Florida Panthers 2005-2006
TEAM PAYROLL: $23,195,718 (4 salaries undisclosed)
GENERAL MANAGER: Mike Keenan; 2nd season as GM
HEAD COACH: Jacques Martin; 2nd season as Head Coach
FORGOTTEN MOVES: The Panthers are a team with a good few forgotten moves. In my opinion, the largest would be the signing of Sean Hill, for a defense that can get all the help they can get. Most on message boards complain about the lack of a big defensive signing, they forget that this was it. Eric Cairns was brought in as well as the new enforcer. Fine, but you can’t help to worry after reading playoff horror stories about him. I hope that he won’t be our new Mathieu Biron. Joel Kwiatkowski and Alexander Karpovtsev are other d-signings; unfortunately, both aren’t much of an upgrade. Jamie McLennan has been brought in as Luongo’s backup; this seems to be a solid move, although I wouldn’t have minded if Steve Shields was kept around instead, as he seemed to have a good personality,(as does McLennan) and a hell of a mask.
TEAM MODE: The Panthers are in a playoff push mode, which may just be possible his season. With Luongo in net, and Martin “The Eliminator” Gelinas, once in the playoffs, the Cats can look to be “that team” you see every year. (I’d hate to use the term “Cinderella”, because everyone else does.)
TO TAKE CHARGE!: This field was made for Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk, who were brought in “To Take Charge!” And that they will, you see the stories of the kids in the locker room, seeing Roberts swigging some power shake, then the kiddies wanting to take hits of it. Something like this was seen in the 1996 Oscar winning Michael Jordan vehicle “Space Jam”, wherein down in the big game, Air Jordan tells the Looney Tunes his secret potion that makes him Mike. The Tunes take hits, then go on and have a great period. When the potion runs out, the Tunes are shocked to learn that the potion was really just water, and that power was in them all along. Will this happen with the Panthers? Not a damn chance, but it was a nice story nonetheless. In seriousness, the two- Gary especially, will give the much needed guidance for the youngsters on this team, and may just provide some of that offense the Cats need so much. I’m not one of those who keep complaining about age, because I know that it’s really about drive, and these two have it. I’m glad that they are Panthers.
ON THE RUSH (OFFENSE): Offense? You can see the potential, but where the hell is the product? With the Cats, it’s all potential, potential, potential. But potential doesn’t get you into the post-season, does it? Let us see the offensive leaders for last season. Goals: Olli Jokinen. Assists: Olli Jokinen. Points: Olli Jokinen. Plus/Minus: Jaroslav Bednar (¿Que?) Power Play Goals: Olli Jokinen What’s that you say? Olli’s still holding out? Threatening to play in Siberia? Ha, ha, heh?aww god. (Jokinen has since signed a one year deal, so the contract issue has been pushed aside for now.) Take him out, and then you have an offense leader of?D-Man Mike Van Ryn. (To those fans of other teams, this is a huge indicator of how things roll in The Den.) God, Van Ryn would be at the bottom of the scoring list on almost any other team. This has been addressed though, with the additions of Jozef Stumpel, Chris Gratton, Martin Gelinas, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk. Here you have mostly middle-of-the-leader-board semi-stars, but that brings some names in for the people watching in Canada to identify, instead of them watching and going “I don’t know any of these people…to hell with this, the Sens are gonna win anyway, put on the Sex Grandma, that’s some quality television, eh?” Also with these semi-stars you get some guaranteed offense instead of?potential. On Special Teams, you’d be surprised to learn that last season, the Cats were 2 nd in the league on the Penalty Kill- and that was during the Rick Dudley days, so that says something. The Power Play was 12th, another surprise. So Special Teams, the one thing that is a weakness for most is one of the Cats’ few strengths. (Again, an indicator of how things roll in Pantherland.) With all the talk of “OMG SPECIAL TEAMS ARE IT IN THE NEW NHL!”, this may lead to some surprises.
