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; 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)