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.
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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...
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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...
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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.
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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.
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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...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Free Agency Just Hours Away


The countdown is on for Free Agency 2009, and the Panthers may actually be an active participant this year. According to GM-for-now Randy Sexton, it will depend on what they can get accomplished with current players before the market opens. With Jay Bouwmeester's rights shipped to Calgary, Richard Zednik having already packed his bags for Russia, and Nick Boynton, Brett Mclean, Anthony Stewart, and Jassen Cullimore basically being told they aren't being welcomed back, that leaves Radek Dvorak, Ville Peltonen, Karlis Skrastins, Jordan Leopold, Steve Eminger, and Craig Anderson to deal with. All could be\would be unrestricted free agents tomorrow.

Of those UFA's who were Panthers last year, I could see bringing back Dvorak OR Pelts, but not both. They are both in their mid-30's, and bring the same characteristics. Last year showed that you can have a roster full of good heart\good character players, but if they aren't putting the puck in the net, someone who can needs to be found.

Skrastins would be a nice hold over, but not for the $2.4 mil a year he was making. Leopold and Eminger are younger and cheaper, and personally, I think Skrastins benefited enormously by playing with Bouwmeester. Besides, Keaton Ellerby and Jason Garrison are just waiting for a chance to prove they can play at the NHL level.

As for Craig Anderson... this is the most interesting case for Sexton. Andy feels he is good enough to be a starter. Agreed. He's going to want a raise. Fair enough. The only problem with that is that our current #1, Tomas Vokoun, is the highest paid player on the roster. Spending almost $9 mil on goaltending alone (considering only one can play at a time...) seems ludicrous. So, can Sexton convince Mr. Anderson to ride the pine another year for a minimal raise? The Panthers drafted Swedish phenom Jakob Markstrom last summer for a reason. But Markstrom is still at least a season away, and it would be folly to simply hire a mediocre to poor backup as a holdover. One twist of the knee to Vokoun, and ________ would be our starter. Andy is a solid backup, and if we can keep him for one more year (again, for the right price) then kudos. If not... it wouldn't be a bad thing to go after a castoff starter\backup from the UFA market. A few that pop into mind...Peter Budaj, Brian Boucher\Antero Niitymaki, Martin Biron, Yann Denis all performed well in stints last year. If any of these could be signed for backup money, it would be a nice move.

Of the big names that are out there, there are a couple that make actually make it into the Panthers' locker room. If Randy Sexton wants to make a big splash and gain some big browine points, maybe he'll take a look at these;

Mike Cammilleri - A center (check #1-obvious need), and while he will probably make around $4 mil next season, he provides an instant and clear cut #1 center\scorer. If the Flames are able to sign that Bouwmeester kid, they will have to dump salary somewhere.

Brian Gionta - It's been a few years since he nearly eclipsed the 50 goal plateau, but he has made it known he's looking to become the focal point of a team's offense, and he would certainly be that in south Florida. Again, at around $4 mil, the price could be right.

Mike Knuble - Like Calgary, the Flyers are in salary cap hell. A victim of roster cuts could be Knuble. As close to a sure-thing 20 goal\50 point guy, I think he could also slide in very comfortably to Pete DeBoer's high tempo, aggressive offense.

Be sure to stay locked in tomorrow through the day for any moves the Panthers do make. For a full list of free agents, check out ESPN.com's FA tracker. Until something happens...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Happy Pre-Free-Agency-Eve-Day?


With the hockey world awaiting Free Agency Day, the Florida Panthers extended qualifying offers to only two of their pending free agents today, David Booth and prospect David Brine. Players of note left on the outs include Steve Eminger, Anthony Stewart, and Brett McLean.

Eminger, who was acquired at the trade deadline in March, may still be playing for Florida next season, if the price is right. In fact, the whole tone of the official release on the Panthers' site seemed to be all about the benjamins, so to speak.




So heading into the day before free agents are able to sign, here's what's on the table.
UFA
Karlis Skrastins
Radek Dvorak
Ville Peltonen
Jordan Leopold
Craig Anderson

As Mr. Sexton said, if the price is right, they could all be wearing Florida jerseys next season. The goaltending situation is probably the most vital. Obviously, Tomas Vokoun makes the big bucks and is the starter. The question is, how willing is Craig Anderson to ride the pine, even if he does get a nice raise?

It also appears as though the organization has finally given up hope that Anthony Stewart and Brett McLean will magically turn into productive NHLers. Quality checking liners that they were, they just never turned the corner. Roster spots open for Matthias\Repik? Or is this an indication that Randy Sexton isn't done filling his resume?

Heads up, tomorrow I'll hopefully get a wish list of available free agents hitting the market, I'm just sick and too lazy to go through it now... But there are obvious needs the Panthers will (hopefully) address come Wednesday... Until then...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bye, Bye Bouwmeester!

Everyone knew this day was coming, we just weren't sure how exactly it would go down. Jay Bouwmeester (or more specifically, his rights) were traded to the Calgary Flames early this morning in exchange for the Flames 3rd round pick (67th overall) and free agent defenceman Jordan Leopold.

When the Panthers failed to, or chose not to trade Bo in March, everyone knew the reality. The Cats were hoping Bouwmeester would push them forward into the postseason before packing his bags for free agency. The playoff push came up short, and that sinking feeling that we would not only miss the playoffs, but lose Bouwmeester for nothing started creeping in. The only hope was to trade his rights at the draft. Because let's face it, something is better than nothing. Now J. Bo gets reunited with Olli Jokinen and will create quite the pairing with Dion Phaneuf (they were #1-#2 in ice time last season). I can only imagine that the BAC faithful will be nothing but polite to Olli and Jay if\when they return to south Florida with the Flames next season...

Jordan Leopold will become a free agent on July 1st, so there is no guarantee that he will be a Panther next season. However, one would assume Florida knew this risk and had talks with Leopold to gain some insight into his frame of mind before pulling the string on the deal. He's a solid defenceman in his own right, and could fit in well with the Panthers, should he decide to sign. A top 4 of Brian McCabe, Bryan Allen, Keith Ballard, and Leopold is not too shabby. Throw in Karlis Skrastins and Steve Eminger, and it's a solid top 6. If Keaton Ellerby, Jason Garrison, or Dmitri Kulikov mature in time... Bouwmeester might not be missed too badly.
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Not to be overlooked, the draft continues on. The Panthers chose center Drew Shore with their 2nd round pick (44th overall). Filling a need in center, Shore was ranked as a late 1st-early 2nd rounder by most analysts. He has "potential" written all over him, but will need a few years to grow into an NHLer. He is expected to play for the University of Denver in the fall.

With their earlier acquired 3rd round (67th overall) pick, the Cats selected Josh Birkholz. The gritty winger has no problems playing a physical game, but will also spend the next year or two in the college ranks. He has commited to the University of Minnesota.

The Panthers don't pick again until the 5th round (#135).

Good News Morning!

