Hope For the Future: Panthers Need Sunshine
Welcome to our latest series, wherein we detail why each of the teams who managed to miss the playoffs can hope for better days in the near future. Well, probably, anyway.
The Florida Panthers had a year to forget. They were never particularly terrible (like Edmonton), but they were never terribly good either. Injuries hurt their best players, and a lot of questions remain, including: what now?
Power Play - This team had their stretches. David Booth's 11 games back after the Olympic break and before his re-injury were a light at the end of the tunnel. Booth tallied 11 points in that span, and the team scored an above-average 34 goals while posting a 6-4-1 record. Nathan Horton was on an 80-point pace had he stayed healthy all season, and Tomas Vokoun certainly held his own in the crease. The only real roster turnover will happen at the bottom of the depth chart.
Shorthanded - Injuries crushed this team, especially Booth's two concussions, which cast a pall over the Panthers' entire season. That picture you see above serves as an appropriate description of the season - every time things started getting better, another brick wall popped up. The team has several good young players, but may or may not have any great young players (a fate resting entirely on Booth and Horton for now). While Vokoun played well, they have no young internal option ready to take over for him after next season - if he hangs around that long. Playing just well enough to miss out on Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall didn't help anything, either.
Shootout Loss - It's hard to be terribly positive about the immediate future for Florida. They could certainly jump from below average to above average simply from having their young core (Horton, Booth, Michael Frolik, and Stephen Weiss) together for a full season. However that is still a big question mark, especially for Booth, who is going to need time just to get adjusted to skating hard but smart, with his head up, if he doesn't want his career to end soon.