The Panthers had one of their best seasons ever last year. A division title, a huge surge in fan interest and an absolute dog fight in their first playoff appearance in a very long time. Most of their talent was retained, and a bit more was added.  Some questions remain about key positions, but for year over year improvement two seasons ago to last year, the organization has a lot to be proud of.

Good News

  • Their young players gained valuable experience last season.
  • They retained their core.
  • Their coach has had a full season to learn the tendencies of most of the roster.
  • It is still the the Southeast division so they can count on at least two of their division rivals to be a hot mess all season.

Bad News

  • Depth at center and proper use of players their has yet to be addressed, Peter Mueller might help, but his health is only slightly better than Rick Dipietro’s.
  • The goalie tandem is still old and highly variable in quality.
  • The quest for a solid trio to make a quantifiable number one line this season will be ongoing.

Forecast

High: 89-97 points  They were not a healthy squad last with just one top six forward, and one top defender playing in all 82 games.  They had a lot of help from a division that was quite mediocre.

Low: If the wheels come off the goaltending, or the other teams in the division play just well enough to get three more regulation wins each the Panthers are going to be crispy kitties. They realistically they need to play better than last season to get the same results.

X-Factor

If the Panthers manage to pull off a trade for a quality center or goaltender that can contribute a lot to the teams success this because a whole new game. If there is a sophomore slump behind the bench things could get ugly fast.

The Minnesota Wild made the biggest splash of any team this off season. The secured not only Zach Parise, but Ryan Suter as well. Either player would be more than enough to launch any hockey mad market straight to cloud nine. Adding the pair at once simply turned the enthusiasm for the the team to 11 and then broke the nob.

Good News

  • Suter and Parise both went deep into the playoffs last season and legitimate top shelf players either is an impact player and both are used to defense first systems.
  • It is hard to imagine the team being as unhealthy as it was last season.
  • Last seasons team, without Parise and Suter was strong enough to lead the whole NHL on December 2nd last season, before the injury bug set up shop in the locker room.

Bad News

  • Dany Heatley may have had his feathers ruffled with his sudden demotion to fourth or fifth wheel.
  • The question of middle line depth remains.
  • Neither Backstrom nor Harding has put together a full season without a health issue in recent memory.

Forecast

High: Bubble team7-9 spot with a twelve to fifteen point improvement is not outside possibility for this team.

Low: After thought. If the team can’t coalesce, there are injuries to the key players, or the coach and management turn into vegetables that can’t figure out how to use their assets the team could only see a 3-5 point improvement.

X-Factor:

Both Parise and Suter went deep into the playoffs, neither has down so recently. There is a high probability they will report to camp in less than their best professional shape.