I wake up to find that Jay Bouwmeester has been traded to Calgary for Jordon Leopold and a 3rd round draft pick. Something is definitely better than nothing! More coming as it unfolds...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Meet the Newest Panther

Here's a few links to some scouting sites regarding Dmitri Kulikov;

The Hockey Writers

My NHL Draft

Russian Prospects.com

Basically, Kulikov looks like a solid puck-moving defenceman who can provide an offensive threat. Depending on what happens over the next few days, Kulikov could have a chance to crack the Panthers roster as soon as next season. With only 3 defencemen from last season signed (Bryan Allen, Brian McCabe, and Keith Ballard), the Panthers added some much needed depth to their blue line. With Keaton Ellerby and Jason Garrison hoping to get a chance with the big club, Kulikov could push them for ice time. And there's nothing wrong with a little competition pushing the youngsters to be just a little better...

It's the 2009 NHL Entry Draft!

10:14 pm - Looks like the Panthers are done for tonight. I must say I'm pretty happy to have Kulikov fall into the Panthers' lap. A top 10 talent and hopefully will turn into a top 4 blue liner for the Cats in the not-too-distant future. Bouwmeester is a Panther for at least one more night, hopefully Sexton can work some kind of magic to get something in return for J. Bo, but that might be hoping for too much. Until tomorrow...

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9:08 pm - ...and the Panthers pick Dmitri Kulikov! (after some impressive French by Randy Sexton) Kulikov was a top 10 talent that fell into the Panthers' lap. Quick enough to launch an offensive attack, he's a solid pick up for the Cats, who added some much needed depth to the blue line. A question TSN brought up about his contract status with the Russian KHL, but hopefully that is much ado about nothing and Kulikov is contributing to the Panthers sooner rather than later.

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9:05 pm - Panthers are on the clock. John Moore is available and the logical pick...

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9:01 pm - TSN's Darren Dregger blogs that the Canadiens and Panthers were conversing, although it doesn't look like Florida is trading their pick. Montreal holds the 18th pick in the 1st round, just fy. And no news on Bouwmeester... yet...

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8:56 pm - Garth Snow pulls the first surprise of the draft, trading picks 16, 77, and 182 to Minnesota for the 12th pick, which is used to take Calvin de Haan, who was a bit further down the ranking sheet of most of those who are in the know. Was Snow really worried someone was going to pick up de Haan before the 16th pick? Oh well... Panthers are on deck, waiting for the Sabres now...

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8:35 pm - The Oilers finish up the top 10 by picking Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson. Few surprises in the first hour or so of the draft. 2 of my preview's 6 guys to watch for the Panthers have been drafted. John Moore would be my prediction right now, with 3 more picks to come before the Panthers hit the podium.

1. John Tavares (NYI)
2. Victor Hedman (TBL)
3. Matt Duchene (COL)
4. Evander Kane (ATL)
5. Brayden Schenn (LAK)
6. Oliver Ekman-Larsson (PHX)
7. Nazem Kadri (TOR)
8. Scott Glennie (DAL)
9. Jared Cowen (OTT)
10. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (EDM)

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8:08 pm - no love for Brian Burke or the Leafs in Montreal... big surprise... take Kadri, the first of my 6 to watch! 5 left on my list, hopefully Florida is able to snag one of them sometime tonight. Still no word on J Bo.

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7:46 pm - Pretty quiet through the first 5 picks. Pronger got traded to the Flyers, so take Philly off the Bouwmeester list. George Richards latest update is intriguing though... "Just heard a rumor that Jay has been dealt...haven't been able to confirm and have no other details...am working on it..."

Hmmmm.... stay tuned... Coyotes are up next with pick #6...

An Hour To Go...

...and all quiet in Montreal. It looks as though Jay Bouwmeester might not be willing to sign a deal before July 1st after all, so any draft day dealing rumors are moot.

The question is; if he wants to play in Calgary, or Vancouver, or Toronto... and said team is offering a deal today, would Jay still wait? Obviously, he has earned the right to become an unrestricted free agent and can sign where he wants, when he wants. But if the team he wants is asking for him today, what difference will a few days make? Unless he just wants to see how high he can drive the price...?

Hopefully the Panthers can manipulate the situation so they can get SOMETHING in return, but they knew that this was the risk when they failed to trade him in March. Or rather, Jacques Martin knew the risk... but it's not his problem anymore, is it. Such is life in Pantherland. Stay tuned...


UPDATE 6:41 - Heading home from work now... hopefully I don't miss anything and get home before the 14th pick...

First Rumor of the Day...

Well we all know that Jay Bouwmeester is coveted by all, but reportedly 5 teams have shown interest (Flames, Canucks, Flyers, Oilers, Maple Leafs, reportedly...). Well, just read a rumor that the Flames may have acted first.

Jay Bouwmeester's rights to Calgary in exchange for Mike Cammilleri's rights and a mid-round pick. But I wouldn't be too excited about that yet, I have little to zero faith in the source, but still... it doesn't hurt to dream, right? That's what blogs are for anyways. Unsubstantiated rumors and wish lists. Stay tuned...

UPDATE 4:03 - Apparently there might have been some more substance to that earlier rumor than I gave credit to. George Richards from the Miami Herald's latest blog cites another source saying Bo to Calgary. The San Jose Sharks are apparently another team entering the Bouwmeester mix. Read his whole post here...

Draft Day!

The NHL Draft is tonight, and dealings are expected to be going on all day today. I'll be doing my best to stay caught up during my work day and update here as news happens. Most notably, of course, is the Jay Bouwmeester situation. Up to 5 teams are rumored to be in talks with the Panthers regarding J. Bo, including the Flyers, Canucks, and Oilers.

As of now, the Panthers have the 14th pick in tonight's first round, which gets underway around 7:00 on Versus.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Draft Preview!

The 2009 NHL draft is now just 2 short days away, and the Florida Panthers will be looking for not just a new addition to their slowly improving farm system, but maybe, just maybe, find that coal mine that will become a diamond before our eyes. (OK, I know I probably stretched that one, too bad)

The Panthers currently, and I stress currently, hold the 14th, 44th, 135th, and 165th picks. Their 3rd, 4th, and 7th round picks have all been traded away prior. Now what picks Florida will actually make remains to be seen, as there is that Bouwmeester character still on Florida's roster. The likelihood is that he, or rather "negotiating rights," will be traded away before Friday, and draft pick or picks might be coming back, but until that happens, we'll just focus on what we know.

Florida's "needs" are not hard to figure out. They need a top line scorer and depth on the blueline. I don't pretend to have any inside sources or inside information, so this is just a look at who might be available by the time the 14th pick rolls around (because let's be honest, will you still be watching by pick 44?)

DEFENSEMEN

Should the Panthers look to add a defender, Jared Cowen might warrant a look. While he has top 10 talent, a knee injury in February cut his last season short, and added some questions as to the durability of the 18 year old. Should he still be available at #14, the Panthers would have to take a long look. He stands an impressive 6'5", 218 lbs, so physicality shouldn't be a problem. This could be a guy worth moving up for.

Another defender who could slip out of the top 10 and into the Panthers' lap is Swedish-born David Rundbland. Think mini Jay Bo (and by mini, I mean only 6'2", 200 lbs). While he's a bit smaller than Cowen, Rundbland is a more fluid skater and more offensive minded. Given a year in Rochester (perhaps filling in for the could-be promoted Keaton Ellerby?), his defensive play should mature and he could be a steal at #14.

And then there's the USHL defenseman of the year, John Moore. A bit slighter frame than Rundbland and Cowen, Moore looks like he might need the most time to develop out of these 3. His skating is his strongest attribute, but at only 190 lbs, he might be a few years away from being able to handle the bigger, stronger, faster NHL forwards.

