Florida Panther’s 2018-2019 Eulogy. Not Good Enough.

Image property of Kim Smith Photography. Have we see the last of Roberto Luongo?

For the 20th time in 25 years the Florida Panthers failed to make the playoffs. No matter how you analyze it, this season was a season of disappointment, frustration and more disappointment. With the valiant effort that was made last season that saw the Panthers fall short of the playoffs by one point, you, me and everyone’s mother felt that this year was going to be better. That it would be a continuation of last season’s finish with the momentum carrying forward. A playoff birth was all but promised, with everyone buying into the hype. Hype because looking back that’s what it was.

Yet the only thing that was delivered was not good enough.

If you want to celebrate and feel good about the team having 5 players who scored more than 20 goals, go ahead. If you want to celebrate the career years that both Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau had, help yourself. If you want to jump for joy that the Panthers finally have a sniper on the wing in Mike Hoffman who treated us to 36 goals. Rejoice! If your happy with the what you saw of Sam Montembeault in goal for the eleven games he played, hooey!

I truly applaud those players for what they accomplished. Barkov, Huberdeau and Hoffman had wonderful seasons. In the end, those efforts as good as they were, didn’t make a difference in the objective of the season. Not to minimize the accomplishments of these players, because no doubt they were indeed excellent, but the concept of T.E.A.M., where “together everyone achieves more” left us with another season that was…………….. not good enough.

The team defence was an abomination. The turnover gang created too many chances for the opposition that resulted in too many goals against. The defensive scheme of man to man, if that’s what they were even playing, looked to be full of confusion and missed assignments. Not to mention the swimming efforts that were attempted to thwart opposing shooters. If the scheme on defence was to play zone instead, the only zone these 6 players were in was zoned out. Additionally the lack of physicality in the corners, in the crease, and in the slot (that’s between the circles for you youngsters), was non existent. Set up a dining room table and chair, the likes of any player could be found with enough time to eat a six course meal, wait for a pass or a rebound, and have the time to scoop up the puck, and score. Last night against the Devils a goal was scored for the umpteenth time with a player alone in the crease. Aaron Ekblad was once again victimized on defence by a Devils player who skated around him almost effortlessly and scored. Barely touched unless you count the waving of his stick. The Panthers were not tough to play against. The other 30 teams knew this, and took advantage of it. Shore up the soft defence, and shore up the softness amongst a few of the forwards, and bring in some players that are skilled, but can turn the switch and at least give a good old face wash.

The goalteding was swiss cheese. Roberto Luongo’s injury early on forced the Panthers to lean on James Remier. And he disappointed tremendously. Michael Hutchinson signed as a stop gap insurance policy should one of Bobby Lu or Reimer get hurt, was a failed experiment. Hutchinson would later find himself sent off to the Toronto Maple Leafs. To go into this season with an aging Roberto Luongo and an inconsistent James Reimer and expecting to be better or just as reliable as it was last season was a tremendous mistake. Separating the injury that Luongo had in game one, the Panthers were ill prepared to start the season because of this tandem, and it showed. Luongo will sit down with the Panthers and discuss his future. It appears that the decision is his on whether or not he returns, which if he does, will be in a backup role. Reimer has likely played his last game as a Florida Panther and you would expect him to either be traded, or bought out. Although that likely won’t happen until his bonus of $2 million is paid on July 1. Thank you Tom Rowe.

The coaching decisions overall were questioned nightly. The most glaring decision involves the deployment of Henrik Borgstrom. When Borgstrom was originally called up he spent time on the third line, and some spot duty on the second line. Since Vincent Trocheck returned from injury in January, Borgstrom has been firmly planted on the 4th line. Averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time per night. Not exactly the way to have one of your most offensively gifted players in the organization excel by playing with grinders. His production has been because of this, as you would expect, not good enough.

Jayce Hawryluk and Josh Brown made their NHL debuts this season and have played somewhat impressively for the most part. Jayce showed off his speed, and was able to play with a much needed physical edge. Brown was anything but flashy on defence, yet was solid and mostly mistake free, with an added snarl on occasion. They both have a future here, and will be better next season. They say you have to learn to lose before you can win. I think that both Jayce and Josh, as well as Henrik went to school on this.

Blame has been placed by the organEYEzation around two main events. The injury in game one to goaltender Roberto Luongo, and the injury in November to center Vincent Trocheck. The slow start to the season, and the ultimate end of year result is being blamed on these two events. Every team suffers injuries during the season. The good teams however march forward either with players within the organization that are good enough to fill in, while everyone else collectively steps up. Or, a trade is made to fill the gap. In the Florida Panthers case, neither took place. Trocheck had an off year. he didn’t look right at the beginning of the year before the injury, and except for a brief flash after he returned, wasn’t any better. Bobby Lu was inconsistent most of the season when he did play. He’s looked much better the past couple weeks, but has father time caught up to him? Boston, Dallas and Nashville were all hit harder by the injury bug, yet continued to keep pace in the playoff hunt.

