Florida Panthers Season Preview

florida_panthers_1994The Florida Panthers are a bubble team.

Sometimes that’s a compliment. Most of the time, however, it’s the sports world equivalent of “You’re nice and everything, but…”

The “but” in this case is the fact that the Panthers are much more likely to be on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Last year was their chance to turn the tide. The bottom half of the Eastern Conference was there for the taking; the Panthers were right there in the thick of things, but, nevertheless buckled. And that was when stud defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was the staple of the team’s back end.

The picture isn’t as pretty as the Panthers embark on a new season. It is unforgivable that management elected to hang on to Bouwmeester at the trade deadline, even if it seemingly sent the message: We’re in it to win!

They lost, though. Not only did the team crumble down the stretch and fail to make the playoffs, but they lost Bouwmeester and didn’t get the proverbial diddly in return. Jordan Leopold? Riiiight.

Actually, the loss of Bouwmeester isn’t that great. It was almost inevitable he was going to leave, thus most teams wouldn’t dangle too much for his rights. The problem with the Panthers heading into the 2009-10 season is that their roster is quintessentially average.

Because October will mark a new season and a clean slate, it’s tempting to look at players like David Booth, Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss and predict great things. Maybe Michael Frolik will give opponents headaches?

Tomas Vokoun might contend for a Vezina?

All these questions and predictions are fun and invigorating before the season commences, but it’s hard to escape reality.

The Panthers need more. At this point, they don’t have it. Offensively, there are a bunch of players who “have the potential to be productive NHL players.” Same thing defensively.

That shouldn’t instill too much confidence in Panthers fans.

The recipe for success for the Panthers this year is to simply stay afloat until the trade deadline…but then make a splash! Go out and get that top-six forward! Go out and get that productive veteran presence (in addition to Cory Stillman) to compliment the young talent! Toughen up on defense!

If the Panthers do that, they can turn some heads down the stretch.

If the Panthers do that, it could be the year of the rat.

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