Somewhat unusually this year, expectations were high for the Florida Panthers season. They had made a smart deadline pickup in Frank Vatrano the year before and looked to supercharge their offence spearheaded by two-way talent Aleksander Barkov and offseason acquisition Mike Hoffman. And it all happened. At the time of publication, Vatrano has 22 goals in 2018-19, Barkov is a 30-goal scorer while retaining his defensive game, and Hoffman has fit right in with 33 goals and has spearheaded the second-best power play in the league (26.8%).
So, with these improvements to a team that finished 1 point out of a wild-card spot last year, how is this year’s edition 8 points out and sitting only 4 games above .500%? How is another disappointing season happening to the Florida Panthers?
Florida Panthers Season Changes
This undeniably is the elephant in the room for the Florida Panthers season this year. A horrific swing in tides for both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer have caused their save percentages to dip. From .929 and .913 to an extremely subpar .897 and .902, respectively. Luongo’s age certainly gave people trepidation over whether he was still a viable option.
Many thought with a reduced workload that he would hold up. While those concerns were valid, nobody expected a .032 downturn. Sam Montembeault has looked okay in limited action this year, and expect him to stay with the team for the rest of the year for performance evaluation.
Long-term injuries to both Vincent Trocheck and Derek MacKenzie have both cost serious blows to the team. They did nothing to help an already disadvantaged team due to poor goaltending. Trocheck suffered a nasty leg injury and has only played in 45 of the team’s 72 games so far this year, whereas MacKenzie injured his shoulder on opening night and hasn’t played since. His solid presence as a true 4th-line center and admirable faceoff ability (52.1% last season) has left a hole in the Panthers’ lineup that is not easily filled. MacKenzie was the previous captain of the Panthers before being replaced by Barkov. His leadership is sorely missed, as the Panthers have also struggled with consistency all year.
Why could next year turn out differently?
Internal prospect turnover
Although the Panthers’ prospect pool isn’t the most impressive, it isn’t completely dry. Top prospect Owen Tippett (drafted 10th overall in 2017) could look to make the jump next year. He could make an immediate impact. He would add to an already potent offensive core that has shown its lack of depth this year in spades. The Panthers additionally signed college free agent Brady Keeper, a solid two-way defensive prospect that could offer offensive depth from the back-end and supplement it with some solid defensive play if he pans out for the organization.
Growth from established young players
It’s hard to believe by watching a player of his calibre — but Aleksander Barkov is still just 23 years old and not yet at his prime. Florida’s young core including him, Aaron Ekblad, and others are only on track to improve and be more reliable at both ends of the ice. The consistency and stability that comes with having a healthier team should aid in their growth as well.
So what is likely for next year?
The Florida Panthers season success largely rides on goaltending for the foreseeable future. If they are able to sign one of Artemi Panarin or Sergei Bobrovsky, that will certainly help their playoff chances.
However, looking at Florida’s track record, calling them a playoff guarantee for next season isn’t a safe bet looking at the massive inconsistency in net. Florida is a team that could trend in either direction next year. However, they have the pillars set for a solid future.