Ice Bucket Challenge: The Florida Panthers Get Icy

For weeks now, people from all over have been shoveling chunks of ice into buckets, mixing it with water, pouring it on their heads, and then posting it on their respective social media sites. Just recently players, broadcasters, main stream media, and bloggers from around the NHL have joined the craze. No, they aren’t crazy.  They are raising awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. The rules are simple: Poor ice water on your head, capture it on video, and then challenge someone else. Chain chain chain.

A few members of the Florida Panthers have joined in on the action:

Shawn Thornton

Vincent Trocheck

Scottie Upshall

Billy Lindsay
Aaron Ekblad

Erik Gudbranson

Jayce Hawryluk

Joe Wegwerth

Quinton Howden
Nick Bjugstad

Sasha Barkov

Florida Panthers Staff

A few members of the Panther Parkway family even accepted the challenge!
Paige Lewis
Mike Obrand

We welcome your comments and feedback!

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Tallon uses myriad of methods to build rising D corps

There is an old NHL proverb passed down from generation to generation that dictates the winning formula for a team to embrace and thereby succeed: “Build from the back out.”

It is this mantra that hints at stabilizing your core from the defensive side out when trying to build a winning team that can keep winning for years on end.

Dale Tallon inherited a limping roster when he was hired and has gone through the process to turn it into one of the most promising, young and dynamic groups in the National Hockey League. He stabilized his net when he realized Jacob Markstrom was not cut for full-time duty and is now in the midst of cementing his D corps that will hopefully lead to real success in the short and long-term.

Dale Tallon’s defensive rebuild conforms to many rebuilds we’ve seen in the league over the years with one notable exception. He has used key draft picks to select core players, traded for young undervalued players from other organizations and signed complimentary pieces via free agency. Despite taking the beaten path in those regards there, is one piece that he added that did not conform to the traditional rebuild schematic. The piece that I am referring to is Dale Tallon’s long con….but we’ll get to that.

When you look at the Panthers’ potential defense for the upcoming season you see the results of the aforementioned beaten path which Tallon walked with great effectiveness.

The Key Draft Picks

Dmitry Kulikov, drafted 14th overall in 2009, 99 points in 313 games played after making the team directly out of camp after his draft. The Panthers committed to Kulikov long-term and clearly see him as an integral part of their defensive system.

Kulikov ate minutes for the Panthers finishing 2nd on the team in terms of total minutes played and was deployed almost with complete neutrality between the offensive and defensive zone last season, meaning that the coaching staff believed in him in both offensive and defensive situations.

Within the last two years Kulikov has been on the upward swing possession-wise and has had a positive impact on his team’s performance while on the ice.

Next up: Erik Gudbranson, the Panthers’ esteemed 3rd overall selection from the 2010 entry draft. Erik was thrown into the fire as Kulikov was and has been through the struggles that one would expect a young defenseman to go through while playing in the NHL as an under-20 year old. While Gudbranson’s skill set is elite and the talent is obvious, he is only beginning to carve his niche on the ice as was evident at times last season. Regardless of the past, the future is bright for the likely captain of the Panthers and a serious jump (and I mean serious) in possession metrics suggests that he is coming into his own as planned. At 22 and with the best surrounding cast since his debut, Gudbranson is primed for another season of improvement.

Then there’s the 6’3 216 lbs colt in the room, Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers invested heavily in the defenseman in June and undoubtedly plan to make him a part of their core for as long as they can (aka his entire career). Ekblad’s elite talent is undeniable and his ability to transition that from the junior game to the NHL is obviously paramount for the Panthers’ success in any realm. It’s a risk to select a defenseman first overall due to their slow development and potential for failure but the Panthers clearly thought that he was worth the risk so he will have to make it worth their while.

The undervalued trade target

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure has never been truer when it comes to Dylan Olsen (and his fellow former Blackhawk Jimmy Hayes). Chicago deemed Olsen (and Hayes) expendable to regain the services of Kris Versteeg and I believe I would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks the Panthers got the worse end of the deal from a player perspective. Olsen went from a fringe NHLer in Chicago’s system to a mainstay blue-liner in Florida and managed to put up positive possession numbers for the first time in his career with a weaker line up supporting him. Olsen is poised to keep his spot on the blue line out of training camp and cement his spot in the NHL as a valuable top six defender.

