With the disappointing 2012-2013 season on its’ way to being understandably forgotten by both fans and players alike, we must take one final moment to begrudgingly relive the events of this year as I hand out my end of the season player grades. Although the Panthers were only able to muster a pedestrian 15-27-6 record – good enough for last in the entire NHL – there were still a few players that can look back on this season with pride.
While many players will be receiving grades that would merit summer school, there are a few skaters with bodies of work good enough to be hung up on the refrigerator. Considering the amount of call-ups and short lived NHL appearances by skaters due to frequent Panther injuries this season, I have decided to grade only players who competed in at least 20 games this season.
For this report card I will be taking a look at the Panthers’ ill-fated defensive unit. After seeing some improvement last season, the Panthers’ defense took a big step backward as they finished the season last in NHL in goals allowed per game (3.54). Frequent mental lapses and an inability to clear dangerous pucks were just two of the numerous problems that defined the team’s defensive struggles this season. Considering just how bad the Panthers’ defense looked almost every game, you will be hard pressed to find too many good grades below.
After his first season in Florida it looks as if the Panthers may have made an $8 million mistake in signing Filip Kuba. While there is no question that Kuba still has some skill left in the tank, the fact remains that his style of play just didn’t fit in to the team’s game plan this season. In 44 games, Kuba compiled 10 points (1G 9A), 37 hits, 69 blocked shots, and 14 takeaways.
Although he did lead all Panther defensemen in blocked shots, Kuba never quite got settled into his role in the defensive zone. Often the victim of bad penalties, Kuba’s 24 PIMs led all non-fighting Panther defensemen. Considering the Panthers lack a player like Erik Karlsson whom Kuba saw great success with in previous seasons, it might be time to think that maybe Filip Kuba simply doesn’t fit here in Florida.
Final Grade: D
After a promising 2011-2012 campaign, the 21-year-old Erik Gudbranson took a step backward in his journey toward stardom this season. In 32 games this season, Gudbranson compiled only 4 points (0G 4A) and was never really able to establish his offensive game – even when playing alongside Brian Campbell at times. Although Gudbranson was not expected to be an offensive force, his meager 4 point total is still a disappointment.
On the defensive side of things, Gudbranson’s once imposing physical play shifted more from intimidating to reckless. Although he was able to dish out 80 hits this season, Gudbranson’s 47 PIMs led all Panthers’ defensemen. Already known for his brutal body checks, Gudbranson’s hits became rather dangerous near the end of the season as he earned multiple game misconducts for hits that were deemed far reckless and borderline suspension worthy. If Gudbranson hopes to help the Panthers next season he will need to learn how to harness his undeniably physical abilities.
Final Grade: C-
After being a part time call-up the majority of last year, Tyson Strachan found his way to being an everyday starter for the Panthers this season. In 38 games, Strachan totaled 4 points (0G 4A), 110 hits, 62 blocked shots, and 11 takeaways.
Although Strachan’s numbers aren’t spectacular, he performed well considering he was never really expected to be a top 4 defensemen in the NHL. In fact, at 28-years-old, Strachan’s 38 games played this season are the most in his NHL career. Sadly for Strachan, he was forced to play above his own capabilities this season which led to numerous lapses on defense.
Final Grade: C-
After already starting the season off on the wrong foot with a contract dispute and a “jet lag” incident, Dmitry Kulikov did not make the jump that is expected of a defensemen in their 4th year of NHL play. In 34 games this season, Kulikov earned 10 points (3G 7A), 84 hits, 49 blocked shots, and 9 takeaways.
Although Kulikov had several games this season that led one to believe he was close to turning a corner, he would then later regress back to his old unpredictable form. In fact, Kulikov’s 23 giveaways were good enough for 2nd out of all Panther defensemen. While Kulikov still has the raw talents to be an elite offensive defensemen, fans and coaches alike would have hoped to see a bigger step forward in his crucial 4th NHL season.
Final Grade: C
After being the Panthers’ offensive wizard from the blue line last season, Brian Campbell’s production suffered this season as he tried to overcompensate for the lack of talent around him. While his defensive zone coverage may lack at time, Campbell’s offensive abilities continued to impress this season as he led all Panthers’ defensemen in scoring with 27 points (8G 19A). With the numerous injuries suffered by the Panthers this season, Campbell was forced to take on a much greater role than he is usually accustomed to. His workhorse mentality and contributions are best represented by his team leading 26:25 average TOI this season.
Sadly for Campbell, his offensive output would not be enough to help the ailing Panthers this season. On the defensive side of the puck, Campbell was often caught out of position as opponents took full advantage of the Panthers’ missed defensive assignments. This defensive ineptitude led to Campbell earning an NHL worst -22 +/- rating.
Final Grade: B-
Coming over from the Buffalo Sabres in a midseason trade, TJ Brennan became a nice offensive surprise for the Panthers for the 2nd half of the 2012-2013 season. In 29 games this season between Buffalo and Florida, Brennan earned 10 points (3G 7A), 31 hits, 32 blocked shots, and 12 takeaways.
After the loss of Jason Garrison to free agency prior to the start of the season, the addition of Brennan’s slap shot to the roster looked as if it could replace some of the magic on the power play that Garrison took with him when he left. In fact, 4 of Brennan’s 10 points this season came on the power play. Although his defense still leaves something to be desired, Brennan’s offensive abilities and booming slap shot proved to be quality and affordable additions to the Panthers’ lineup this season.
Final Grade: C+
After being a reliable defensive minded player last year, Mike Weaver looked to have lost his edge this season. In 27 games, Weaver compiled 9 points (1G 8A), 49 hits, 51 blocked shots, and just 4 takeaways.
Although Weaver remains a tough player willing to block shots and fight the hard fought battles in his own end, his defensive awareness and athletic abilities were lacking greatly. At almost 35-years-old, it might be safe to say that Weaver is starting to lose a step or two.
Final Grade: D+
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