Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Please Check Out The Hockey Writers

I have decided to shut this one down and concentrate soley on my Hockey Writers responsibility. I am the Panthers' correspondant there and will be frequently submitting articles, so please come on over and check it out. It really is turning into an outstanding site. Because of the time it has taken me to actually compose my thoughts into a coherent article instead of just my rambling thoughts, along with plain laziness, I am not going to post anymore on Cat Scratch. Had we made the playoffs last year, I would have continued, of course (hockey players aren't superstitious or anything...). So again, please check out the Hockey Writers and I hope to see some of your comments there! Thanks for taking the time to check my blog out last season, hope you enjoyed.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Noteworthy News From the Past Week(s)

Some news has surfaced that may be of note to a few of you, and the other two people probably won't care. But I'm still going to tell you anyways, because I can. As the Panthers' "Amazing Journey" wraps up it's North American portion of the tour tonight, the Cats have proclaimed Bryan McCabe team captain. The Panthers went through all of last season sans captain, so McCabe will be the first Panther to wear the "C" since Olli Jokinen. Stephen Weiss and Cory Stillman will be the assistants. A perfectly good choice, in my opinion. He's been a captain before, and has been an assistant captain on every team he's played for. The added weight of wearing the "C" shouldn't bother him.

The Panthers are 3-3-0 this preseason. They opened with 2 wins against the Ottawa Senators, then lost 3 straight to Jacques Martin and his Montreal Canadians, Jokinen, Bouwmeester, and the Calgary Flames, and the Edmonton Oilers... who have no Panther ties that I am aware of. The Panthers played in Dallas last night, and despite dressing the minimum 5 NHL players, the AHL heavy Cats beat up on the Dallas Stars. Those Stars will be in south Florida tonight for the Panthers lone preseason home contest. I haven't checked, but I think good seats are still available...

One last note of interest; ESPN.com came out with their preseason power poll, and the Panthers are sitting at a somewhat surprising 8th in the east. While it's far from earth shattering, it is nice to see Florida get a little respect from a major media outlet.

The Panthers head to Finland on Friday for a couple exhibition games against SM-Liiga teams before opening the regular season with the Chicago Blackhawks on October 2nd. Until then...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

2 Short Weeks Away...

The Florida Panthers now have 2 preseason games behind them, and they are 2-0-0! Unfortunately, the real games don't start until October 2nd.

For those interested, I have a full season preview now up on the Hockey Writers. To be honest, I'm not sure how much of my immediate, post-game reactionary blogs I'll get to on this site, but will certainly have weekly recaps or items of note on the Hockey Writers. We shall see.

As for the Panthers, they are slowly but surely instilling confidence and optimism in this fan. Their defencemen are now a respectable bunch, top to bottom. Dennis Seidenberg is the latest addition and will join Keith Ballard, Bryan Allen, Bryan McCabe, Jordan Leopold, and Ville Koistinen. That's not a bad list...

The offense might take some time to come together, but there is potential. Obviously Horton, Weiss, and Booth will be leaned on strongly to provide the biggest punch. But a Stillman, Reinprecht, Frolik line generates interest. Maybe a Dvorak, Campbell, Olesz line can be this year's CPR line, the COD line, if you will. Throw in Matthias\Repik, Kreps, Tarnasky for some size and toughness, and who knows? (I have heard Nasty Nick may be out up to 6 weeks with a broken bone in his face, but haven't seen anything for sure.)

In any case, there are a lot of unknowns going into the season. Enough unknown that I can and will hope for the best, at least until I am proven wrong yet again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Finally September!

Now now, don't pout. Even though it appears as though all that waiting will be for nothing, the season is approaching none-the-less. Summer has come and gone, and barring some minor miracles, we know the players who will be fighting it out for ice time come October. Training camp officially opens up in just a couple short weeks (although informal practices have been going on down at Incredible Ice). While we know that the David Booths and Nathan Hortons will be there, it will be interesting to see which of the rookies will do enough this pre-season to warrant a starting spot come October 2, and there will be starting spots available.