FORWARDS

If the Cats are hoping to find a pure scorer in the uncertainty of the draft, a good candidate for the #14 pick might be London, Ontario native Nazem Kadri. He's listed as a center, which is obviously a shortage in Pantherland. A couple of seasons in Rochester to allow him to fill out might be all that's needed for Kadri to become an elite playmaker in the NHL. Lightning quickness and great vision are reasons to watch him come draft day.

The antithesis of Kadri might be Carter Ashton. While Kadri stands at a dainty 5'11", 175 lbs, Ashton is a brute at 6'4", 212 lbs. He might not be as flashy a scorer, but his strength and grind is more than enough for him to be a bona fide scorer in the NHL, once his talent catches up with his body.

A final forward to look at is Jeremy Morin. He is a pure scorer with an attitude. He was the top threat for the US U18 Development team and if he decides to become a complete player, he would be a nice pickup. Questions about his defensive ability are his biggest downside, but he could easily round out into a top line scorer.

Of course, there are certainly other options that are available or could come available depending on what happens in the next 48 hours. For a full list of draft prospects, please visit our friend and fellow Hockey Writer Chris Ralph's extensive preview. If the Panthers are able to snag one of these six, it'd be a nice step in getting this team back into the postseason. Stay tuned...

Friday, June 19, 2009

And the Breaking News Is...


A trade! The Panthers have sent prospect Stefan Meyer to Phoenix in exchange for Steve Reinprecht, who has signed a 3 year deal.

Here's the good, albeit brieff stuff on the newest Panther; he is a center, which was a clear need for Florida last season. He has a Stanley Cup ring, and experience is never a bad thing to have. He will be another veteran presence in a still young locker room.

Now, for my Negative Nancy, my Panther Pessimism, to come out. He's never eclipsed the 20 goal mark. He has just 1, 50+ point season, and that came in '02-'03. He's played in fewer then 70 games in 7 of his 10 seasons. He has 2nd\3rd liner written all over him.

Yes, it is clear we needed a center. But that doesn't mean just go find a guy with "C" in the position column and call him up. Character guys can only get you so far, as we saw last year. While Stefan Meyer doesn't appear to be anything more then a career AHL'er and probably isn't a prospect that will pan out, it just feels like a lateral move. No financial terms were released, as usual, but you have to think a veteran guy like Reinprecht is going to use up a small chunk of the salary cap, a chunk that could have been used elsewhere on a guy who can actually provide a bona fide scoring threat. To look on the bright side, though, he is a good character guy, a true center who will probably let Horton back to his natural wing position, and hopefully Reinprecht will be able to contribute in other areas. Faceoffs, leadership, PK, etc...

It's also interesting to think that this move was made by an "interim GM" of sorts. I'm sure Randy Sexton is doing what he can to prove that he not only wants the full time gig, but deserves it. Giving up a guy who probably wouldn't make it out of Florida's farm system for a player of Reinprecht's caliber is a good move, no matter which way you shake the stick. Was it the best move? Will it make the product on the ice better? Only time will tell...

Breaking News?



According to the Florida Panther's official site, facebook, and twitter page, "breaking news" is coming, hopefully within the hour. What could be so big that it has to be announced in 3 different venues? A new GM? A Jay Bouwmeester deal? Some overhyped, new marketing ploy? My guess is on the latter, but who knows. Bill Torrey gave an interview the other day and said the GM search would probably take them past the draft, so it'd be quite a surprise if they found their GM already. I can't imagine any progress being made with J-Bo that isn't all over the rumor pages. Sooo in the end, this is probably just some trumped up ad campaign, but stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

2009 NHL Draft Preview





A quick reference to my other online home. One of the Hockey Writers is doing an outstanding, in depth preview of the upcoming NHL entry draft, and I encourage you all to head over and check it out by clicking here.

And as always, be sure to head over to THW for Florida Panthers articles that you won't find here! Well, you'll find bits and pieces of them here, but I gotta save the good stuff for the big site.

We're Back!


Back and hopefully better then ever. Apologies for not being more frequent with my posts as of late, but now that the season is officially over, (congratulations the Penguins and all that) I'm hoping to get this going again heading into the draft, free agency, and of course, next season.

So where do the Panthers sit now? Let's start at the top. General Manager Jacques Martin is now the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. The Panthers' GM search has been underway for a week or so now, being led by Mr. Bill Torrey and Assistant GM Randy Sexton. On the list of potentials include former Panthers' coach Doug McLean, former Panthers' broadcaster Denis Potvin, and former Panthers GM Rick Dudley, as well as TV analyst Pierre McGuire and ex-Wild GM Doug Risebrough.

Personally, I think it's time for new blood. We know what the past holds. 1 successful season, 9 years since our last playoff game. Nostalgia aside, this is a pretty weak list. Doug McLean led us to the finals as a head coach... a mere 13 years ago. Since then, he was the head of the Columbus Wild from day 1 of the franchise in '98 until he was fired in 2007 after 9 years and zero winning seasons. Yes, they were an expansion team, but they didn't exactly make progress in their first decade under McLean's leadership.

Denis Potvin we all know and love. He lost his TV gig a couple of months ago now, and probably knows the Panthers better than anyone, being with the organization since its inception. We all feel bad for Potvin, but as far as being a GM, that's as far as his experience goes to my knowledge. What Potvin actually knows about being a GM, I don't know, and I'm not sure why his name is on a list of potential candidates, other then Panther fans feel bad for him.

Pierre McGuire is an interesting option, simply because he's been in television the last 12 years or so. (See Barry Melrose). And how much McGuire actually knows about the Panthers and their needs is yet to be seen.

Then there's Rick Dudley, GM of the Panthers from 2002-2004. Remember that 2003 draft? Nathan Horton over Eric Staal? Anthony Stewart in the first round? Now to be fair, Dudley may have been a victim of the whole Mike Keenan debacle, as Keenan was promoted to the GM position upon Dudley's firing. And Dudley has been an assistant GM in Chicago, who you may remember just made it to the Western Conference Finals after a lengthy run of terrible hockey. But do we really want to give this guy another shot?

Now all that being said, the Panthers' front office cannot simply make this hire based on fond memories of years gone by.

Doug Risebrough has GM experience. He has success on his resume. He has built a playoff team from the ground up before. The Wild were division champs just 2 seasons ago. And maybe most importantly, the Panther fans don't have pre-existing memories of the guy. You have to inject this team with a winning mindset. Pete DeBoer was a good start last season, and was almost enough on its own to get the Panthers into the playoffs. Now let's get a guy up in the office who knows how to win.

There will be more to come as the rumors continue around the vacant GM position, as well as the upcoming draft. Thanks for checking back, as always!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Free Agency and the Florida Panthers; It's Not Just About J-Bo

Head over to the Hockey Writers for my piece about our free agents. Yes, I am too lazy to copy and paste. It's summer. Give me a break. Just click the link.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yormark Blogs

On the Florida Panthers' official site, team President Michael Yormark has come forward to explain the decision to let Denis Potvin go. Please click here to read his full post. I will do my best to pull out a few excerpts that caught my eye.

"As we move forward with our new multi-year agreement with FOX Sports Florida, we will have much more control and input as it relates to production and advertising sales. This was very important to us when we restructured our partnership early this year."

