As we continue to survive the dog days of summer, we find ourselves within just a few weeks of training camp, waiting for the players to hit the ice and prepare for the 2019-2020 NHL season. A season that is filled with very high expectations, not only from the fanbase and ownership, but from the new sheriff in town, head coach Joel Quenneville.
The dust hadn’t yet settled on the 2018-2019 season, when the Florida Panthers organization made the announcement that coach Q was the new head coach. Immediately, playoff expectations and challenging for the Stanley Cup were on the minds of all. Rightfully so. However Quenneville was only part of the solution. Players were needed and GM Dale Tallon went to the Free Agent pool and acquired goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, forwards Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari. Finally defenceman Anton Stralman was added to bolster a defence that was in dire need of a true stay at home blueliner. A lot of money has been spent, now it’s time for the new regime and the players to get the job done.
There are no more excuses.
As the rest of the crew did earlier this week, here’s my view on the upcoming season. Subject to change of course:
END OF SEASON POINT TOTAL: 103 POINTS
DIVISION STANDINGS: 3RD PLACE
The Panthers will finish third in the Atlantic Division behind Tampa and Toronto, with Boston,Montreal, Buffalo, Detroit and Ottawa rounding out the rest of the division. Boston likely gets into the post season as a wild card team. Montreal will be better, but unless the Bruins completely falters, will probably just miss the post season. However I wouldn’t be surprised if they too made it as a wild card.
LEADING SCORER: Aleksander Barkov-98 points. Down here in South Florida many already know how good Sasha is. With a new head coach, and another year of experience under his belt, Barkov will once again lead the Panthers in points. With the addition of Acciari, Barkov will hopefully not need to play more than 21 minutes per night, and will be fresher and score more important goals, and will continue to dazzle us with his unbelievable moves.
Breakout Performer: Mike Matheson. Why? Simple. Joel Quenneville and Mike Kitchen. Both are former NHL defenders and both will have a major impact on Matheson. Last year in this writers opinion fell off the rails for Mike when he had the unfortunate incident with Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson. The play and the suspension in my mind weighed on Mike for the balance of the year, which he never recovered from. Quenneville and Kitchen will take him under their respective wings and are going to make a real defenceman out of him, and also allow him to show his offensive skills. While I won’t compare him yet to a Duncan Keith, that’s the bar that is reachable for Matheson. As long as he stays focused.
PLAYOFF FINISH: 2ND ROUND
Anything less is a disappointment. Anything more is a gift. Manage your expectations everyone. Quenneville has his work cut out for him, but so do the players. You can’t expect the Stanley Cup in the first season of this regime, but this team at least on paper is good enough to get to the second round of the post season. However let me be very clear: the goal remains to compete for the Stanley Cup. Every year. That is always the goal. This is just a prediction. Please know the difference.
This team and this situation is ironically similar to the Chicago Blackhawks of 2008-2009. Young, with a sprinkling of stars and up and coming players. Rounded out with some veterans that have playoff experience. What makes this bunch different then that Hawks team is in goal. Sergei Bobrovsky can make a huge difference in the outcome of the season. He’s being paid a very handsome amount of cash over the next 10 seasons, and with that salary comes the expectation that playoffs runs will be happening on a regular basis, and will be deep.
With Joel Quenneville in command the entire culture of the team changes. That also includes the mindset and the accountability of each player. Q takes nor accepts mediocrity. Players will be expected to perform, and if they aren’t they will sit. For a shift or 3, or a period, or a game. Regardless of stature and salary. Additionally if you thought that Bob Boughner had a line blender, wait till you see the one that Quenneville uses.
It will be a fun season to watch unfold, but make no mistake……. the heat to be successful is on.
Thanks for reading.
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