For the first time in franchise history the Florida Panthers won the Southeast Division last season, after going on an unprecedented spending spree to bring in veterans such as Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Ed Jovanovski as well as goalie Jose Theodore. It was their first playoff appearance in 10 seasons, and it appeared that the Panthers might have turned a corner.
Well, that success was short-lived as the Panthers now find themselves in familiar territory – looking up a every team in the East. Injuries to key players have been a factor, but also some curious player personnel decisions (namely Alex Kovalev) have put the Panthers on their heels. Yes, Stephen Weiss, Versteeg, Jovanovski and Theodore have all missed lenghty amounts of time with injuries, but that is comparable to the Senators, and they have come through it ok. The Panthers are the worst team among a bad division, with the bottom three teams in the conference all part of the Southeast Division. It seems that GM Dale Tallon ignored building the farm system when he was bringing in costly veterans over the last couple of years. They don’t have the organizational depth to withstand the injuries that they sustained this season.
And it won’t get any easier for the Panthers next year, as they move from the worst division in the league to one that promises to be the toughest division going. The Panthers and Lightning will have their work cut out for them as they join the current Northeast Division (with their 4 playoff teams) and the Detroit Red Wings. If things end up like they stand today, nearly 1/3 of all playoff teams in the post season this year will be playing in the Panthers’ division.
They do have a couple of solid building blocks, in Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson and Jacob Markstrom, so the future is not entirely bleak. They should also add one of the big 3 (Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin) from this summer’s draft.
The Panthers have a long uphill climb to get to respectability, and they look like they might be a doormat for their new division for the foreseeable future.