Not enough. Plain and simple. The 2009-2010 Florida Panthers just didn’t have enough to avoid a record tying 9th NHL season of not making the playoffs. The consistency was never there. Winning streaks were always bested by lengthy losing streaks. Injuries, especially those to this team’s top talent, limited offensive production. Moves at the trade deadline left the defensive corps stripped. Even the brilliant play of team MVP Tomas Vokoun couldn’t save this team. Players, coaches and fans alike thought the way that the 2008-2009 season ended, this year would hold greener pastures. Not so much.
“It’s difficult. I really thought this was going to be a breakout year for us after last year,” said Florida Panthers forward and 7 year veteran Stephen Weiss, “after the way we finished last year, we thought we’d have a lot of momentum coming into this year. We just couldn’t put it together for enough stretches, and our bad ones went too long. That’s why we’re sitting where we are.”
Sitting out of the playoffs. I wish I had the answers on how a franchise could sink this low. In a league where 53% of its teams make the playoffs and a draft system is in place to help the lower tier teams improve, and quite rapidly in some cases (see Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins), the Florida Panthers have continued to play uninspired hockey, make misjudgments on player selections (drafts and free agency), and have continually purged itself of superstar talent seeing little next to nothing in return.
This season was no different. Losing Jay Bouwmeester and Karlis Skrastins last off season spurred the arrival of Jordan Leopold and Dennis Seidenberg, both of whom were expected to carry the defensive responsibilities and match the production of the former Panther blue-liners. Both Leopold and Seidenberg were moved for second round picks (and a limited showing of Byron Bitz) at the NHL trade deadline, along with Dominic Moore (sent to the Montreal Canadiens for a second rounder in the 2011 NHL Draft).
Injuries riddled this team for the majority of the season. Florida Panthers leading goal scorer from 2008-2009, David Booth had a season he’d probably like to forget. Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards knocked him out for 45 games with a concussion on a vicious blindside blow to the head. Booth later suffered his second concussion of the season courtesy of Montreal Canadien Jaroslav Spacek, causing management to shut him down for the final 9 games of the season. Panther winger Nathan Horton was lost for 17 games with a fractured tibia bone after teammate Seidenberg’s puck clearing attempt caught him in the leg. Keith Ballard inadvertently swung his stick in frustration after the team allowed a goal and connected with Tomas Vokoun’s head, causing him to miss a week’s worth of time. Gregory Campbell, Kenndal McArdle, Victor Oreskovich, Rostislav Olesz, Stephen Weiss, Dmitry Kulikov and Cory Stillman also saw time on the injured list.
Panther coach Pete DeBoer had to constantly shuffle his lineup due to inconsistant play and injuries. Beyond the early season success of Steven Reinprecht and Cory Stillman and a phenomenal midseason run by Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton there was very little chemistry and cohesion between players.
The teams record on January 31st (24-22-9) was a testament to their ability to battle back, after the hole they dug themselves the first half of the year. But 8 different losing streaks of 3 games or more, including a 6 game losing steak which just so happened to be every game in February, would ultimately be the Panthers undoing. The team only saw 4 winning streaks, all of which topped off at 3 games. The Washington Capitals won 14 consecutive games this year. Think about that.
The Panthers offensive woes also heightened this teams inability to win games. The team went 14 consecutive games of scoring 2 goals or less. The power play was ineffective, at best. The team finished 24th in NHL, going 51 for 308 with the extra man. Weiss led the team with 28 goals scored. Michael Frolik finished with 21, and Nathan Horton with 20. The team found the back of the net 208 times, 3rd worse in the NHL.
The few bright spots were the play of Tomas Vokoun and the penalty kill. Vokoun was third in save percentage, with a .925 mark and finished third in shut outs with 7 on the year. His play kept this team close in almost every game, but he rarely had enough goal support. In 62 games started Vokoun was the victor only 23 times. That speaks for itself. Many rumors have him manning the pipes for another team next year, however. The penalty kill finished in the top ten but after a season like this, its hardly worth celebrating.
Many new faces are expected for this team on the ice come next year. A winning culture has to be developed and soon. If not I am afraid this team may be finding its home in another city. The Florida Panthers rapid ascension to the Stanley Cup Finals in only its 3rd year is the pinnacle moment in franchise history, but a decade’s worth of failure and mismanagement has done nothing but tarnish this franchises appeal across the NHL. Next season started with last night’s draft lottery, where the Panthers will select 3rd in June. The future always looks bright in the off season, but this summer has zero room for error.
“We all had bigger dreams for this year, but that’s the way it goes,” said Panther Captain Bryan McCabe, “the big thing is we’ve got to work hard this summer, come back with a new attitude and try to get off to a better start.”
About the Author
Written by Jack Powell
My name is Jack Powell. I'm 26 and work for a civil contracting company in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I've been a Panther fan since the team was formed in 1993 and don't ever plan on not being one. Looking forward to see what new Panther GM Dale Tallon is going to do to rebuild this franchise and make us a Cup contender!!