The 2019-2020 season for the Florida Panthers is a big one. The multiple changes that have occurred since the regular season ended were strategically done with one thing in mind. Wining a Stanley Cup. In the past the goal was to “just” make the playoffs. That is no longer enough and that message has been clearly sent.
When Joel Quenneville was hired immediately after the season ended, everyone in South Florida and the rest of the NHL took notice that things would be different. And they indeed will. The signing of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky addressed a need to keep pucks out of the net, and to keep games close. With any luck “Bob” has the potential to steal 10 games a year.
Additionally players like Anton Stralman, Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari were added to bolster the blueline and bottom six, while adding grit, experience and versatility. This is the very best roster that the Panthers have ever had, and on paper they look to be a lock for a playoff position. How far they go in the post season depends on a number of factors. Part of that is how the rest of the division stacks up, and who stands in their way. The other part of that is how quickly Coach Q can get his message across and the players fall in line. Mark my words, if they don’t, they won’t play. It’s that simple.
Let’s take a look at the rest of the division.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Steven Stamkos,Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskey and Viktor Hedman drive the Bolts. Throw in Brayden Point, Alex Killorn, Kevin Shattenkirk and now the recently signed Patrick Maroon, and you have a team that again should win the division, and has the potential to go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The disappointment of last season’s playoff exit has likely left a scar, and may or may not contribute to how the beginning of the season unfolds, but make no mistake. All things in this conference go through Tampa.
They have experience, youth, grit, skill, size and a seasoned head coach who knows how and when to push the buttons of his players. Tampa has come close to winning it all during the Stamkos regime, but they’ve fallen short, despite being a favorite. This season could be different.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Another team that has a strong balance of youth and veterans, the Leafs seem to have what it takes to be a true Cup contender. Led by Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Morgan Reilly and Fredrick Anderson, Toronto is certainly no slouch and must be taken seriously. They can score with anyone, and have proved that. Defensively, which may have been one of their weak spots, has been improved with the addition of Tyson Barrie. They also added Jake Muzzin last season, therefore the blueline is much improved.
The Leafs need to get themselves into a deep playoff run to not let all this talent go to waste. It won’t be easy as the competition in the conference is fierce. They have the skill to match with anyone, and the goaltending as well. Does their defence stack up? They have the capability to do so, and are very talented, but consistency is the key.
Mike Babcock will be entering his fifth season behind the bench in Toronto, and while one of the most talented coaches in the game today, his style can begin to wear thin. But unless Mike gets stupid all of a sudden, the Leafs lack of success won’t be his fault.
A Stanley Cup finalist last season, the Bruins could slip a bit. I do think they’ll be in the playoffs, I’m just not sure if it will be as a wild card or not. They play a heavy style and that can take a toll on the body. Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask are not getting any younger, and the St. Louis Blues gave them all they could handle in last years Final. Yet with players like Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Torey Krug and a few others, they have a very balanced roster.
It will be interesting to see if there’s any kind of Stanley Cup hangover that they are suffering from. Having been close, they likely feel that they can get to the Final again, and that’s entirely possible. However it won’t be easy. This division is very strong.
A team that has the games best goaltender in Carey Price has shown that it needs more than just him. They don’t have a bonafide 40 goal man, but not many teams do, they do have enough potential production from others. Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Tartar, and Max Domi are all solid players. The enigma that is Jonathan Drouin could be the wild card for Montreal. If he can show consistency and play with passion nightly, they will be exponentially better. If not the road to the post season gets tougher.
Shea Weber is getting older, but is still a force to be reckoned with. The defence has size, but not great foot speed. They do however play a fairly solid game, but like many other bluline corps, you want to see consistency.
Montreal could surprise some, but all cylinders must be in sync for any real damage to be done.
The Phil Housely thingy didn’t work and now Ralph Krueger gets another shot at the NHL, and gets to see if he can turn the Sabres into a playoff contender. Jeff Skinner who has a very fat contract will be asked to provide the majority of the goal scoring. Something he’s used to doing, but will need help from the likes of Jack Eichel, Kyle Okposo and a few others if the Sabres are going to be challenging for a post season birth. It doesn’t seem likely this season, and at least two other teams would need to falter.
Last season’s fast start quickly evaporated and you wonder which team the Sabres really are. So do many others. This is another team that is big on defence, but needs to be more consistent. I seem to say that often, yet it’s true. Sometimes your defence needs to be better at controlling certain facets of the game and be able to find that balance of not taking too many chances, or taking the chances at the right time. Krueger could be the solution.
Detroit Red Wings:
There’s a lot of youth and some very talented offensive players here. Dylan Larkin is likely their most gifted player, but needs his supporting cast to, well, support him. Andreas Athanasiou is a very skilled and talented player, yet has moments when he seems to be very average. Yet when he gets a chance to skate and free wheel, watch out as he can make things happen. Anthony Mantha is another up and coming player along with Tyler Bertuzzi. Both players have size and can be difficult to play against.
The Red Wings are rebuilding though and have a lot of work ahead of them. They are a team that got old quickly, and didn’t prepare well enough. Taking a few steps back isn’t easy, but they are staying the course. With Steve Yzerman now at the helm, the rebuild should be moving with bit more speed.
They’ll be a challenging force in time. Will head coach Jeff Blashill be around for it?
This is a team that believe it or not was one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final two season ago. You have to ask yourself how did they fall so fast and so hard? They’ve lost goal scoring with both Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman being traded, and it also didn’t help that they lost defenceman Erik Karlsson. Craig Anderson while still good, isn’t as young as he used to be.
Multiple head coaches and a front office that’s been accused of being like a circus, and you say to yourself that things aren’t as bad in other places. The roster for Ottawa is getting younger and for the future that’s a good thing as these players will be getting a chance to develop. The problem is that going through the growing pains of losing can take a toll on a players psyche.
Veteran leadership comes from Bobby Ryan the oft injured, but talented forward who is still here on a bad contract, Artem Anisimov who was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks and Mikkel Boedker. Players such as Anthony DuClair, Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot are the future. For now.
It will be a long season in Ottawa and new coach DJ Smith will have his patience tested. It will be interesting to see this unfold.
There you are. This is a division that has a lot of talent at the top, some potential in the middle, and a ton of uncertainty at the bottom. Don’t be surprised to see 4 teams in the post season from this division. There’s an outside chance there could be five, but that would take us all by surprise. Nonetheless, the Florida Panthers cannot be taken lightly, but also will need to be focused for all 82 games. The right man is behind the bench to lead them. It’s now directly up to the players to perform.
Thanks for reading.
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