COVERING THE D-ZONE: You have Panthers scoring dynamo Mike Van Ryn (I CHALLENGE you to say that with a straight face), who has agreed to accept his QO if another deal isn’t reached. Then we have Sean Hill, he’s been around, scored a few here and there, not a downgrade, that’s for sure. Eric Carins to beat people up and be a skating pylon?Alex Karpovtsev to get a stomach virus at the team luncheon, putting him out for the season?and Joel Kwiatkowski to give the equipment manager hell in putting all those letters on his sweater. And now Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Jay Bouwmeester. Jay-Bo has decided that as he is the only well known D-man in Florida, with him being a stud in International play and all, that he should get a $3mill per season deal. ¿Que? Kid, you do know that Roberto Luongo, the guy who has prevented the Panthers from being demoted to being an AHL team, had a hell of a time getting a $3mil-per deal?who the hell are you? Sure, you have?potential (UGH) but until we see that fulfilled, you have to be paid for who you are in THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE, and like it. The third pickup is going to have to wait J-Bo. (Another instance of chances since writing, Jay has since signed a one year deal.) As you can see, the D-Zone is a mess, but there is some good news, I saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico. (It’s true.)
GUARDING THE NET: Roberto Luongo. I could just leave it at that, and that would be enough. Louie as I said before is the reason that the Cats aren’t the Calder Cup champs. Anyone can say that Louie’s success is based on his “giant” pads, but where they at the BAC last season? Did they see all those times that Louie saved the entire game? Were they there as the crowd went quiet because they just saw a hell of a save and are wondering why Louie doesn’t run off to Russia where he’d be paid 50 trillion rubles by some shady man wearing loafers, and would be guaranteed the championship each season. Louie probably hasn’t done that yet because he does like seeing the sun once in a while, and he knows of the danger that at any moment, a Civil War can break out between the power company and the phone company. (God, I really should just stick to the hockey.) Last season, Louie was nominated for the Vezina Trophy and the Pearson Award, and was the Overall Goaltending winner at the SuperSkills competition. This isn’t potential, this is “it”. Louie has fulfilled his potential, everyone else will have to, and then they can and will get stuff done. Jamie McLennan, as I said before is the new backup, not much to say about him, I’ve heard that he’s a good locker room guy, which is always good to have.
TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION!: Not exactly a kid at 24, Juraj Kolnik is an unsung Cat, 2nd in goals last season. Nathan Horton is a beast, the youngest NHLer in history to score on a Penalty Shot, and was on his way to have a great season before a shoulder injury put a stop to it all. As for prospects, Rostislav Olesz, a player with an odd sense of humor, could make the cut this season. Kendall McArdle is tough as nails, but no one seems to be betting on him making an appearance with the Cats this season. Anthony Stewart is the one that I’m most looking forward to seeing, I have a feeling he’ll be an entertaining player.
(Lookinag at this, one can see that we have four solid lines, DEPTH. And that’s that I left out some other possible NHLers, namely Olesz.)
EXPECTATIONS: Surprisingly, most project the Cats to barely make the playoffs this year, bringing three SE teams into the playoffs this season. Most spit on the Panthers and laugh, saying the Panthers should be regulated. (Which is wrong, we’re 17 th in attendance, better off than their sacred Original Six teams of Boston and Chicago . Look it up.) But the Cats are being taken seriously this season, saving the insults for the Caps.
PROJECTED: I’ll go with the coin toss on this one, flop or surprise. If the Cats indeed make the playoffs, (and with The Thrashers in the same coin toss position (Lethonen injured as of this writing), Tampa’s weakened goaltending, Carolina’s rut and Washington’s unfortunate demotion to the AHL, it may very well happen.) the ingredients of the stud goalie, the vets and the young guns are there that could take the Cats through a few surprise round wins. I hope it goes through, I’ll say: 2 nd in the Southeast, 2nd round exit from playoffs.