Makes sense. This is, after all, a business. Advertising sales are a giant part of business. If this was a business decision, fine. It sucks, but we are going through hard times, and it's naive to think anyone is immune. But wait...

"Furthermore, due to our arrangement with FOX Sports Florida, this was not a financial decision. Again, it was a decision based on what we believe is best for our fans."

Huh? Production and ad sales were a big part of this decision, yet it was not a financial decision. His words. Now I'm not a business mogul. I don't have any experience running a multi-million dollar, professional franchise. But I did take economics in high school. And I'm pretty sure ad sales are a financial aspect of business. If I'm wrong, please correct me. And as for a decision that's best for the fans... the 50+ comments on George Richards' blogs by fans seem to disagree. The 104 votes against the decision as opposed to the 13 for it on a fellow blog, Litter Box Cats, also leans the other way. If it's a business decision, fine. Just don't try to hide behind the "It's best for our fans" line. It's embarrassing.

Mr. Yormarck goes on to speak highly of how Billy Lindsay and Steve Goldstein will work together. "I promise you, you will be amazed at how powerful they are together! I've seen them do a game together and they are awesome!!!!" says Mr. President. Wow! A whole game together! Swing and a miss. This is nothing against Goldie or Bill. Lindsay scored possibly the most famous goal in Panthers' history. Goldstein has been with the organization for years, going back to doing the in-house, between period hi-lights. But to think that this is a move that will better the on-air presentation is asinine. Forgetting Denis Potvin's hall of fame playing career, he has been on the Panthers' broadcast team for almost 16 years. To question Potvin's dedication to the team and organization is border line offensive. Because he returns home to Canada and doesn't live in south Florida during the summer months, he isn't as devoted? Not buying it. He has been here since day 1 and sat beside a handful of play by play guys. He's always come back because I believe he truly loves this team. This past season, you could here the pain in his voice as the Panthers struggled down the stretch. He has been as much a part of this organization as anyone, and is obviously one of the, if not the longest tenured man in the franchise.

I think it is clear to anyone that this was a financial decision. Potvin was let go because he isn't around 365 days a year to help sell the Panthers' brand. Ad sales and production are important to any business, I have no qualms with that. It's the assertion that this decision was based not on money, but "for the fans." The fans clearly are not in favor of this decision. I don't know what fans Mr. Yormarck has talked to, if any. It's using the fans, myself as a fan, as a scape goat for making an unpopular business decision that makes my stomach turn. I have no doubts in the skills or abilities of Billy and Goldie. I look forward to listening to them next season and I wish Denis Potvin the best. He was the one constant this team had since the beginning. Owners, players, and presidents have come and gone. Potvin stayed. Now, who knows. I continue to hope for the best. It's just not easy when you feel like you're being lied to by the man that runs your team.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More On Potvin

Big kudos to my favorite source of inside information, George Richards, for posting his conversation On Frozen Pond. Please check out his blog for full comments.

It boils down to this; Team prez Michael Yormark says it was not a financial decision to let Potvin go. "The reality, based on financial relationship with Fox is there really is no difference whether we have three, five, one or 10 in the booth. It's not a financial decision." He goes on to say that he makes decisions that are in the best interest of the franchise, and this is one of them.
Really, Mr. President? I'm not an accountant. I don't pretend to understand all that goes into a franchise. But wouldn't the number of broadcasters affect the number of dollars needed to pay them? How is letting a broadcaster go bettering the franchise? Because he disagreed with people? He voiced his own opinion? "Something in the right
direction for the franchise" smells a lot like "guy who will do what I tell him to."

It seems like the main reason Potvin is moving on is that he does not live in south Florida during the offseason, and Yormark wants to use his on-air talent in his ad campaigns and team summer events. Potvin, who lives in Canada during the summer, wouldn't be available for team or charity outings. I guess Yormark just thinks that's more important then I do. And in the end, it's his team.

I am sure that Denis Potvin will be able to find work somewhere. He has been the Panthers TV color man for almost 16 years, and was a hall of fame player before that. Whether it's behind a desk at a national studio (TSN, CBC) or with another team, I wish him the best of luck. He'll be missed.

Denis Potvin Out


This from the Florida Panthers home page; "Sunrise Sports & Entertainment and the Florida Panthers announced today the restructuring of the hockey club’s broadcast teams on FOX Sports Florida and Sports Talk 790 the Ticket for the 2009-10 NHL season. Steve Goldstein, Billy Lindsay and Randy Moller will return to the broadcast booth in 09-10, while Denis Potvin will not be retained. Goldstein will continue to handle television play-by-play duties with Lindsay joining him as color analyst, while Moller will call Panthers radio broadcasts on 790 The Ticket."

It's a sad day for this Panther fan. Denis Potvin has been the TV voice of the Florida Panthers since day 1. On the surface, this move looks like it's strictly financial. Potvin is the longest tenured broadcaster on staff, and a hall of fame player to boot. Clearly, he'd be the highest paid guy on the air. And this is nothing against Billy Lindsay. He's a franchise icon (as far as Panther icons go) and did a fine job on radio. But with no one being brought in to assist Mr. Moller on the radio side, it appears to be all about the money. I can't begin to imagine trying to do hockey play by play on the radio by yourself. Baseball, sure. It's a slow game, time to catch your breath, tell a story, you're on your own. Football, maybe. But hockey is too fast and there's not a lot of time between breaks in play. Good luck Randy.

As far as Potvin goes, I'm interested to hear his side. If it is just a business decision, it sucks. Times are what they are, though, and tough decisions have to be made. It sure would have been nice to see him go out after just one more playoff series... More details as they surface.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Panther(s) Find Net Against France

A couple of Panther players were finally able to get in the goal column at the IIHF World Championships. Keith "Kevin" Ballard found a way to get a wrist shot through a crowd, surprising the French netminder for his first tally in the tournament. Earlier today, Karlis Skrastins showed off his offensive skills, making a nifty deke around the same French goalie for his first.

Nice to see our boys get on the score sheet. Big showdown later this afternoon, if you're sick of that whole Ovechkin vs. Crosby thing, between USA and Russia. Both are fighting for the top spot in the group.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Richard Zednik Named Masterton Finalist, Headed to Russia

As written on the Hockey Writers, an excellent source of all things hockey, including my own Panthers contributions, like this one!

Florida Panthers’ forward Richard Zednik has been named a finalist for the Masterton Trophy. The award is handed out by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association to the player who “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.”

Zednik, as we all remember all too vividly, nearly lost his life on the ice last season after having his carotid artery cut by Olli Jokinen’s skate during a February 28 game in Buffalo last season. He returned this year to score 17 goals, including the 200th of his career, along with 16 assists while playing in 70 games. After the injury, hockey became secondary. No one would have questioned Zednik had he decided not to return to the ice. But he came back and was a veteran voice in a young Florida Panthers locker room, and helped lead his team in a playoff push that came up 1 point short.

On the same day that Zednik was named a finalist, CBC is reporting that he has signed a 2-year
deal with Russian Superleague team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. He would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. This is just the first move of what could be an interesting offseason for the Florida Panthers. Most notably, Jay Bouwmeester hits the open market, as well as highly regarded backup netminder, Craig Anderson. Other UFAs include Radek Dvorak, Ville Peltonen, Jassen Cullimore, and Nick Boynton.