As we close out the blame section, what about coaching? Jack Capuano who is in charge of the defence has done a poor job. Paul McFarland whose main responsibility is the power play is the only one of the three with positive marks overall. The 5 on 5 play of the Panthers this season was minus 25. People complained about the line shuffling by Bob Boughner. These same fans are screaming for Joel Quenneville to take his place. I warn you, should that happen, the line blender that Q uses is more active than Bob’s. In the end the question is, is this staff good enough to carry the Panthers to the next step and beyond? Their fate will be evaluated and it wouldn’t surprise me if changes were made. It also wouldn’t surprise me if no changes were made. At the end of the day, they weren’t good enough.

This off-season is the most important in the history of the franchise. Having said that many times before, this time the decisions that are made will determine whether the Panthers can salvage themselves from having the reputation of being an annual failure. Failure by definition in this article is related to playoff appearances leading to challenging for a Stanley Cup. Because when you don’t make the playoffs it’s obviously because you weren’t good enough.

We have been told, as we have in season’s past that the Panthers will be aggressive in the free agent market place. We have been told that the Panthers will spend up to and close to the cap. The ownership group of Vincent Viola and Douglass Cifu has been willing to spend money before and we are thankful that they have. Cap space is nice to have, and the Panthers will have a lot of it. It’s only good however if they use it wisely. This go round they, meaning Dale Tallon, must make some shrewd decisions. The management of the Panthers need to take a very long and hard look at what is out there, what they currently have, and what they need. To win a Stanley Cup. Not just make the playoffs because if making the playoffs is the goal, it’s again, not good enough.

Vincent Trocheck spoke a few games ago about the culture needing to be changed. He’s not wrong, and that’s step one. But if the culture is going to change, that means that certain players and potentially even coaches need to be replaced. Torcheck aslso had this to say after last night’s final game:

“I’m kind of sick of sliver linings now at this point, six years in. We’re always looking back saying “this is a positive”, out of that stack of crap”.

The addition this season of Troy Brouwer was a good one. The former Stanley Cup champion was a perfect addition for his role, which was to contribute where and when needed throughout the lineup. To have a player score 12 goals with mostly 4th line duty, averaging 12 minutes per night was worth the money. Yet, the Panthers need more like him, and by like him I mean younger, more productive, but with the same winning pedigree.

Rumors have been percolating that the Panthers are going to go hard after both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. They should, but beware that signing Panarin creates a glut on offence, and could mean that one of Mike Hoffman or Evgeni Dadonov are ultimately moved. There just isn’t enough money and room for all three of them. Signing Bobrovsky to a 6 or 7 year deal essentially means that Monty isn’t in the immediate or near future. While Panarin would be a great addition, the Panthers should better focus on goaltending and defence. Scoring isn’t a problem, but keeping the puck out of the net is. And anyone who knows anything knows that defence wins championships. You build from the net out. Tyler Myers, Jake Gardiner, Anton Stralman are available via free agency on defence. Any one of them are better at defence than at least two of the current blue liners. Jacob Trouba, Joel Edmunson, and Nikita Zadorov are restricted free agents. Get creative and add one of these players on defence as well. Even if it takes making an unpopular trade, you need to do it. You have a roster of players that are going into their prime, and they also will have expiring contracts within the next three seasons. If progress isn’t made now, don’t expect them to stay forever. Some of those players have become frustrated since the outcome season after season isn’t good enough.

We’ve been told for the past three seasons (maybe more) that the future is bright. And while it may be, the time for it to be proven has come. Because as of last night, nothing has been accomplished except for some gaudy stats. Wholesale changes aren’t necessary, but the changes that have to be made must be significant ones.

The core offensively of this team is very good. And with maturation of youngsters like Henkrik Borkstrom, Jayce Hawryluk and Owen Tippett, the offence can hum. The areas that need fixing have been layed out. Now the only thing that needs to be done is to execute.

There can be no more looking back. We shoulda this, we shoulda that. When you do that, you “shouda” all over yourself.

No more what if’s. As my good friend Ralph said, the Panthers were not tough enough, and considering the talent on the roster, this is the worst season in Florida Panther history.

No more excuses. You’re out of them.

I’d like to first thank the Florida Panthers organization for allowing me and my team here at Panther Parkway the access that you gave us. We really appreciate it, and it certainly gives us an insight that others don’t have.

I want to thank my team, and that includes our freelance photographer Kim Smith who has provided us with some fantastic photos. You all make this fun.

Lastly, on behalf of myself and our staff, we want to thank the fans for your loyalty and support. You know, doing what we do isn’t easy, and it’s also not required. We also don’t get paid for it. We do it because we love it, and we have something to say and a message to deliver. We can’t always agree. We don’t want to always agree. What we want is to have an adult conversation with you, and have fun while doing it. We will be around during the off-season, so stay close.

Thank you for reading.

Please follow me on Twitter @FrankRekas

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