The complimentary free agent

Any good GM knows that free agency is for filling out the roster, not building it. When Dale Tallon went on a spending spree in 2011 he picked up players to fill the roster while his prospects were gaining experience in the minor league and junior ranks. That spree pushed the Panthers into the playoffs but that clearly did not equate to long-term success. Tallon’s youth is finally maturing and he is now at a stage where he can use free agency to go after players he deems suitable for his squad.

Enter Willie Mitchell. Mitchell is the kind of player that GMs love. He’s a winner at all levels winning an ECAC title with Clarkson University, a IIHF World Championship gold medal and of course the two Stanley Cups with the LA Kings in 2012 and 2014. He is a 12 year NHL vet who has made a positive impact on every team he has played for. He is a leader who leads by example and is not afraid to put his body on the line as is evident by his team-leading 128 blocked shots last year. To impress you more, even with Mitchell’s high blocked shot totals he is still a fantastic possession player who creates more positive possession events than he gives up and considering he blocked 128 shots last season that is a lot of positive possession events.

Mitchell will bring a sense of stability to the Panthers defense this season. He will be a solid veteran presence to the young guns both on and off the ice and of course will be relied upon heavily by the coaching staff in key situations when needed.

The long con

Finally, we get to Brian Campbell.

When Brian Campbell was traded to the Florida Panthers on June 25th 2011 the narrative was that of “A cap dump by Chicago to rid themselves of a shell of a player that they thought they were getting to a team he won’t succeed with.”

Not exactly a rousing endorsement for the Panthers, but after finishing last in the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs for the 10th straight year the pundits didn’t have to be generous to the team in Sunrise. From the Panthers’ perspective it was more than a cap relief favor to the GM’s previous employer, it was the start of the locomotive that was and is Dale Tallon’s rebuild of the Florida Panthers.

NHL GMs think that far ahead and that’s what Dale Tallon was doing when he traded for Campbell. He acquired a piece that would help the team in the short-term and one that would evolve into the cornerstone of his defensive corps in the long-term.

Tallon took it on the chin when he traded for Campbell but he is only reaping the benefits of acquiring a premiere all-around defenseman who can, has and will do it all for the Panthers.

Let’s talk leadership. Brian Campbell epitomizes the word.

I don’t just mean that he is a “leader,” of course he’s a leader. He’s a 35 year old decade plus player with 838 games under his belt. He’s a Stanley Cup Champion, has been a Captain, an alternate captain and is a poised and professional person who deals with fans and media with aplomb. His career speaks for itself in terms of intangibles but I want to talk about the aspects of his game that makes him the cornerstone of the team.

When I said leader I meant “leader” as in team leader in 5 on 5 ice time since he was traded to the Panthers. In fact he led by 288, 220 and 281 minutes within the past 3 seasons, which is insane. He has either led or finished 2nd in shots taken by a defenseman since his Panthers debut and has been among the team leaders (and led in 13-14) in blocked shots. He finished 2nd, 1st and 1st since the 11-12 season in takeaways by a Panthers defenseman. To top it all off, since 2011-2012 Campbell has led all Panthers’ D in points.

Beyond these stats, his possession numbers are exceptional.

He boasts a 52.1% Corsi For Percentage which means that when Campbell is on the ice 52.1% of the total shot attempts are going towards the opposing team’s net. To give you a comparison, that is 38th best among defenseman after the 13-14 season and best on the Panthers by 1.5%, which is astounding. Campbell literally drives possession forward for the Panthers better than any other D by a significant margin.

In terms of Fenwick (shots directed toward the net that aren’t blocked) Campbell clocked a 52.5%, 1% better than the closest Panthers D and good for 39th in the league.

These numbers are even more impressive when you take into account that Campbell played the 3rd most 5 on 5 minutes out of any defenseman in the NHL. To add to his impressive resume his 5 on 5 Zone Start Ratio is 50.8% meaning that he was nearly evenly distributed between the offensive and defensive zone which alludes to my “all-around player” label.

What impresses me most about Campbell’s metrics are his Relative Corsi and Fenwick numbers. He is a +3.0% 5 on 5 Corsi and Fenwick player which means that the team is much better (3% better) at possession when he is part of the 5 man on-ice unit. That is, again, a full percent higher than the next Panthers D which means he is better at making the team better than any other defenseman on the team.