Defensively, this team will need rookies to have an immediate impact. It looks as though the top 4 is set, with Brian McCabe and Keith Ballard returning from last season, Bryan Allen returning from his injury-cancelled season, and Jordan Leopold coming down south from the Great White North. The final pairing should be an interesting fight between "veteran" Ville Koistinen, 2009 draft pick Dmitri Kulikov, and NHL rookies-to-be Keaton Ellerby, Jason Garrison, and Clay Wilson. Knowing Pete DeBoer like I do, which is to say like any fan "knows" a coach, I'd expect everyone to enter camp on September 13 with a clean slate, and the better performers will see the ice in October. Should anyone slip, someone will be fighting to take their place. And on the optimistic note I try to keep here, competition only leads to better performance, so our defense might not be as bad as initially feared.

On the scoring front... do I really want to get into this? Maybe I should just put it like this. If a bunch of "ifs" come true, we could do OK this year... IF our draft picks finally mature into polished NHL scorers, we could survive. The “Sunshine Express” line should be reunited, with Stephen Weiss (2001 first round), Nathan Horton (2003, 1st round), and David Booth (2004, 2nd round). Throw in 2004 first round pick Rostislav Olesz, who has yet to score more than 14 goals in a season, and you have an amazing amount of untapped potential. Beyond that top line, the Cats will be hoping for more from sophomore Michael Frolik (21 G, 21 A in his rookie year) and then a return to Y2K for Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak, and Steven Reinprecht. IF pretty much everyone on our top 2 lines has a career year, we could be OK. More rookies will be counted on this season on the offense, including Shawn Matthias and Michael Repik, both of whom saw NHL action last season. As of now, however, the top 2 forward lines should look SOMETHING like this... again, just speculation; Booth-Weiss-Horton, Frolik-Reinprecht-Stillman. Beyond that, I must admit, there are players on the Panthers' roster I do not know too much about. We know Olesz, Greg Campbell, and Kamil Kreps bring to that table. But what about Evgeni Dadonov, recently smuggled, err... transplated from Russia? Jamie Johnson, who put up solid numbers in the AHL two seasons ago, but spent last season in Finland? Graham Mink, who put up 87 goals in 200 games over the last 3 seasons, but is past his 30th birthday? And what of Shawn Matthias and Michael Repik? Both saw time with the big club last year, is this the year that they break through and become an everyday member of the Panthers? (See, I knew I shouldn't have even started on the offense...)

Cutting this short, there are so many questions, so many holes, so much potential... it's hard to see this being a competitive team this season, but for now, there is hope. The same hope that all 32 teams are holding on to. Training camp opens in 2 weeks... should be fun.

(and I didn't even get into Tomas Vokoun vs. Scott Clemmensen)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Still Here, Still Waiting...

Have no fear, I'm still around. It's been a couple weeks since my last post, and that's mainly because nothing has really happened. Yes, there was that odd Drew Rosenhaus shtick. We were able to sign Leopold, which was nice. The schedule came out yesterday, which isn't really newsworthy beyond the fact that I find out when I make my trips to Tampa (once in the first week of the season, October 12th. Then in January, and then the final road game of the season, which will hopefully have some sort of meaning). For a full report of the past weeks since my last post, check out my Hockey Writers article here.

For now, though, we are patiently waiting a confirmation of a leaked rumor yesterday that had Alex Tanguay coming to the Panthers. Normally, rumors with so few facts behind them would go unnoticed, but then I came across this from ESPN.com's rumor page; "The Panthers denied signing Alex Tanguay yesterday, but what about today? The Sun-Sentinel reported that the internet rumors of a Tanguay signing were false. But HockeyBuzz.com spoke to three teams, not including the Panthers, that were interested in Tanguay, and all three said they're no longer pursuing him. That leaves the Panthers, who have shown significant interest and might lock up the winger today."

Certainly worth paying attention to. Tanguay managed 41 points in just 50 games last season, and if the Panthers can get him to come down from his 2008-2009 salary, he would be a much needed breath of hope to the Cats. Imagining a top 2 lines consisting of Weiss\Horton\Booth and Reinprecht\Tanguay\Frolik puts just a touch of optimism back into my outlook. We'll see...

