Florida Panthers fans have been very optimistic about the team’s playoff chances this year, but is it really possible? I decided to analyze the team’s competition in the Atlantic Division in order to find out. Read more to see my thoughts after analysis.
The Montreal Canadiens haven’t won a Stanley Cup since the Florida Panthers’ inaugural season in 1993 and something tells me that they still won’t win one for another few years at least. They certainly have the talent but I do not believe that the team has the drive to win. Their continued success recently has been due to the outstanding goaltending by Carey Price. There is good defense in P.K. Subban and good offense in Max Pacioretty, but I still would not say that the team is perfectly well-rounded. In any event, the team was fairly quiet in the offseason. They traded Brandon Prust to the Vancouver Canucks in return for Zack Kassian and a 2016 5th round pick. This should not make a huge impact on the team. I do believe that the Canadiens will make the playoffs this year but if they don’t do something to change their attitude or cohesion, the team will begin to decline. If the Panthers end up facing the Canadiens in the playoffs, I wouldn’t count them out. The Habs will be a tough team to beat but there’s a possibility that the Panthers can do it.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning are a team on the rise. They made it to the Stanley Cup Finals this season, only to be edged out by the Chicago Blackhawks. There is no doubt that the team is going to be explosive this year. The Lightning are another team that have remained quiet in the offseason. They did not make any trades but I do not think they needed to. With Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos on offense, the Lightning will have no trouble scoring goals. Their defense and goaltending is pretty decent as well, even if it doesn’t compare to their offense. The Lightning will make the playoffs this year and they may even win the cup. It will be interesting, however, to see their rivalry with the Florida Panthers grow as both teams improve. The team will certainly be interesting to watch but if the Panthers make the playoffs and must face off against the Lightning, I truly do believe that anything can happen.
Detroit Red Wings
In the past few years, the Detroit Red Wings have always been that good-but-not-good-enough type of team. They repeatedly have made the playoffs but haven’t actually won a cup since 2008. The team actually didn’t make any trades in the offseason, so their success all depends on the talent that they had last season. The team is pretty solid in every aspect but is constantly plagued with injuries. If Pavel Datsyuk can remain healthy, I think the team may be even more successful this year than it was last year. The real question that the team is facing is the question of who will be the starting goaltender: the young and talented Petr Mrazek or the reliable but not super impressive Jimmy Howard? All in all, I am fairly positive that the Red Wings will make the playoffs and they will be a tough competitor for the Florida Panthers but the Panthers have beat the Red Wings in games in the past and I’m sure they can do it again.
The Ottawa Senators are always a bit of a wild card team. This year, they just barely made it to the playoffs but still did not get very far with that. This was all thanks to Andrew Hammond, also known as the Hamburglar, but was his success at the end of the season just a fluke? I guess the only way to know is to wait and see. I assume Craig Anderson, a very capable former Panther, will still get the starting goaltender position. In the offseason, the Senators were fairly quiet. They traded Robin Lehner and David Legwand to the Buffalo Sabres in return for a 2015 1st round pick. They also got a 2015 4th round pick and Travis Ewanyk from the Oilers for Eric Gryba. I do not think either of those trades will have a huge impact on the team. The Senators and the Panthers will probably be very close in the standings and I may be a little biased in saying this, but I think the Panthers can edge out the Senators in the end.
