Don’t look now, but the Florida Panthers are… well, they are three points out of a wild card spot, but they are competitive! Sure, that might ring hollow a little bit, but make no mistake, this may actually be one of the brighter times in their existence.
Upon the Vegas Golden Knights replacing one former Panthers coach, Gerard Gallant, with another, Pete DeBoer, and remembering that the Knights feature Jonathan Marchessault heavily in their offensive scheme, I thought “oh, wow, the Panthers are bad at retaining talent!”
Well, perhaps not as bad as I originally thought, at least not lately.
The Panthers have been around for 30 years, and have been met with very limited success. It’s not a Florida thing (after all, the Lightning have been very successful in their time in the league) it’s certainly a Panthers issue. They have had a couple of absolute studs, like Olli Jokinen and Pavel Bure who have lit up the scoreboard, and they thrived under John Vanbiesbruck and Ed Belfour when they tended the net. That was a while ago, though.
The Panthers currently have two of their top 5 scorers in franchise history on their roster. Of those top 5, Jonathan Huberdeau is 3rd, and Aleksander Barkov is 5th, and both sit at 100 fewer games played than most of the other 3 players in the top 5 (Huberdeau has merely played 85 fewer games as a Panther than Scott Mellanby did). It stands to reason that that Huberdeau and Barkov are the two best forwards the Panthers have ever had long term. This doesn’t even mention their linemate, Evgenii Dadanov, who is putting up a great season of his own.
The defense isn’t bad either, at least at the top end. Aaron Ekblad is a former number 1 pick, and Keith Yandle was an All Star in 2019. Their head coach is a former Stanley Cup winner in Joel Quenneville. There is good forward depth, enviable to many teams.
The issue, as always, is goaltending. It’s what sunk Gallant in Vegas, and has limited the Panthers this season, despite all that they have going for them. Another Panthers long time legend, Roberto Luongo retired and opened a vacancy, which they tried filling with Sergei Bobrovski, who was mildly effective before he got hurt.
The Panthers seem to have a lot of things going their way right now. They haven’t really reached the next level, except for one aberration early in their existence. If they are ever going to take the next step (or maybe even a first step) it seems like now should be the time.