As far as the Masterton trophy goes, other finalists include Steve Sullivan, who got back on the ice in January after he fragmented a spinal disc nearly 2 years ago. After missing over 140 games, Sullivan played in every game except one after his return, scoring 11 times and adding 21 assists for an impressiev 32 points in 41 games. The 3rd finalist is Chris Chelios, who played in his 25th season this year. Only 2 others have ever played as long in the NHL (Gordie Howe and Mark Messier). Despite playing in only 28 games this season, he played a leadership role behind the scenes all season.

The Bill Masterton award is named after the Minnesota North Stars rookie who lost his life after sustaining an on-ice head injury in 1968. It will be given out June 18 at the NHL Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas.

Cats at the World Championship Update

The preliminary round of the IIHF World Championships wrapped up yesterday, and a handful of Panther players have advanced to the qualifying round, avoiding relegation.

Keith Ballard and Team USA were able to win group C, posting a 2-0-1 record. The Americans looked like they were on their way to a flawless first round before the Swedes mounted an impressive 3-goal comeback en route to an overtime win. Ballard has been relatively quiet, posting just 1 assist and 4 shots on goal in the first 3 games.

Meanwhile, aslo in group C, the Latvians finished 3rd. Karlis Skrastins, who captains Latvia, has been a solid presence on the blue line. Also with just a lone assist, he is a +2 while leading his team in ice time. He was also "player of the game" in the Latvian win over Austria. "Latvia did an unbelievable job tonight," said Br├╝ckler (Austrian head coach). "Their captain (Skrastins) blocked a shot that would have gone into the net, and that shows the heart they had." Skrastins blocking shots? Who woulda thought... Panthers prospect Janis Sprukts has also been kept in check, registering just 1 assist.

The only other Panther representative plays for the 2nd place finisher in group D, the Czech Republic. Rostislav Olesz has been given limited ice time, and... surprise... has just 1 assist.

Not much other offseason news has surfaced. Anderson and Vokoun are still Panthers, although it seems one or the other could be headed elsewhere this summer. Anderson is an unrestricted free agent sure to get a substantial raise. Vokoun already has an immense salary. It seems unlikely the Cats can hold onto both. Andy appears ready and willing, and maybe most importantly, wants to be a starting goaltender somewhere. The Philadelphia Flyers have already expressed interest. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Panthers Go Global

A brief spring update on a few players heading off to the IIHF World Hockey Championships.

Suiting up for the United States, Keith Ballard.

Fresh off a solid rookie campaign, Michael Frolik will join Rostislav Olesz on the Czech Republic squad.

Karlis Skrastins and prospect Janis Sprukts will play for Latvia.

The games kick off this Friday from Switzerland. For all information regarding the tournament, check out the IIHF site here. Best of luck to the boys, and most of all, come back healthy!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Florida Panthers: A Year In Review

The 2008-2009 Florida Panthers season ended 1 point short of a postseason berth. While missing the playoffs for an 8th straight season is clearly a disappointment, the overall picture is much cloudier. No one expected much heading into this season. A month in, and the Panthers were 30th in a 30 team league, meeting many expectations. December ended with a dismal 4 game losing streak. Then the calendar turned to 2009, and the Panthers made their run. Only 2 regulation losses in January, winners of 5 of the first 6 games in February. The Cats climbed as high as 5th in the eastern conference. Talk of the playoffs gained momentum and validity. The trade deadline passed and Jay Bouwmeester was still a Panther. This was the team that was going to finally break through. And then the post-trade deadline pressure came, and Florida slowly crumbled. The Cats lost 5 of the first 6 after the deadline. 3rd period leads, that once were so secure, evaporated. At one point, the Panthers were 24-1-1 when leading after two periods. In March, Florida lost four times after they took a lead to the final 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Montreal, New York, and Buffalo all made runs. Slowly, the Panthers slipped to 9th and out of the playoffs. Florida ended the year tied with Montreal for 8th, but the head to head tie breaker ensured that the Panthers would miss the playoffs for the 8th straight season.

Was this a disappointing season? Can you call a year in which you do not qualify for the postseason a success? It all depends on your point of view. There is no doubt that this team took giant strides this year. A rookie head coach, a core of players whose average age was around 24, no one on the roster you knew going into the year would be your top point getter. Expectations were justifiably low. But once we got to February and March, the expectations changed. David Booth emerged as a serious scoring threat. All four lines were contributing. The defense had solidified. This had become a team that could skate and did skate with any team in the league. In the end, youth and inexperience may have gotten the better of Florida. The majority of core players have been with the organization for their whole career, and never had the chance to play in high pressure, playoff style games. Down the stretch, the Panthers let the chance slip away. But there is no doubt, valuable experience was gained, and Panther fans can honestly, finally say the future looks brighter then the past.

So naturally, the next step is to look for reasons why the Panthers came up short, again. A slow start to the year, 7-11-1. A 3-8 record in shootouts. One more shootout goal, one more shootout stop, Florida gets that extra point it needed. That losing streak to close December, in which the Panthers lost twice to Tampa and once to the Islanders. Those blown 3rd period leads in March. There is no doubt, the Panthers were agonizingly close to the postseason this year. A bounce here, a shootout goal there, and we're talking about Florida fighting for home ice instead of next year. Unfortunately, we are left with this; the Panthers now own the longest playoff drought in the NHL, and the 2nd longest in league history.

Now, what does this team have to look forward to? The top season this offseason is clearly Jay Bouwmeester. He has yet to rule out a return to Florida next season, although it is hard to imagine a scenario in which he comes back. Other unrestricted free agents include backup goalie Craig Anderson, who filled in superbly this season. Also, Radek Dvorak, Ville Peltonen, Richard Zednik, Karlis Skrastins, Nick Boynton, and Jassen Cullimore. Nick Boynton has already stated that he expects to be playing elsewhere next year. Boynton and head coach Pete DeBoer butted heads late in the season, which resulted in Boynton being a healthy scratch for a number of games. Ville Peltonen and Radek Dvorak were vital cogs on what was Florida's most consistent line. But Peltonen will be 36 next season, Dvorak 32. How many more goals are left in their legs? The obvious, glaring issue that Florida had all year was consistent scoring. Whether or not the Cats can wait and see if Pelts and D-Vo are going to be able to produce next year is just one of many questions that general manager Jacques Martin will have to answer.

This season was fun, there is no doubt there. To see this team grow under a new coach all year was remarkable. Young players grew up. David Booth had a very nice breakout year, joining a very short list of Panthers to break the 30 goal mark (Booth finished 31). Stephen Weiss led the team in points with 61 (14 G, 47 A) and plus minus, at +19. Michael Frolik had a great rookie campaign, finishing the year with 21 goals and 24 assists. There is no question that there is now a solid foundation in south Florida. With a couple of smart moves this offseason, there is little doubt that these Panthers will soon be fighting for division titles, and not just to qualify for the playoffs.

