Three Words That Describe The Florida Panthers Season.

We are just past the half way point of the season for the Florida Panthers, and after playing 43 games, the Cats find themselves with a very pedestrian record of 17-18-8. Good enough for a mediocre 42 points out of a possible 86. They’re in the midst of a five game road trip that continues in Vancouver tonight, and finishes in Montreal on Tuesday. Currently they are 0-2-1 on the trip, and have lost five consecutive games, each in a very different fashion, but each with a sometimes common theme. They’ve either trailed early and have tried to catch up, or have blown leads multiple times within their games only to lose in regulation, overtime or the dreaded shootout. Either way, this isn’t a playoff team as they now find themselves 10 points out of the final wild card spot, chasing 4 teams ahead. Let’s not talk about games at hand, because unless you win them, and the others you’re chasing lose, it doesn’t matter.


Last year the Panthers finished the season with a record of 44-30-8, which included a late season run where they won 25 of their last 35 games. An incredible pace for a team that had started out so poorly. Yet despite their second half heroics, they fell short of the playoffs by just one point. You might say that they “caught lightning in a bottle”. You might also say that they weren’t as bad as the start of the season, or not quite as good as the end of it. Some interesting statistics last year that contributed to their overall success are:

15-9 in one goal games.

27-4-0 when leading after one period.

29-1-1 when leading after two periods.

Entering this season, with the hope and determination to continue their second half run from last year, many predicted the Panthers to be a playoff team. As of today, not so much. In comparison let’s look at the same 3 statistics so far:

3-7 in one goal games

4-4-6 when leading after one period

10-2-3 when leading after two periods.

For all the fanfare that last season’s push created, this season has been a far cry from what was expected, and thus has led to a very disappointing first half of the season. It’s disappointing that a team that showed so much promise at the end of last season, could have struggled so much so far this season. Maybe too much was expected. Maybe too much faith was put into two goaltenders that were 1) getting older and 2) not as good and consistent as management thought they would be.


Because of last year’s final 35 games, much of the same was expected for this season. With a completely healthy team, and another season in the books for players like Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle, there was no reason to expect anything less. Plus with the addition of sniper Mike Hoffman and his perennial 20 plus goals per year, the continued maturation of young defencemen like Mike Matheson and MacKenzie Weegar, and adding Stanley Cup veteran presence in Troy Brouwer, all the pieces seemed to be in place.

Yet their record and performance indicates that round pegs are trying to be put into square holes.

While the offense for the most part has been good, they could be better. The depth at forward was as deep as it’s ever been at the beginning of the season. So deep that youngsters Owen Tippett and Henrik Borgstrom didn’t impress enough in training camp, and were sent back to the minors for more seasoning. Borgstrom would eventually be called up due to injuries on the team, yet, it was a sign that the internal competition was healthy. The core of the top 6, Barkov, Huberdeau, Hoffman and Dadonov have done their part. Barkov has played his role to exhaustion, but that’s another discussion.

Vincent Trocheck has been out with an ankle injury since mid November, and Nick Bjugstad has been out since early December with an upper body injury. However the Panthers cannot use these two injuries as an excuse. In comparison the Boston Bruins have had multiple injuries to multiple players and find themselves in a playoff spot. The New York Islanders who despite having a couple injuries of their own (Andrew Ladd has only played 14 games, and Thomas Hickey has missed 9), lost one of the best players in the NHL (John Tavares) due to free agency, are quietly “in” a playoff position with a roster that on paper is no way better than the Panthers. But as they saying goes, “that’s why you play the games”.

The bottom six forwards have been okay overall. Brouwer has played well, and has added some grit and sandpaper along with a few timely goals. Denis Malgin who’s been getting ice time on all 4 lines has been inconsistent with 5 goals and 5 assists in 29 games. Frank Vatrano has been fairly good for the most part with 12 goals and 7 assists in 42 games, but is he really a second line player. Jared McCann has been fair and honestly could be much better. He’s had trouble creating offence and trouble finishing. The rest of the bottom six which has consisted of Colton Sceviour, Juho Lammikko, and Michael Haley has been below average to poor from an offensive standpoint. They just aren’t creating enough energy, offence, and can’t be relied upon to play much more than 7-9 minutes per night. Jayce Hawryluk and Henrik Borgstrom have played 12 and 13 games respectively. They’ve done well with the time they’re being given, but they haven’t added enough consistently to have made a difference.

The blue line corps has been a shambles from a defensive perspective. More turnovers than you can find at the bakery rack at Costco. Poor positioning, nonchalant penalties, mental mistakes, and a complete lack of physical play has led to a goal differential of minus 18. Mike Matheson has regressed tremendously. He has offensive talent for sure, and can skate as smoothly as a baby’s bottom, but his defence has been horrific. Yandle and Ekblad are what they are. Gifted offensively, and erratic on defence, which is their actual position. If the rest of the defence was doing their job, we could at least accept this. Mark Pysyk is just a guy. Mackenzie Weegar is still learning the game, and it shows on many nights, yet his effort is there. However effort is only a part of the puzzle. Execution is sorely missing all along the blue line. Bogdan Kiselevich is learning the North American game, but has played fairly well for the most part. Overall however, this is the area that is most troublesome, which because of their erratic play leads to another problem.

