Inglorious is the most fitting word to describe the Florida Panthers of the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. In a normal season finishing 59 goals less than your opponent would be bad, in just 48 games in exposes the weaknesses of the team. They were tied for last in goals for. They owned the worst penalty kill in the league. They allowed the most goals. As winning recipes go, that one goes to the bottom of the stack. Almost worse than the season for the club as whole was managing to lose the draft lottery to the Avalanche. Then too there was the injury bug, Scottie Upshall, Stephen Weiss, Kris Verseteeg, and Erik Gudbranson are just the biggest names on the list.
For all the bad things that happened, their were bright spots. Jonathan Huberdeau reset the team record for most points as a teenager and finished second on the Panthers in scoring and picked up the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie. Tomas Fleischmann turned in a strong season with 35 points in 48 games. Perhaps surprisingly the Sultans of Sunrise had the 6th best powerplay in the NHL. Clearly there are building blocks, here. How well team develops Aleksander Barkov, Quentin Howard, Nick Bjugstad and other youngsters like Jacob Markstrom will either set the table for a return to the playoffs in the not too distant future or result in more of the same.
The first five games are a mixed bag. There’s a team with exceptional defense in the Saint Louis Blues, two teams with high end offensive stars in their cross state rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Filling out the rest of the early season are the Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars.
Number of days 1-5: 8
Number of cities: 5
Best opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
Weakest opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning
Home games: 1
Projected points: 3
If the team beats my projection for the opening five game, they will be set for a better finish than most are willing to project for them. They have a steep hill to climb to make it to the playoffs, but with better health, and some development out of the youth, they are unlikely to finish as poorly as last year and likely climb into range of the bubble (7-12) versus being 13-16 in the east this year. With almost 12 million in cap space to start the year, the team will at least on paper be able to make moves during the season to add talent in key positions. Dale Tallon is unlikely to get much rest this season as he evaluates the system.