2014 Florida Panthers Predictions and NHL Futures Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 9/30/2014
In 2012 the Florida Panthers somehow won their division and made the playoffs for the first time in an eternity. It was an inexplicable turn of events that makes less sense now than it did then - and that's saying something. Since then, though, they have returned to being the same old franchise we know and ignore.
They were just plain lousy last year and would have finished last in their division if it weren't for the fact that Sabres were much worse. Despite the ongoing struggles, there are finally a few reasons for optimism. The team was sold last year, and the new ownership authorized the team to do something they had never before done - actually spend up to the salary cap. It's not a wonder that the team has struggled so badly since they have never before played on a level playing field.
The first big splash in the new financial environment came at the trade deadline when the team stole Roberto Luongo from the Canucks. Luongo previously played five years in Florida before heading to Vancouver, and he was as popular then as he should be now. That's not the only reason to be optimistic for the coming years, either. The advantage to being so bad for so long is that there is no shortage of young talent. Alexander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad have proven that they are both top-level centers, and having two stars at that position is how a lot of top teams have been built - just look at Chicago right now. Jonathan Huberdeau struggled at times last year after winning the Calder Trophy as a rookie, but he should be poised for a big step forward. The faster those guys, and other top youngsters like defensemen Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov, can emerge as legitimate stars, the faster this team can become a legitimate contender.
Florida Panthers Offseason Moves
The team didn't go crazy despite having money to spend, though their biggest offseason expenditure raised some eyebrows. Dave Bolland is now their highest-paid forward, but he certainly won't be their most productive one. He's a guy who offers some of those famous intangibles, though, so how much you believe in intangibles will determine how excited you are about the pickup. A better deal - at least in terms of cost per point - was the signing of Jussi Jokinen from Pittsburgh. He has a good chance of spending a lot of minutes on the top line. Willie Mitchell was added on defense to act as a mentor for the young defensemen. He's not at his best anymore, but he's still solid. They also added gritty forwards Derek MacKenzie and Shawn Thornton. Luongo will obviously play the bulk of the minutes in net, but the team upgraded their backup situation by grabbing Al Montoya from Winnipeg. It's also worth noting that the team hired Gerard Gallant to coach and develop this young talent.
The Panthers added to their embarrassment of young riches at the NHL Draft this year when they selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad second overall. He's an impressive talent and should be able to contribute right away.
Florida Panthers NHL Outlook
The future is very bright for this team. They have three elite talents up front and three more on defense. The problem here, though, is that all of them are barely old enough to shave. The Edmonton Oilers have shown us that an excess of young talent doesn't always immediately lead to success. The Panthers have done a better job than Edmonton of building a balanced team around the youngsters, though. Still, this team is too young this year to be a real threat. If they were a stock, though, I would be buying a lot of it and holding it for the long term.
Florida Panthers Schedule
This is not the way you would ideally want a young team to start their season. They open at Tampa Bay, and that is the first of five road games in their first seven. On the plus side, they only play eight games in October - fewer than most - so they have plenty of time to learn and grow between games.
Florida Panthers NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Panthers are 75/1 to win the Stanley Cup, which places them at the bottom of the pile, tied with Carolina, Buffalo and Nashville. The Panthers are in the best shape of those four, but they are still a long way from being relevant. They are tied for last in the Eastern Conference with Buffalo at 40/1 to win, and are also tied with Buffalo at 16/1 to win the Atlantic Division. Big prices, but no value to be found here at all.
2014-15 Florida Panthers Predictions
This is not going to be a playoff team. That's not how success should be measured here, though. What we are looking for is two things - competitiveness and progress. This team needs to show that they can be strong and tough every night, and the young potential superstars need to show that they are capable of listening to Gallant and growing into their massive potential.
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