And from a personal standpoint, thank you to everyone who has read or followed this blog. I started it out as a way to voice my thoughts on the Panthers with anyone who would listen, a channel to get my feelings out. Living in Orlando, with little to no one to talk hockey about (let alone Panthers hockey), I thought I'd give it a try. I didn't really think I'd stick with it through the whole season, yet here I am. Never, ever did I expect to get over 1,600 unique visitors, or to get invites to join other blogs. It has been a pleasure, and I'll be in and out with thoughts and updates on anything that happens through the summer, and hopefully we'll be back, better then ever, in just 6 short months. Until next time...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Panthers End Season With Win

It was a meaningless night, in terms of future games. But the 7-4 win against the Washington Capitals may have (hopefully) been a sign of future seasons to come. David Booth tallied 5 points on the night, including 2 goals, making him the 6th Panther to hit the 30 goal mark. Steve Eminger scored his first goal as a Panther. He could very well be a big part of future seasons, should Jay Bouwmeester leave (like we all know he will).

While the win was nice, it did get the Panthers to 93 points and a tie with Montreal. Should the Rangers lose tomorrow, and Florida will end the season with the same amount of points as the 7th and 8th place teams, yet no more hockey will be played this season in the Sunshine State. Agonizingly close. Why couldn't they just use goals for as the first tie breaker? (Florida 234, NYR 206) Or goals against? (Florida 231, Montreal 247) Or goal differential? (Florida +3, Montreal +2, NY -9) Or road wins? (Florida 19, Montreal 17, NY 16) In reality, the first tie breaker is wins, and Montreal and Florida both end the season with 41. The head to head comes next, and the Habs took 3 of 4 from the Cats this year, therefore sending the Panthers to an early tee time.

There will be a full season recap on Cat Scratch in the days to come, as well as full offseason news. But for now, enjoy your Easter, enjoy the Masters, enjoy your summer. See you in October.

Because Everyone Gets 82 Games...

There's a Panthers game tonight, but it's going to be hard to muster the will to watch. It's meaningless. Yes, the Panthers can reach 93 points, which would be the 2nd best point total in franchise history. But that's not much consolation for a team that was as high as 5th in the conference and trying to end the NHL's longest postseason drought. There are so many different directions to point your finger while trying to find reason for the season ending tonight (I'm sure I'll get to it in my season recap, probably Monday or so). And in the end, it doesn't really matter who or what you blame, because the offseason begins tomorrow. And it should be an interesting summer (I hope).

Washington is locked into the 2nd seed, so there's nothing on the line for them, either. Tomas Vokoun is in net tonight against the Caps. I'll be interested to see the crowd tonight, and how they greet the Cats as they take the ice. One thing you cannot say about this team is that they quit. There is plenty of heart on this team, they never stopped skating. They just didn't have the talent to get to the finish line. Puck drops at 7:00.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cue Helga...

8 straight seasons without a playoff game. And just to rub it in, Boston beat Montreal in OT. Goodnight. More to come eventually... I guess.

Quick and Simple...

Florida makes the playoffs IF:
The Panthers go 2-0-0, the Rangers OR Montreal go 0-2-0.
The Panthers go 2-0-0, the Rangers go 0-0-2.
The Panthers go 1-0-1, the Rangers go 0-2-0.


That's it. Pretty straightfoward. If Florida loses in regulation tonight, it's over. If Montreal AND the Rangers win tonight, it's over.

Tomas Vokoun is in net. If the Panthers don't find a way to score, it won't really matter who's in goal. Less then a week ago, the Panthers could only manage 1 goal against Johan Hedberg. If the Cats can't do any better tonight, it's game over. Puck drops at 7:00.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

That Should Just About Wrap It Up...


The Florida Panthers still have two games left to play, but after tonight, those game's are now literally "must wins." The Panthers suffered a devastating, 2-1 defeat tonight in Philadelphia. With the New York Rangers beating Montreal, Florida now has to win both of it's remaining games, and hope the Rangers or Canadiens lose both of theirs. Otherwise, it's another season that ends after 82 games.

The game itself was one of the toughest to swallow this season. The Panthers scored first, a perfect tic-tac-toe that resulted in Brett McLean finishing in the 2nd period. Unfortunately, the Flyers woke up after that. An unlucky bounce off of Joffrey Lupul's skate tied it. No kicking motion, but instead a "redirection." Perfectly legal, perfectly unfortunate. The game winner, on the other hand, was not so clear. The play started after blindingly obvious cross check was not called on Scott Hartnell, resulting in a turnover in the Panthers corner. Jeff Carter picked up the puck, turned, and beat an ill prepared Tomas Vokoun. As ugly as the non-call was, Vokoun was just as bad. This was the type of goal that got Vokoun benched two weeks ago. It was terrible. Granted, the shot never should have come. The Panthers should have had a face off in the Flyers' zone and a power play, but that was not the case. Game, set, season. A valiant press in the final minutes came up short, and the Panthers' now need a giant helping hand if they hope to end their 7-season postseason drought.

It's going to be awfully hard to get past this one. Florida was ready. They were on an even playing field with the Flyers all night. The Cats showed the desperation you would expect from a team in their position. To lose not just the game, but probably the postseason, on a play like that... it's painful. They limited one of the league's top offenses to few pure chances. The Cats were able to set up and work their offense numerous times. They backchecked hard. They forechecked tenaciously. But, as has been the case many times this season, all the effort and heart in the world can do no good if you don't have the talent to put the puck in the net. Brutal.

So here's what's left. 2 games for Florida, 2 games for Montreal, 2 games for the Rangers. Florida has to win their final 2, in Atlanta Thursday, then home against the Capitals Saturday. If that happens, and clearly a big if, either the Habs or Rangers will have to lose both of their remaining games. New York has a home and home against the Flyers. Montreal is in Boston Thursday, then home against the Penguins Saturday. Is it possible that NYR or MTL lose both? Of course it is. Could Florida win both of it's remaining games? Sure. But one more win for the Rangers and Canadiens, and that would ensure the Panthers watch the playoffs for the 8th straight season from home. It would take a small miracle for the Cats to get in, but let's not write any obituaries until the body is in the ground...

Biggest Game of the Year; Part 14

Not much to say about this one that isn't blatantly obvious. 3 games to go. Tied for the 8th and final playoff spot. Panthers are in Philly. Rangers are hosting Montreal.

The biggest key to the Panthers win over Pittsburgh last time out was energy. The Cats were horribly out shot in the first period, and were fortunate to have a lead. The biggest change in the game came via Keith Ballard's hit on Malkin, and the following fight. From that point forward, Florida was jumping at chances, hitting bodies, and playing with an energy that needs to be there from the opening drop of the puck tonight. There simply isn't the luxury of having a bad first period and being able to climb back. This needs to be a physical, spirited game for the Panthers to feel like they are in it. Once the pace slows down, Florida seems like it almost gets bored, then lazy. Not tonight.

No local TV, so get those dishes pointed, or hit the bar. Center Ice will have it. FSN-FL decided the Marlins game 2 of 162 is more important than the Panthers game 80 of 82... just don't get it. Anyways, puck drops at 7:00.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Panthers Win!


Awesome. Great. Super. Got that all out of your system? Good, because the Panthers big 4-2 over the Penguins is so 2 hours ago. Hopefully, the Panthers can enjoy tonight, and forget about it tomorrow.

It's now a best of 3 game season between the Panthers and the New York Rangers. Both sit with 89 points and 3 games remaining. Let the playoffs begin.

Today's game against the Penguins was good on so many levels. Scoring from unusual suspects (Olesz and Peltonen) as well as the top guys (Booth and McCabe). A power play goal. A 3rd period lead held. The Penguins 2nd goal three weeks ago was a sign of an impending collapse. Today, it seemed to give the Panthers one more rush of energy.

