Monday, April 22, 2019

Pool Outlook for Florida

The Florida Panthers had some relatively high expectations coming into the 2019 season and rightfully so.  They increased their talent level by the acquisition of Mike Hoffman in the off-season, their core group is really on the upswing in their careers, the blueline is really starting to come around and their goaltending has a great veteran presence to help guide their youth along.

Unfortunately, it all didn't come together for this Panthers team and they were 12 points out of the playoff picture and if you had to find the telling statistic about this team, it would be their goals against.  They ranked 28th in the league, allowing 280 goals, while they had the 9th best offense with 267 goals, so keeping the puck out of their own net was a huge weight keeping them down.

The Panthers offense was deadly on the power play, ranking 2nd in the regular season, scoring 72 power play goals and having a success rate of 26.8% and their penalty kill was actually decent, ranking 10th at a success rate of 81.3%, so even strength was definitely an issue for this team.  Only Ottawa and Philadelphia were worse at 5-on-5 than the Panthers this season and that's just a lack of team defense in the bulk of the ice-time, game after game.

Once these Panthers can figure this out, they should be a formidable bunch to play against, but they really should have been able to figure it out this season and that's what makes the 2019 campaign so disappointing.

If you haven't started talking about Aleksander Barkov as being an elite scorer in the league, there's no better time than the present to get going on that.  35 goals and 96 points in all 82 games for the Panthers this season saw him rise to 10th overall in the hockey pool scoring ranks and his game might still have a little bit more left to reveal.  Barkov was fairly consistent this season, but he was also a -3 in the plus/minus department, so if his defense can improve at even strength, he would most certainly be an unstoppable force.

Barkov wasn't the only 90-point player on the team this season, as Jonathan Huberdeau was the best of the rest of the pool worthy forwards, finishing with 92 points in all 82 games, giving the Panthers #10 and #14 on the list.  Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, Frank Vatrano and Vincent Trocheck were also among those worthy of your selection in the hockey pool this season, making a fairly impressive list of forwards.  Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson were all worthy from the blueline this season, putting up some good numbers in the offensive end, while both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer were worthy of a pool spot, but neither finished in the top 31, which was telling in the overall scheme of things in Florida.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The combination of Barkov, Trocheck, Huberdeau and Ekblad gives the Panthers a really solid core, especially with them all being under the age of 25 right now. This team has made some good additions in recent years and they could do with one or two more in this off-season, maybe the emergence of Borgstrom will be one of those, maybe a free agent on the back end as well. This team is going places and that may get lost on some people, given that they are a way down in the sun belt, where hockey coverage does get a little lost. Just paying attention to this team on paper may need an extra keen eye, but I think this team could make its way into the playoffs, with one or two decent pieces. They'll certainly be a good team to pick from at the hockey pool draft in the coming year(s).

In a hockey pool solely based on offense, this team was very good to pick from, as you could see above.  They had 11 good players on the hockey pool list, but just because they played well in the offensive end alone, doesn't mean that they were going to make the playoffs.  They had to be good at both ends and that was something that they were not.  This team made some really sound moves in the off-season, it was looking like a sure thing, but in the end, it just wasn't going to be their year.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

The Panthers' main pickup in the off-season, Mike Hoffman, did well with his new surroundings, leading the team in goals with 36 and also finished with 70 points in all 82 games.  He certainly didn't disappoint in his first season in Sunrise, now it will be about what happens next!

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Aleksander Barkov 5.900 Aaron Ekblad 7.500 Roberto Luongo 4.533
Jonathan Huberdeau 5.900 Keith Yandle 6.350 James Reimer 3.400
Mike Hoffman 5.188 Mike Matheson 4.875
Vincent Trocheck 4.750 Mark Pysyk 2.733
Evgenii Dadonov 4.000 Brady Keeper 0.925
Frank Vatrano 2.530 Riley Stillman 0.773
Colton Sceviour 1.200 Josh Brown 0.675
Henrik Borgstrom 0.925
Owen Tippett 0.894
Cliff Pu 0.745
Paul Thompson 0.675

In terms of goal scoring, having the whole crew from last season back for another year and signed on is a great start to the summer.  Things are really looking up for this offense, if they can stick together and put those same numbers up again.  The outlook for 2020 is very positive, now the new coaching staff, headed up by Joel Quenneville, will start to work on the other aspects of the game and try to turn this team into a real contender.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Speaking of Joel Quenneville, that may have already been the best free agent signing that this team could have made after the regular season had ended, as the Panthers used their connections from teams previous to swing this deal and now the winningest active coach in the league will be back at the helm with some real potential.

In terms of their on-ice free agents, the Panthers don't have anyone heading to market with any pool worthiness to them, so it will be a readjustment of the team's depth through the free agent market and why not?  A new coach will have some new ideas and might have a good idea of what to add this year.

With the 20-man roster above, I am still showing the Panthers with nearly $18 million in projected cap space, assuming that the league goes up to $83 million this year.  That could acquire some more quality defense, for sure.

I'm always pretty curious to see how well the NCAA free agents turn out, as they are a little bit of a crap shoot coming out of college, albeit a little bit more physically mature than the junior kids, but whether or not they take at the NHL level is such a curiosity.  Defenseman Brady Keeper is a 22-year old with some decent size that the Panthers were able to sign out of the University of Maine, where he put up some good numbers offensively.  Keeper did make it into one game for the Panthers before the season was out and he'll be one to watch, as the Panthers are lacking depth on the blueline at the moment.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

Despite a smaller stature, I think the Panthers continue on with the goal scoring trend with a dynamo in Cole Caufield, a 5'7" winger, currently playing for the US at the Under-18 tournament and is lighting it up over there.  He might be a bit of a project player, which is okay given his size.  He's already committed to Wisconsin in the NCAA, where he can work on his game and adapt to playing with the bigger bodies there and maybe he'll have himself a growth spurt and turn into a very viable scoring machine at the top level.

It's hard not to like where the Panthers are at the moment, besides not being in the playoffs right now.  They are poised to really take the Atlantic Division by storm, assuming they can get all their loose ends in order.  They have the scoring depth, they have some very good pieces at the back end, they just need to tighten up their play and they could very well be challenging for top spot in the division with the likes of the Lightning, Bruins and Leafs.  I'm already starting to pencil in some really good numbers for the projection piece later on in the summer.

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