With skating that cuts the ice like a knife does warm butter, a hard and accurate shot with a quick release, a premiere first pass and exceptional defensive skills, Brian Campbell is the whole package for the Panthers. He is the unequivocal cornerstone of a defensive group that has been carefully constructed and perfected over the years. Campbell was brought in with the knowledge that he would one day be this player for the team. He knows what it means to be a Panther, he wears an A and is a strong candidate to wear the C and has been through the absolute worst the franchise has seen. With the team ready to rise up from the bowels of the NHL, Brian Campbell is at the helm.

With less than two months until opening night, the current blue-line for the Panthers is shaping up to be one of the most talented defensive corps the franchise has seen in a long time.

REPORT: Juho Lammikko to leave Finland, play in the OHL

It has been reported that Juho Lammikko, a Finnish prospect of the Florida Panthers, will leave his team in the Finnish Liiga and join the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL.

A 3rd round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft (via trade), Lammikko has decided to join the North American ranks for the 2014-2015 season, where he could potentially play with this year’s 3rd overall pick, Sam Bennett.

Lammikko, 18, is a power-forward who has spent his career playing for his native country, Finland. Before joining the the Finnish Liiga, Lammikko tallied an impressive 103 points with a U-16 Jr. C division, and 53 points the following season with the U-18 Jr. B league. Always playing above his age group, Lammikko joined the U-20 Jr. A SM-Liiga team at just 17 years old, recording 42 points (17G-25A) in just 37 games.

Following the 2014-2015 season, Lammikko will likely return to Finland, where he will re-join the Finnish Elite League, and play with Assat full-time, until he feels he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL, where he could join the Panthers.

 

We welcome your comments and feedback!

 

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VIDEO: Paige Lewis from Panther Parkway chats with Hockeybuzz

Our very own Paige Lewis was today’s guest on Hockeybuzz.com’s Hokeybuzzcast!

Check out Paige as she goes head to head with Josh Rimer, Mike Augello and Eklund here:

Paige talks in depth about the Panthers, and fields questions from the rest of the panel.

Enjoy!

How can the Panthers fill their rink?

With single game tickets going on sale early Friday morning, I spurred a debate on the Twitter by suggesting that ticket sales would be on the rise for the upcoming 2014-2015 season. Aside from the usual scoffs at the notion that the Panthers can get people in the building, there were some good points made about the slow but sure culture change that is going on in Pantherland.

It is no secret that I have professed my belief in the “Hockey is the business” model for the Panthers and from what I have seen, the ownership and front office seem to agree. The Panthers have spent big on free agent day and are poised to ice a line-up that they believe to be a competitive one. The Panthers spent big in 2011 and went into the year with a Frankenstein team that ended up winning the Southeast Division. This year the Panthers spent their money filling out a roster with a young and rising core with key and complementary players that will each contribute in their own way.

This orchestra conducted by Dale Tallon and backed by his ownership team all lead up to two variables that directly correlate to one another: Fans in the stands and wins on the score sheets.

Over the last 5 years you can see a shift in capacity percentage at the BB&T Center

Year Capacity Percentage Record
2008-2009 78.7 32-37-13
2010-2011 81.5 30-40-12
2011-2012 86.4 38-26-18
2012-2013 88.3 15-27-6
2013-2014 75.5 29-45-8

Source: http://www.hockeyattendance.com/team/florida-panthers/

A lot goes in to the attendance of an NHL team but the common denominator is always the on ice product. Fans will watch a team that they think can win games. That’s sports fans 101, nothing new. You can see a steady increase in attendance from 2008-2012 that culminates in the season following the Southeast Division Championship and subsequent first round elimination. Unfortunately that momentum was met with the team’s worst finish in 5 years leading up to their worst attendance in the same span.

If the fans don’t expect wins then the team shouldn’t expect the fans.

So what makes this year different? Is this year even going to be different? I’ll spare you the optimistic rant but Tallon’s rebuild is in full swing. The core is there, the complimentary parts have been acquired and the team is poised to ice the most competitive version of themselves that the league has seen in a long while.