There were negatives, as there usually are. The Cats gave up 43 shots. But after being outshot 19-7 in the 1st period, the Panthers gave up only 24 in the final 2 periods. Tomas Vokoun looked a little rusty, to be sure. The 2nd goal wasn't a good one to give up, but today, his teammates played well enough (and scored enough) to back T Vo up. Malkin and Crosby were relatively maintained, and no one controlled them more so then Keith Ballard, who delivered a beautiful hip check to Evgeni Malkin and then fought Sydney Crosby. That got the crowd going, the Panthers fed off the energy, and never looked back.

Take the positives from today's game and remember them. You can't afford to get too high after a win like today. There are still 3 games left. There is zero margin for error. The Panthers' can't afford to worry about what the Rangers are doing. They can only control their own game, the next one coming on Tuesday in Philadelphia. As big as today's win was, the next game is just that much more important. Until next time...

It's Kinda Obvious...

Gonna keep it simple and brief. The Panthers are 2 points behind the Rangers for the final playoff spot. Florida welcomes the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins to south Florida this evening. The Cats will have to play their best 60 minute game of the season if they hope to keep their playoff dreams alive. It's the biggest game of the year. No more excuses. No time left to try and figure it out. Win or pack your things.

Puck drops at 5:00.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Devastated


Pete DeBoer could only watch as his Panthers wasted what could be the last chance they had to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2000. It was heart breaking. It was agonizing. It was horribly frustrating. It was a 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers that may prove to be the final blow to the Panthers’ playoff hopes.

Last night’s loss was not about a lack of effort. It was not about being outplayed or outworked. It was simply an inability to put the puck in the net. Throw in a couple complete and total defensive breakdowns, and that’s all Atlanta needed to put this game away. Twice, Rich Peverley was able to walk through the slot. And twice, Peverley beat Craig Anderson high. Tack on an unfortunate bounce and an empty net goal, and the Panthers’ final four games may have lost all meaning.

Florida had it’s chances. The Panthers managed 36 shots on goal, but only once were able to beat Johan Hedberg. It was a loss that cannot be blamed on lack of effort, and those are the hardest to take. When you play bad and make mistakes, you know what to fix. When you play well enough to win, yet cannot get the puck in the net, you do not know where to go. Last night, Florida simply did not have enough desperation to beat Atlanta.

People around the hockey world have pointed to the Panthers’ lack of experience as the reason for the fall from playoff positioning. Yes and no. The main core of this team has little to no postseason playing time. Mainly because they have been with this franchise since they were drafted. Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, David Booth, and Jay Bouwmeester are vital components of this team’s success. They also combine for zero playoff games. But there is experience in the locker room. Cory Stillman owns two Stanley Cup rings, Jassen Cullimore has one. Radek Dvorak has played in two Cup finals. There are leaders on this team. Unfortunately, there are too many “character” players and not enough top line finishers for the Panthers to make a consistent run. David Booth has had a nice, breakout year (27 G, 26 A). Michael Frolik has had a successful rookie season (20 G, 21 A). But last offseason, Florida chose to address it’s pitiful defense. That has paid off, but at the cost of the offense. Maybe next season, the Cats can finally put the two together.

Yes, there is still a possibility of making the playoffs. Should the Rangers lose this afternoon against the Bruins, Florida is still just 2 points out with 4 to play. And Montreal is only 3 points ahead, but has a game in hand. The reality is that Florida would almost certainly need to finish ahead of the Rangers or Canadiens, as the first tie breaker, wins, would likely not go the Panthers’ way. (Florida has 38 W’s, Montreal and New York have 40). So, with 4 games remaining for both the Panthers and Rangers, Florida would have to be 3 points better in those 4 games. The Panthers remaining games? Pittsburgh, @ Philadelphia, @ Atlanta, Washington. Not very hopeful, even though the Rangers’ final four are @Boston, Montreal, and home and home with the Flyers.

I’ll refrain from writing any obituaries until it’s official, but tonight has drained all but the very lost drop of hope from my soul. I am really not looking forward to watching another postseason with no horse in the race. I am trying to push inevitable reality away as long as possible. Maybe tonight will bring another glimmer of light. Go Bruins

The Door's Open...

The Florida Panthers finally got some help last night, as the New York Rangers fell to the Carolina Hurricanes, meaning a win tonight over the Thrashers, and Florida is tied with NYR for the 8th and final playoff spot. Unfortunately for the Cats, both New York and Montreal, who is now 3 points up on Florida in 7th, have 2 more wins then the Panthers. This means that will more then likely have to finish with more points, with wins being the first tie breaker. The 2nd tie breaker, you ask? If Florida ends up with the same amount of wins as MTL or NYR, it comes to head to head, which would put Florida in over the Rangers, but not the Canadiens. With just 5 games left for Panthers, it's imperative that Florida earn points against the teams lower then them in the standings.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. There are still those 5 games remaining on the schedule, none more important then the one they are playing tonight. The Atlanta Thrashers come to south Florida, fresh off of an OT win over the Buffalo Sabres that ended their realistic playoff hopes. There is no doubt that the Thrashers would enjoy putting another team out of playoff contention tonight. Atlanta has also won 4 of its last 5.

There really isn't much left to say. Florida knows what it has to do. They know the standings. They know what works and what doesn't. Play their style for 60 minutes, and they have a good chance at winning. Come out slow, play without desperation, play tight and nervous, and the postseason could get out of reach. Simple.

Atlanta's #1 goaltender is on the shelf, so it's Johan Hedberg in net for ATL tonight. It's another chance for the Panthers to keep it's offense going against a backup in net. Craig Anderson will get the start for Florida, hoping to earn a 4th straight win. No local TV tonight, so head to the BAC or your local NHL Center Ice carrying pub. Puck drops at 7:30.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Little Help, Please?


The Florida Panthers are doing their part. Last night, the Cats earned their 3rd straight win via a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators. The 2 points kept pace with the 7th seed New York Rangers, who won Monday night, and the 8th seed Montreal Canadiens, who also won last night.

While last night's game wasn't the best the Panthers have played, they were able to capitalize on their chances, and Craig Anderson stood tall yet again. Special teams were the difference. The Panthers' penalty kill was 2 for 2, while the power play continued to produce. Florida got 2 more goals on the man advantage last night, giving them 6 PPG in the last 3 games. The key for the power play is to get the puck to the net as quickly as possible. Pass quick, shoot quick, score. When the defensemen hold the puck too long, the penalty killers are able to reset and get in lanes. Recently, it's been catch and shoot from the blue line. Keep it up.

Another big reason for the Panthers success is that they continue to get production from all 4 lines. Last night, all 5 goals were scored by a different skater. Florida now has 11 different players with 30+ points, as well as 11 different players to hit the 10+ goal mark. When the Cats click, there is no "top line." Instead, there are 4 very balanced, equally dangerous lines that make it hard to match up against.

Craig Anderson made 30 more saves last night in the win. And as long as he keeps winning, he will continue to get the starts. Whether that's "fair" to Tomas Vokoun doesn't really matter at this point. Obviously, you can't blame the entire slump the Panthers went through in mid-March on Vokoun. He was getting very little scoring help. But he gave up too many weak, untimely goals, and Anderson got the chance. He's made the most of it, and will be in net in the Panthers' next game, Friday night against the Thrashers.

