Puck Drop Preview: 2022-2023 Florida Panthers

2022-23 Florida Panthers
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Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2022-23 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us, as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2022-2023 Florida Panthers.

2022-23 Florida Panthers

2021-2022 Season

The 2021-2022 season was seen by many as the Florida Panthers year. Their young team finally seemed to come into their own and was poised to deliver on a promising cup run. The Panthers went 58-18-6. With 122 total points, they ended the regular season winning the President’s Trophy. The President’s Trophy curse continued with the Cats getting swept in the second round by their rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

NHL free agent frenzy

The Powerplay

During the regular season, the power play flourished. they ended up top 5 in power play percentage at 24.43%. This just cemented the notion that the Panthers would be a force in the post season. Big power play point producers like Jonathan Huberdeau (38), Sam Reinhart (31), and Aleksander Barkov (26) led the way for the club. Once the switch flipped, those numbers disappeared, causing one of the main symptoms of the Panthers post season woes. Out of all 16 teams in the playoffs, Florida ended dead last in power play production at 3.23%. Reinhart had the lone power play goal with the team going 1-31 on the power play in the post season. A truly inexcusable performance on special teams that played a huge role in their swift second round exit.

The Goaltending

For many years, there was always a question mark at the goaltending position. Those questions appeared to dissipate once starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky boasted the most wins out of any goalie in the league after the 2021-2022 regular season with 39 wins in 54 games played, a .913 save percentage, and a 2.67 GAA. Young backup Spencer Knight wasn’t far behind with a .908 save percentage and a 2.79 GAA in 32 games played. That didn’t seem to mean so much in the postseason when Bobrovsky could keep them in the game, but the offence wasn’t able to take the workload off of him. It didn’t seem like it mattered who was in net. If the offence couldn’t do their part, the defence stood no match against the dynamic Lightning offence. The question now is can Bobrovsky maintain the play we saw last year? And if not, would Spencer Knight be ready with an increase in workload?

The Coaching Change

Andrew Brunette was an excellent placeholder as a head coach for the Panthers this past season. In his first season as a head coach, he led the Panthers to the most dominant season in franchise history. His impact on the team was so great that the signing of new head coach Paul Maurice left most fans looking back while looking forward to this coming season. Maurice is a veteran head coach with 24 NHL seasons under his belt. Even though Brunette’s Panthers shined in the regular season, it will be beneficial for the club to have a head coach with the experience of 92 post season games behind the benches.

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The 2022 Off Season

The Panther made a few interesting moves in the off season. One was the previous mentioned hiring of their new head coach. It will be interesting to see how the club does under Maurice. He will have a veteran presence in the locker room. However, consistent success in the post season has eluded him in the past.

The Panthers lost big names in the lineup such as Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot, Mason Marchment, Noel Acciari, and legend Joe Thornton. This left a few holes in the roster in terms of depth. Over the off season, the Panthers have acquired some solid additions in free agency. Those players include Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, Chris TierneyNick Cousins, and of course Matthew Tkachuk.

The one acquisition that has everyone talking, however, was the blockbuster trade to acquire Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames. This came at a significant price, however, with giving up superstar Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weeger, and propsect Cole Schwindt in the process. Huberdeau leaving the Panthers was a huge loss not only in terms of the skill he brought to the ice, but what he meant to the Panthers organization over the years. Florida will, in more ways than one, miss Huberdeau in the lineup going forward. After Tkachuk signed with the Panthers, he then signed an 8 year extension with an AAV of $9.5 million.

2022-2023 Lineup Projections

Forwards:

Matthew Tkachuk – Aleksander Barkov – Sam Reinhart

Carter VerhaegheSam BennettPatric Hornqvist

Ryan LombergAnton LundellColin White

Nick CousinsEetu LuostarinenRudolfs Balcers

The Top Six

The top line of the Panthers on paper is an absolute force. Carter Verhaeghe put up impressive numbers in the post season for the Panthers but Tkachuk seems to be all but a lock on the top line. Barkov is also more than likely a lock at the centre position as well. If anything, Tkachuk on the right wing, and Verhaeghe on the left wing in the top pairing could be a great combination. Verhaeghe proved himself this past post season and could be given more of a role on that top line. Although the oldest forward in the Panthers lineup, seeing Hornqvist in the top six would be interesting. He’s not much of a producer on the top six but he brings a veteran presence and overall highly elevated the culture in the Panther’s locker room since joining the team.

The Bottom Six

The bottom six of the Panthers is definitely less impressive than the top six pairings. The most dominant player on the bottom six is forward Anton Lundell. Lundell scored 18 goals and 26 assists this past season. He is a lock as the centre on the third pairing, one could even make a case for him to play on the second pairing every now and then. The rest of the bottom six have a lot to prove this coming season. White, Balcers, and Cousins were claimed off waivers over the summer and signed to respective contracts. Time will tell how they do playing in the Panthers system with their new head coach. The Panther’s on paper appear to be very top heavy and there are questions marks about this bottom six.

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Defence

Gustav ForslingAaron Ekblad

Marc StaalRadko Gudas

Lucas CarlssonBrandon Montour

Top Four/Bottom Pairing

The Panther’s defensive pairings is a mixed bag. In the past, Forsling has been paired with Montour and has proved to be a successful pairing. Previously, Gudas had been paired with Hagg who is no longer on the team. Gudas’s strength is the physicality that be brings to the defence. It remains to be seen how Carlsson would pair with either Gudas or Montour. One could swap Staal and Carlsson on the left pairings. Carlsson had spent a lot of his time between the AHL and NHL and at one point was placed on waivers by the Panthers. Now is his chance to show Maurice if he can hang. Staal is one of the oldest players on the team but he brings that veteran presence to the table. He knows how to command a locker room.

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Spencer Knight

The goalies for the Panthers is so interesting. Bobrovsky has been through his fair share of teams but he seems to have found his footing with the Panthers. Goaltending was most certainly the least of Florida’s concerns in the off season. Spencer Knight is a young and formidable backup. If Bobrovsky can maintain his level of play into this coming season, the tandem of Bobrovsky/Knight can be enough for the Panthers. Although Bobrovsky likely won’t lose his starting job, Knight may start more if Bobrovsky struggles.

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Players to Watch

The top player to watch is Matthew Tkachuk. He was the biggest acquisition for the team and has a large role to fill with the loss of Huberdeau. There is no doubt that all eyes will be on him early on in this season.

The other player to watch for me Sergei Bobrovsky. In the 2021-2022 season, he played lights out and recorded the most wins out of all starting goalies last season. It would be a huge mountain to climb if the Panthers struggled at the goalie position. They have a good backup in Spencer Knight, no doubt, but he is still young. Look to Bobrovsky to have the same performance as last season.

Prediction for the 2022-2023 Florida Panthers

A prediction for this team is so hard to settle on. It definitely feels like the team lost more than they gained in the off season. At the same time, the way they want out this past post season is still a hard pill to swallow for many Panthers fans. At the end of the day this team is still a contender, even in the Atlantic Division. The Panthers have a lot to prove going into this season. Can they put their second round exit in the past and continue their regular season dominance? On paper they can. If all things align for the Panthers, they can look to have another shot at a decent cup run.

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