The marketing side has done its job to set the tone for the upcoming season. They have started to build fan pride and unity with their “One Under The Sun” slogan. They have created and upheld the buzz of the youth movement with the “Be Here to Witness” campaign. In addition to the posters and social media efforts, Tallon was also fairly blunt about the acquisition of Roberto Luongo being as much of a marketing move as it was a hockey move. Tallon was right to do it; Luongo’s presence has not only excited the fans but brought a media relevance that the Panthers have lacked in recent years.

These actions appear to have the market ready to go for the 2013-2014 season but it ultimately comes down to the on-ice product. The Panthers on ice play will dictate if the initial surge of season-opening attendance will linger or taper off.

When a fan base is used to a losing team and starving for a winning one, the sheer notion of competitive hockey can be enough to bring fans in. I think that this will be the driving force behind the resurgence of the attendance at the BB&T Center. The fans will slowly realize that this team is V.2 of a rebuilt squad that is slowly coming into its own. They will see the dynamic youth, the scoring veterans, the entertaining goaltending and be drawn in as they have in the past.

The Panthers have a tough task ahead of them, but they are primed to surprise and with that the seats will be filled.

Florida Panthers Re-Sign RFA Dmitry Kulikov

The Florida Panthers announced today the re-signing of D Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year, $13m contract. Kulikov, 23 led all Panthers defensemen in goals last season, scoring a career-high eight goals in 81 games and recorded 19 points (8-11-19) on the year.

The left shot defenseman from Lipetsk, Russia is still young and prone to make mistakes. Kulikov who averaged a minus-5 rating for his first four seasons in the NHL struggled in his fifth. Finishing with a team worst, minus-26 rating, Kulikov struggled during last season defensively and lacked consistency throughout the year.

A young, puck-moving defenseman is a commodity to have on any team, especially the kind of defenseman with the type of potential that Kulikov still possesses. A smooth skater with good hands, a deceptively quick release from the point and the kind of player who isn’t afraid to throw his body around, Kulikov has the tools to be not only an important piece to the Panthers future, but to be a very good NHL-er. Now armed with a new coaching staff, Kulikov has a chance to really turn the page on last season and write a new chapter to his career.

New Assistant Coach, Mark Morris hails from the Los Angeles Kings system as the former Head Coach of the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Morris worked with young defensemen like Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin who are not only NHL mainstays now, but are difference makers on the ice (Martinez scored the Stanley Cup clinching goal and Western Conference clinching goal during the 2014 playoffs) . Morris also coached new Panthers d-man, Willie Mitchell during his years at Clarkson University. A coach who has worked well with young defensemen and helped develop them into solid professionals is exactly what Kulikov needs to reach his potential and bounce back.

Drafted in the first round (14th overall) of the 2009 Entry Draft, Kulikov has played in 313 NHL games, recording 99 points (24-75-99).

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Florida Panthers Re-Sign RFA Brandon Pirri

Today the Florida Panthers announced the re-signing of F Brandon Pirri to a two-year contract, worth $925K AAV. Pirri, 23 was a late season acquisition by Florida after trading a 2014 third round pick and a 2016 fifth round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for the young forward.

Playing in 21 games for the Panthers, Pirri posted 14 points (7-7-14) and became one of the team’s most relied on players as the season came to a close. During the 2012-13 season, Pirri spent time playing for the Rockford Icehogs of the AHL, where he led the league in points, scoring 75 points (22-53-75) in 76 games.

A second round (59th overall) draft choice by the Blackhawks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Pirri has a deceivingly powerful and accurate shot for his size (6’0″, 183 lbs). During his short campaign with Florida last season, Pirri posted an impressive 15.2% shooting percentage and also recorded five power play points (2-3-5).

Pirri has played in 56 career NHL games posting 27 points (13-14-27).

 

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Florida Panthers Re-Sign RFAs Garrett Wilson and Ryan Martindale

The Florida Panthers announced today the re-signings of F Garrett Wilson and C Ryan Martindale to one-year, two-way contracts.

Wilson, 23 is coming off of his first full-time AHL season where he played 71 games and posted 30 points (14-16-30). A “crash-and-bang” type forward, Wilson played a prominent role for the San Antonio Rampage this season. His strong season in San Antonio earned him a trip to the NHL where he suited up for the Panthers for 3 games. Wilson’s NHL debut was on Mar. 18 in San Jose, where the Panthers defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-2. The Elmvale, Ontario native was drafted in the fourth round (107th overall) of the 2009 Entry Draft.