Speaking of next game, how on earth can 2 of the final 5 games of the season not be televised locally? That's like not broadcasting the final series of the Marlins' season when they're a half game out of the playoffs. I cannot begin to imagine what programming genius at FS-FL decided a college baseball game is more important. Simply unbelievable. The Thrashers home network is broadcasting it, and they've been out of the playoff race since November. Thank God for NHL Center Ice...

Anyways, off my high horse. The Canadiens remain 1 point up on the Panthers, while the Rangers sit 2 points up. Both MTL and NYR play Thursday night, so Florida will know the situation when they take the ice Friday. Should both win Thursday, the Cats' game Friday becomes a must-win to keep pace. Should the Habs or Blue Shirts drop, Florida will have a chance to catch and\or pass. Enjoy tonight, get some rest, then get your scoreboard watching glasses ready for Thursday.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Down the Stretch They Come

The Florida Panthers kick off a 3-game home stand tonight against the Ottawa Senators. With just 6 games remaining, Florida trails 8th seed Montreal by just 1 point for the final playoff spot. The Canadiens also have a game in hand.

Despite losing a tough game to open the Panthers' recent 3-game road trip, Florida fought back and won the final 2 games of the roadie, earning 4 crucial points to keep pace with the pack. A 4-2 win over the Flyers, followed by a 6-3 win in Dallas helped keep the hope alive.

Tonight, a red-hot Senators team visits the Bank Atlantic Center. The playoffs are realistically out of reach for the Sens, and that has the team playing some loose hockey lately. Ottawa has won 10 of it's last 13 games. And with "the Big 3" (Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza), Ottawa still presents plenty of danger for the Panthers. Florida will need to play that same desperation, all-out, playoff style of hockey that was present in the last 2 games. There isn't time to have a slow start or a weak period.

Craig Anderson is in net for the Panthers'. His play backstopped the last 2 Panther wins. Let's hope the winning ways continue. In other action, Montreal hosts the Chicago Blackhawks. Both pucks drop at 7:30.

Monday, March 30, 2009

All Andy... All the Time (Until He Loses)

Thanks, as always, to George Richards, for the latest update. According to Pete DeBoer, Craig Anderson is the Panthers' goalie until he loses. That's his decision, and he's sticking to it... for now. Yes, Anderson was the winning netminder in the Cats last two games. Yes, Tomas Vokoun has given up some soft goals in recent games. But to put it so bluntly, "win and you keep your job," it begs questioning. Playing the hot goaltender has been DeBoer's mantra from day one, and PDeB is riding it to the end. Hopefully the Panthers will continue their solid play, regardless of who is in net.

And, as promised, an article about Steve Ott's hit on Greg Campbell.

Tonight, the 7th seed New York Rangers, who sit just 2 points ahead of the Panthers, play host to the New Jersey Devils. Needless to say, should the Devils prevail, Florida would have a chance to tie the NYR tomorrow night. Montreal is off tonight, and they, too, play tomorrow. Scoreboard watching is good and fun, but it's pointless if Florida doesn't continue to win. Until tomorrow...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pushing Forward


The Florida Panthers capped off a quick 3-game road trip with a well earned victory over the Dallas Stars. Despite sleepwalking through the first period, Florida trailed just 1-0 going to the 2nd. The Cats were outshot 15-5 in the opening frame. One can only imagine what head coach Pete DeBoer said between periods... because for the rest of the game, the Panthers appeared more energetic and more desperate then the Stars. The end result was a 6-3 win and 2 more important points.

After the first 20 minutes, I was already writing the Panthers' obituary. Too many young players, not enough talent, not enough experience in playoff-type situations. It's easy to get up and ready for the high intensity nights like the Flyers game Thursday. Bringing that same intensity to a non-conference game, against a team who is playing out the string... well that's not as easy to get up for. And the excuses were waiting for Florida tonight; the last game of a 3-games in 4-nights road trip, a physical win that last time out that gives you that good feeling... The Panthers didn't show anything that would lead you to believe that they were fighting for the playoff lives.

Which is why the response in the 2nd and 3rd periods inspire that much more hope. Cory Stillman is on a very short list of Panthers with solid playoff experience, and he is starting to show it. He got his 3rd goal in the last 4 games tonight to tie it at 1. But it wasn't enough, because just minutes later Dallas retook the lead. Again, Florida fought back. This time, Stephen Weiss got the goal on a nifty move opened Marty Turco's legs like a can opener. It was also Weiss' 3rd point in the last 2 games. And then, with just seconds remaining in the 2nd period, Nathan Horton chipped in an impossible angle rebound to give the Panthers the lead heading to the 3rd period. Kamil Kreps kept it going for the Cats early in the 3rd, beating Turco short side on a nice individual move of his own that extended the lead to 2. Then Dallas scored to make it 4-3, and all the thoughts and fears of the last few 3rd period leads the Florida has wasted came flooding in. Luckily, and impressively, the Panthers showed no signs of letting it get to them. Jay Bouwmeester found a hole in Turco's shield to regain the 2 goal lead, and then Radek Dvorak iced it with the empty netter.

To me, this is a sign of a team growing at the right time, if not a little late. The leaders, the Weisses and Hortons and Bouwmeesters have been missing for long periods of time this season. Seeing them come through in the cluth instills a bit of confidence. Then throw in a Brett McLean goal here, a Kamil Kreps goal there, and you have the team that looked so strong through early 2009. Your top line guys have to produce for you. When you add in 3rd and 4th line scoring, you get a dangerous team that is incredibly hard to play against. Back it up with strong defense and solid goaltending, and you get a team that is incredibly hard to beat. No "top line" to match your best defenders up against, no weak defensive pair to get your scorers on the ice against... Thursday in Philly and the last 2 periods tonight in Big D, that's what we got from the Panthers.

And don't think I overlooked Craig Anderson. The situation he was put in was not an easy one, by any stretch of the imagination. All he did was put up back-to-back solid performances in the most crucial of times. While he doesn't always look like the calm, collected Tomas Vokoun, he gets in the way of the puck, and that's all that really matters. Swimming through the crease on your stomach throwing appendages back towards the puck doesn't look pretty, but if the puck stays away from the twine, who cares.

Just 2 games ago, the Panthers blew a 2-goal, 3rd period lead in Buffalo. That loss seemed to be the first nail in the coffin. It was the 4th time the Panthers lost a 3rd period lead in 8 games. There were 2 tough road games coming up. There was no confidence in starting goalie Tomas Vokoun. The young Panthers looked down and out. Now, here we are. The Panthers won those 2 road games and are just 1 point behind the Montreal Canadiens for the 8th spot, and 2 points behind the Rangers for 7th. The Cats next 3 games are at home, and the first 2 have to be looked at as "must wins." Ottawa and Atlanta come to south Florida. Both teams are out of the race and playing for pride. The Panthers have to want it more, need it more. 4 of the Cats' final 6 are at home. Florida looks to have its confidence back. The goals are starting to come. The bounces have turned in Florida's favor. Got all those good feelings out of your system yet? Good, because that was last week. Now, it's just a 6 game season and you have to find your intensity and desperation all over again. Should be a fun finish.

P.S. Don't think I missed the hit on Greg Campbell... check out the Hockey Writers tomorrow for my thoughts...