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Know Thy Enemy: Florida Panthers

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We all have that one friend. You know the guy. He's the one who throws money around at the bar like he just won the lottery. He's buying the drinks on the golf course while flirting with the cart girl. You often wonder how he can do it, since he works in the cubicle next to you and you've seen his paycheck. "Where does he get all that money, and why is he so stupid with it?" you wonder to yourself.

If the NHL general managers all hung out, Dale Tallon would be this guy. He spends money on players despite not having the money to do so, and he throws big money at players that belong in the AHL (or lower). He essentially built the Blackhawks team that won the Stanley Cup, but he was also responsible for the cap hell they were in that required them to get rid of half of their players.

Tallon is now set up in Florida, and while he's not operating with the same core that he had in Chicago, his gameplan of signing key free agents to longer deals remains in place, and he made a ton of moves that he hopes will end the NHL's longest streak of missing the playoffs.

Really, nothing went well for the Panthers last season. They started slow, sank to the bottom of the standings, and remained there throughout the regular season. By the time the season ended, the Panthers found themselves outside the playoff picture once again, finishing last in the Eastern Conference. To make matters worse, their best player was let go this offseason as he chases that elusive Cup.

Arrivals: Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky (LOL), Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Matt Bradley, Ryan Carter, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Jose Theodore
Depatures: Tomas Vokoun, Steve Bernier, Sergei Samsonov, Byron Bitz, Mike Duco, Patrick Rissmiller, Niclas Bergfors, Marty Reasoner, Alexander Sulzer, Clay Wilson

Pertinent Stats in 2010-11
72 (28th NHL, 15th East)
Goals For: 191 (27th NHL)
Goals Against: 229 (15th NHL)
Power Play: 13.1% (30th NHL)
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (6th NHL)

Offense: What do you do when your offense finishes 3rd last in the entire NHL? If you answered "jettison just about everybody", then you're qualified to be the GM for the Panthers.

In fairness, last year the Panthers really did not have anyone that could be considered close to a star. Their leading scorer was Stephen Weiss, who I have often thought would thrive with talent around him, and he only had 49 points. What surprised me, however, was that the Panthers had 3 20-goal scorers: Weiss, David Booth (who seems to have recovered from his concussion problems) and Mike Santorelli. All 3 are back in Florida and I for one am glad to see that Booth is back and healthy.

The biggest addition to the offense is likely to be Campbell, the former Blackhawk who had a monster contract that they could not move until now. He will very likely provide a boost to a power play that was dead last in the NHL last season. Upshall is a former Coyote and Blue Jacket who has 20-goal potential, while Versteeg was very good in Chicago but just average in Toronto and Philadelphia. Bergenheim parlayed a very strong playoff run with Tampa into a contract with Florida, while Goc and Kopecky will round out the scoring depth (although with no Hossa, expect Kopecky to look even more lost on the ice than he normally does).

Defense: Campbell and Jovanovski add veteran leadership and depth to a group that is lacking a big-name guy who can anchor the defense. Jovocop's best days are clearly behind him, but he's still a big physical player who, if he stays healthy, can give the Panthers 18-22 minutes a night against top competition. Campbell has always been underrated defensively as his offense is what he's known for, but he can hold his own in the defensive zone.

One guy who I notice a lot is Mike Weaver, who played for the Chicago Wolves and is from my hometown of Brampton, On. He's a small defenseman who is very smart, and can be a good #5-6 defenseman. He won't light up the scoresheet or deliver a big hit, but he can play 15 minutes a night without being a liability.

The Panthers have a young stud defenseman in Erik Gudbranson. The #3 overall pick in the 2009 draft is a monster (6'4" 195 lbs) and is only 19 years old. He's got offensive upside and is developing nicely defensively. There's a chance he could see important minutes, and with players like Campbell and Jovanovski on the roster, he can be protected a little while he learns the game.

Goaltending: The only true star the Panthers had last season was Tomas Vokoun, and he bolted the Panthers to sign a one year deal with the Capitals, so the Panthers had to do something. They turned to Theodore, who had a resurgence of sorts last year in Minnesota. He hasn't played more than 60 games since before the lockout, so it will be interesting to see if he can handle a full workload. If not, Scott Clemmensen is capable as a backup, but doesn't seem to be able to actually win and keep a starting job in the NHL.

Player to Watch: On a team devoid of any superstars, Stephen Weiss has quietly been a solid, if unspectactular player. He's a good two-way center who has the ability to score 20 goals. With quality teammates, he may be able to crack the 70 point mark for the first time in his career.

Player With Something to Prove: When the team is attempting to not finish in last place in the conference and make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, expectations tend to be pretty low. As a result, I don't think there's a lot of pressure on any single player this season. Kevin Dineen is in his first year as coach and he's got a roster that is about 75% different from opening night last season. That amount of player turnover is virtually unheard of.

The Skinny: I like some of the moves that the Panthers made this offseason. A lot of them were by necessity as the Panthers had to reach the cap floor, but bringing in players like Campbell, Upshall, Versteeg and Fleischmann will make this team better. The loss of Vokoun will likely result in more goals against, but they should score more so it will even out. While the team will be better, the playoff drought will continue simply from still not being good enough to finish 8th or better in the East.