Still-new head coach Bob Boughner seemed to find a nice formula, as Nick Bjugstad found nice chemistry with Aleksander Barkov, allowing Jonathan Huberdeau to combine with Vincent Trocheck to form a potent second scoring option.
Naturally, some of that late success also came from question 1 working out, as goaltending was a strength, too.
3. Will Florida’s depth become a strength?
One of the most exciting thoughts for Florida is that, generally speaking, they didn’t suffer any major subtractions (*cough* like last summer *cough cough*), while they made a very interesting trade in landing Mike Hoffman.
Hoffman could slide into one of the Panthers’ top two lines and provide a significant upgrade. If he ended up with Barkov, Hoffman could easily enjoy his first 30-goal season.
The winger with all that drama isn’t the only player who might be able to give the Panthers a boost.
Depending upon how training camp battles go, the Panthers could really buttress their forward corps with some intriguing young talent. Both Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett could land spots on Florida’s roster, thus possibly opening the door for the Cats to go from a top-heavy team to a fairly deep scoring attack.
Could Hoffman and others come together to create a third line? Might the Panthers spread the wealth in some other way?
These are good problems to have, and the Panthers bring an enticing mix of talent to the table in 2018-19.
Of course, the Atlantic Division is rugged at the top, and the Panthers have only made the postseason twice since 2000-01 and didn’t win a playoff series during that span, so this franchise still has a lot to prove.
That said, they also have Barkov ...