The defence could still use a touch up, as well though, and there aren't many tangible options left. As of now, it looks like this in my mind; Ballard\Leopold, Allen\McCabe, ???\???. There will probably be 3 or 4 guys fighting for that bottom pairing. Ville Koistinen is the only one with NHL blue line experience. I know the organization is hoping for BIG things from Keaton Ellerby, so as of now, he's probably the best option for the last spot. Jason Garrison and 2009 draft choice Dmitri Kulikov will be pushing for ice time, should Koistinen or Ellerby fall off. But wouldn't one more, bona fide NHL defenceman make you breath just a little easier?

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Look Back

The past few days have taken quite a toll on this Panther fan. I've waited a couple days since the first day of the "free agent frenzy" came to close, hoping and praying that there would be some good news developments to get excited about. I'm still waiting, although I feel much better today than I did 24 hours ago.

First, the moves the Panthers did make were all solid. GM-for-now Randy Sexton has done everything that could be expected of him. Re-signed David Booth to a 6-year deal. Re-signed Radek Dvorak for 2 more years. Almost instant reaction by losing backup netminder Craig Anderson by signing Scott Clemmensen. Signing much needed defense in Ville Koistinen and Jordan Leopold, who Sexton claimed to have very little hope of signing just 24 hours before the deal was announced. In fact, Leopold's signing might have been one of the most impressive moves by any GM. Trading Bouwmeester's rights for a 3rd round pick and Leopold, after Bo and his agent publicly announced they were waiting until free agency regardless, is incredible. Everything he did needs to be commended. Imagine trying to convince a player to come to the Panthers, a team that has missed the playoffs for 8 straight seasons. A team that's ownership is in flux and has no full-time general manager. Dreams of signing a Gaborik or Hossa were just that, dreams. What Sexton was able to accomplish was superb. Kudos.

But then there's that painful nuisance... reality. The Washington Capitals, who have dominated the division in recent history, got better by adding perpetual 25 goal scorer Mike Knuble. Tampa Bay now has a vastly improved defense after drafting Victor Hedman, then adding Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker. Even the Thrashers look better, after signing Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina. All this happening while Florida took a step back, losing Jay Bouwmeester, Karlis Skrastins, and Richard Zednik. As it stands now, the Panthers defence is made up of Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe, and Jordan Leopold. After that, you have Brian Allen, who missed virtually the entire '08-'09 season. Rounding out the top 6 could be rookies Keaton Ellerby or Jason Garrison. Or free agent signing Ville Koistinen, who despite an impressive Finnish Elite League resume, played only half a season in his first 2 NHL years, and some of those games were as a 4th line winger. For a team who's greatest depth just 3 months ago was defence, it now looks like it could be its greatest weakness. Throw in an offense who will be led by the still-waiting-to-breakout-line of Weiss, Booth, and Horton, and it could be a long year.

There are still free agents out there who could provide an instant boost to my morale. Randy Sexton claims to still be pulling some strings. Steve Reinprecht was a nice addition, and he could be just enough to show the kids-no-more what it means, exactly, to work and earn goals. Booth grew into that last season. Horton showed flashes late in the season he may still have another level. Michael Frolik had a nice rookie season and could be a 25-30 goal scorer. Keaton Ellerby could prove to be the monster on the blue line that the scouts think he will be. There is just so much uncertainty and so many unfilled expectations on this team that it is hard to feel optimistic. I'm praying I am wrong. I do believe there is a strong core. Pete DeBoer showed he might just be the guy that can get these guys to overachieve. I just have that sinking, stomach enveloping feeling that this team is still a couple pieces away from being competitive next season.

The best news of the last week is that we only turned the calendar to July. October's season opening trip to Finland is still a few months away. Months that could see the Panthers fit the puzzle together. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm not quite ready to exhale just yet...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

...And They're Off!