Martindale, 22 was a mid-season acquisition from the Edmonton Oilers system and played 37 games for the Rampage, posting 14 points (5-9-14). Combined with his 22 games he spent playing for the Oklahoma City Barons previously, Martindale finished the season with a total 24 points (8-16-24). The left shot, 6’3″, 207 lb center was an Edmonton draft selection in the third round (61st overall) of the 2010 Entry Draft.

 

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Panthers Re-Sign RFA Dylan Olsen

On Monday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced the re-signing of RFA Dylan Olsen to a one-way, 2-year deal.

Olsen, 23, appeared in 44 games with the Panthers last season after being dealt to Florida from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Kris Versteeg. He recorded 12 points (3-9-12) during his first season as a member of the Panthers. Olsen recorded his first NHL goal this past season against Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets.

The 6’2, 223 lb blue-liner is a native of Calgary, Alberta and was drafted by Chicago in the first round of the 2009 entry draft. The rugged defenseman has played 72 career NHL games, registering 13 points (3-10-13), 78 blocked shots, 159 hits and has averaged 14:14 minutes of time on ice.

 

 

We welcome your comments and feedback!

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Rocco Grimaldi: “This is my job. I’m going to do whatever I can to do the best at my job”.

The Florida Panthers have wrapped up day 3 of the on-ice portion of this off-season’s development camp. With 34 players invited to the annual event, one individual with very little size has had no issues fitting in with sizable competition . Rocco Grimaldi, taken in the 2nd round of the 2011 NHL Entry draft, has put on a show for Panthers fans this week, showing that size doesn’t always matter.

Grimaldi, 21, signed an entry-level deal with the Panthers last month after spending his last two full-seasons at the University of North Dakota, where he compiled 77 points (31G-46A-77P) in 82 games.

After falling short of the Frozen Four three-seasons ago, North Daktota earned another shot this past year when Grimaldi notched his first NCAA hat trick, beating the University of Wisconsin in the process. Shortly after, Grimaldi and North Dakota downed Ferris State in a gripping double overtime final, which sent North Dakota into the Frozen Four, impressing the collegiate hockey world.

But no one has been more impressed with Grimaldi than Brian Skrudland, the Panthers director of player development.

“When I went to the University of North Dakota, and I sat in the crowd, I felt so proud that Rocco Grimaldi was a Panther because people are talking about him. They’re all talking about him, getting ready for warm-ups saying ‘Hey, watch this little guy! He’s going to light it up’. He never disappoints.”

As any young athlete with the dream of becoming a professional, Grimaldi understands the challenges of the profession he has chosen. With the six free agent signings the Panthers made this off-season, Grimaldi knows that it’s not going to be an easy road ahead, but is hopeful of his future as Panther.

“I like a challenge though”, Grimaldi admits. “I think that’s going to be good for me, and obviously they brought in some good guys. I’m excited for what the future has in store here. I think they’re going to do some good things here in the coming years. Hopefully I’ll be a part of it sooner than later.”

With a near complete roster, and forwards like Vincent Trocheck and Drew Shore fighting for a spot on the NHL lineup as well, Grimaldi knows his journey to the NHL has become more difficult.

“Obviously if playing in the NHL was easy, then everyone would play”, explained Grimaldi. “I knew it was going to be hard, but those are just the sacrifices you’re willing to make. If that means not being able to hang out with your friends for a night and training instead, then so be it. This is a business now. This is my job. I’m going to do whatever I can to do the best at my job”.

Though he continues to face challenges, this positive attitude is what makes Grimaldi an attractive commodity to Panthers faithful.

“He’s got a great attitude”, Skrudland said. “I think he’s matured as a person. He’s become a better teammate in the 3 years that I’ve had the opportunity to work with him. He’s a very attentive individual, smart, and caring individual to his teammates.”

Even with a loaded roster, Skrudland see’s no reason to believe that Rocco and the prospects attending camp don’t have a shot at cracking the line up come October.

“He’s going to fit in here great.” Skrudland said of Grimaldi. “You never know. He might just be that guy who says ‘You know what, Brendan Gallagher did it in Montreal, I’m coming in here, I’m not going to San Antonio (Rampage)’. But it’s for them (prospects) to decide”.

We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

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