Goaltending. Roberto Luongo was injured on opening night. He’s not looked himself for the bulk of the season. Has father time caught up? Is the defence in front of him worse than imagined? Is it a combination? Could be all of the above. James Reimer has been poor overall. He’s typically been a slow starter, and has always been streaky. This year is no different, but the Panthers aren’t paying him to be an average goaltender. He’s needed to be better, and has to stop with the soft goals, and needs to steal some games.

These two areas (defence and goaltending) are the crux of the issues. You are successful as a team from the net up, and there is just no synergy with these two units. They are consistently inconsistent. And when you get that, you get a team that is mediocre.


For a team to have so much talent, and promise, the Florida Panthers have not been able to deliver on either. Maybe the expectations are just too much. And if that’s been the case, then that’s another issue. Meaning mental toughness. We must realize that there are certain nights when you don’t have “it”. But those are the nights when you must find “it” and bring ‘it”. Yet there have been too many nights where the mental mistakes are more common. When you’re fatigued and your mind isn’t in the right place, you start making bad decisions. It’s coming from the forwards and the defence. Coupled with below average goaltending, it all just snowballs.

When you’re in top physical shape, you minimize your mistakes because you’re fresh, alert and energized. While these players are in excellent physical shape, the question becomes, as a group are they all in”hockey” shape? That’s just the physical part. What about the emotional and mental part? I’ve been in the dressing room after both wins and losses. It’s the atmosphere of the losses that stick with me the most. Sure it’s easy to be happy when you win, but what about when you lose? What should your behavior be? While it’s different for all of us, I have seen blank stares, disappointment, and players searching for answers because they no longer have them. Looks of confusion and fatigue. I’d rather see frustration, anger and emotion, based on the expectations of the group. Losing cannot be acceptable.

The starts to games, which have been duly noted by our staff often, are another flaw with the team. A lack of energy, a lack of desperation, and a lack of urgency are all signs that are seen in the opening few minutes of most of the games played. This too is a result of a team that is not confident, is tired, and or not as motivated as a group as they should be. There have been many discussions on who’s responsible for this. Players or the coaching staff? Likely both to an extent, however, after getting your initial reminders and instructions pregame, it’s up to the individuals in the room to be prepared to play. That should come from within. A champion is always ready to play.

When you’re fragile you become tense, erratic, nervous, timid and indecisive. In hockey it’s worse because you need to make split second decisions since the game is coming at you so fast. Being in top condition plays a major role in how you react in all situations.

While these descriptions are directed at the players, the coaching staff isn’t necessarily off the hook either. Without finger pointing at the staff, it’s been well documented that the defence is struggling and that it’s been a major reason for the teams’ current position. The goaltending has been subpar from both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer. The power play, while 4th in the league, masks the fact that five on five scoring needs to be better, and hi-danger shot attempts have also not been a strong point. There needs to be better work along the boards to win puck battles, and there needs to be more traffic in front of the net while on offence, as well as better protection in front of the crease when on defence.

Hit somebody. Anybody. Everybody.

Physical play is non existent for the most part. Playing the body needs to happen more. The stick waving at pucks, and the stick hacking is a result of not being aggressive enough and not willing to be more physical. There has to be a point where the Panthers set the tone for the game. A basic statement that says, we are going to be tough to play against. If you’re going to come into the crease area, you’re going to pay. They did this a few years ago, but then one retired, and the other got traded. Again, another story.

Lastly, the defensive zone breakouts are absolutely horrible most of the time. Chipping the puck out, haphazard no look passes, attempts to just clear the puck from harms way have caused massive problems for the Panthers this year. It’s almost as though they panic. And the opposition really just needs to apply an effective forecheck, and the Panthers struggle to get out of their zone. Thus, they can’t create any offensive momentum, puck possession time, and because of that find themselves playing too much in their zone, which can be extremely tiring over the course of a 60 minute game.

Phew! Let’s wrap this up.

There are some changes that need to be made. The question is will the changes be made by the trade deadline, or in the off season. There’s time to resurrect the season. There’s time to make another miraculous playoff run and actually sneak in. There’s time for everyone to figure out what’s ailing the team, and for things to start clicking again. However time is running out for another playoff type push. And believe me, I would love for you, me, and all of us to see it happen. For the sake of the players, the coaching staff and the organEYEzation. But when you’re underachieving overall, disappointing in too many areas of your game, and your psyche is fragile, it’s a lot to ask.

Thanks for reading.

Please follow me on Twitter @FrankRekas