8:28 pm - So it looks as though Florida might be done, at least for tonight. This from Steve Gorten's blog regarding signing a top tier scoring forward. "Sexton said, "I'm not sure you ever have enough scoring, but we're real comfortable with our top three lines. Our top six of Booth, Weiss, Frolik, Stillman, Reinprecht, Horton, we think those guys can score. ...We're very comfortable offensively with those top six. I don't know that you can ever have enough, but I don't think it is the issue it was last year, at least in some people's minds."

So I guess we're going to count on a bunch of 20-25 goal scorers to have career years... again... next season. One would have thought that saving $9 million by not re-signing Jay Bouwmeester and Nick Boynton, there would have been room to sign a top tier guy. But we did sign David Booth long term. Found a quick, and possibly better, replacement for Craig Anderson. Signed a kid in Koistinen that is supposedly an offensive defenseman (who played half a season in his first 2 years in the NHL...). And... oh yea, Dvorak resigned. So I guess it's not an awful day. Then again, we have 4, FOUR, signed defensemen for next season, including Koistinen. Karlis Skrastins remains unsigned. Jordan Leopold remains unsigned. Get those 2 on the roster, and I'll feel a lot better about getting no help for our forwards. Until then... it could be a giant step back from the progress made last season.
5:43 pm - Apologies, I had to make an unexpected return trip to work and apparently missed out on some happenings. First, a replacement for Craig Anderson has been signed; Scott Clemmensen, who made a name for himself last season when Martin Brodeur went down for a lengthy stretch. Clemmensen will reportedly make $1.2 mil for the next 3 years as a Panther. While I have no doubt Clemmy(?) will serve his purpose, the money makes me nervous. We now have nearly $7.5 million in our two netminders. Only one can play at a time... Add to the fact that Clemmensen will no doubt be given a chance to earn the #1 spot, as Anderson was last season. "Play the winning hand," I believe is how Pete DeBoer phrased it. So what happens if Clemmensen continues where he left off last season? We have a $6 million man as a backup, with a no-trade clause? Yikes... Add to the fact that we drafted Swedish phenom Jakob Markstrom last summer, and he is expected to be in the Panthers' fold next season, and it's a scary situation. Although to be fair, not quite as scary as having a backup with zero experience, so I guess I'm happy with the lesser of the two evils. Kudos to Randy Sexton for getting one of the more sought after UFA goalies.

Also, Florida has signed Ville Koistinen, who played parts of the last 2 seasons in Nashville. Koistinen is...well...a defenceman, which brings Florida's tally up to 4 signed d-men for next season. Double yikes. Koistinen played just 38 games last season, and 48 his rookie year in '07-'08. I can only hope that he is being brought in as insurance, in case Jordan Leopold, Karlis Skrastins, and\or Steve Eminger do not return next season. Or if Keaton Ellerby and\or Jason Garrison are not quite ready come October.

More as it occurs...
1:49 pm - hearing reports now that Craig Anderson has signed with the Colorado Avalanche. Should that be true, the Cats are suddenly in the market for a #2 goalie. The Avs have 2 guys who were starters at some points, Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft. Does Sexton try to snag one of them for backup duty? Or do we just sit on our hands and do our anti-injury dance for Vokoun, hope that he stays healthy, use one of our AHL guys next season, and hope last summer's first draft pick, Jakob Markstrom, is ready for NHL duty next season? I would have to think that Sexton will be making phone calls this afternoon... nothing against Chris Beckford-Tseu or Tyler Plante...
1:39 pm - via Panthers twitter page: BREAKING NEWS: The Panthers have signed David Booth to a 6-yr contract extension. Booth led the team with 31 goals last season. More to come...

It seemed just a matter of time before this was announced, probably just hashing out the final money figure and length of contract. Booth had a breakout year last season and Florida looks like they are expecting more of the same from Booth. More 30 goal seasons and a couple playoff appearances and Booth could become the Panther.
12:46 pm - The Panthers have resigned Radek Dvorak to a 3 year deal, according to TSN. Does this mean Ville Peltonen is out? Dvorak was the younger of the two, and most productive. A good sign by Sexton.
12:01 pm - Happy Canada Day! Oh yea, and the "free agent frenzy" is officially underway. Any rumors or actual news that is relevant and\or interesting will be talked about here as soon as I hear about it. Stay tuned...