The Boston Bruins are clearly in rebuild mode. After firing General Manager Peter Chiarelli, the team began to get rid of many of its older but decently skilled players in return for younger players. The Bruins traded the rights of Carl Soderberg to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2016 6th round pick. They also traded Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for a 2015 1st round pick and two 2015 2nd round picks. On top of this, they traded Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings for a 2015 1st round pick, Martin Jones, and Colin Miller. Martin Jones could have been slightly helpful for the Bruins but they traded him to the San Jose Sharks in return for a 2016 1st round pick and Sean Kuraly. To make matters even worse for the team, they traded away a 2017 3rd round pick for Zac Rinaldo from the Philadelphia Flyers. Zac Rinaldo probably won’t contribute anything to the team, except for maybe a few nasty fights. Probably their most successful trade was the one against our very own Florida Panthers, and I still think we won the trade. They acquired Jimmy Hayes from the Panthers in return for Reilly Smith and Marc Savard. Jimmy Hayes may get the Bruins a few goals, but probably only when he is right in front of the net. Reilly Smith, on the other hand, is a player I am excited to see play, especially alongside Brandon Pirri. The team got the 13th (Jakub Zboril), 14th (Jake DeBrusk), and 15th (Zach Senyshyn) overall picks in the NHL draft, but it is doubtful that any of them will get their NHL starts this season. Eventually, the Bruins may be very good again. However, that won’t be for at least another 5 years. They’ve got Patrice Bergeron and good goaltending in Tuukka Rask but for now, I wouldn’t worry about them too much.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team that always start off pretty well and then end up tanking incredibly quickly. This year, I don’t think they’ll even have that decent start. In the offseason, they acquired the rights to Zach Hyman and a 2017 7th round pick in return for Greg McKegg. If Hyman does choose to sign with the Leafs, he could be a great asset for them. Yet, even if he does choose to sign, it will still be a couple of years before he is ready to make the team. The Maple Leafs also acquired Martin Marincin from the Edmonton Oilers in return for Brad Ross and a 2015 4th round pick. In 85 NHL games, Martin Marincin has scored only 1 goal and has gotten only 10 assists, for a total of 11 points. In addition to that, they acquired the rights to Taylor Beck from the Nashville Predators for Jamie Devane. The big trade and perhaps even the biggest trade from this NHL offseason was one that rid the Leafs of their star player, Phil Kessel. In order to fully begin to rebuild, the Leafs traded Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, and a conditional draft pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Nick Spaling, Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, a 2016 3rd round pick, and a conditional draft pick. Even though Phil Kessel is getting older, I still believe this trade was a loss for the Leafs. Nick Spaling is a decent player but overall, I do not think the players the Leafs received will help much in their playoff campaign. The one player that could make a big splash on the team (if he makes the roster) is the 2015 4th overall draft pick, Mitchell Marner. He is a very talented center and will be very interesting to watch. He cannot lead the team to the playoffs though. With pretty abysmal goaltending and a general lack of talent, the Maple Leafs should not be a threat to the Panthers.
The Buffalo Sabres have been notoriously bad for years now, so the Panthers should not be too worried about them. However, the team did pick up some new players who may help the team improve. The two most obvious are Evander Kane and Jack Eichel. Evander Kane was traded by the Winnipeg Jets toward the end of last season and this season, he should be healthy and ready to actually play for the team. In 37 games last season, Evander Kane scored 10 goals and 12 assists for a total of 22 points. Jack Eichel was the second overall draft pick in this most recent NHL Draft and he is supposed to be pretty incredible. The Sabres also acquired Robin Lehner and David Legwand from the Ottawa Senators for a first round pick in that draft. In 80 games last season, David Legwand scored 9 goals and 18 assists for a total of 27 points. He may not contribute much in the immediate offensive front but he could be useful on the team for a couple assists. Lehner may not be an elite goaltender but he really is the best that the Sabres have right now. In a big trade with the Colorado Avalanche, the Sabres got Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher, and a 2015 2nd round pick. In 19 games last season, Jamie McGinn scored 4 goals and 2 assists for a total of 6 points. In 82 games last season, Ryan O’Reilly scored 17 goals and 38 assists for a total 55 points. I believe that this was a good trade for the Sabres and both players will definitely improve the team’s gameplay. I am fairly sure that the Sabres will improve this year, but their poor goaltending and defense will prevent the team from threatening the Panthers’ playoff chances.
All considered, I think the Florida Panthers have a pretty high chance of making the playoffs, most likely in a wild card spot. The team has been improving its offense and the defense and goaltending are already pretty strong. I will not go into extreme detail about the Panthers’ offseason decisions because there are numerous articles on COTP that have already done so. In the offseason, the Panthers acquired Greg McKegg from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Zach Hyman and a 2017 7th round pick. McKegg most likely will not play with the Panthers this season but he will be helpful to our AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. The Panthers also got Marc Savard and Reilly Smith from the Bruins for Jimmy Hayes. It is sad to see Hayes go but I do think that Smith is a better fit for the team. The duo between Pirri and Smith is no doubt going to be incredible. The Panthers also got Lawson Crouse as the 11th overall draft pick. He probably will start with the Pirates but I would not be surprised if he came up for a few games with the team later in the season. It definitely will not be easy for the team to make the playoffs, but after a 25 point increase last season, the Panthers can only continue to improve. In a few years, I can definitely see a Stanley Cup in our future.