The Florida Panther is on the endangered species list. With the high number of shots on goal the Panther’s have allowed, their goaltenders may soon face extinction themselves. Only the woeful Atlanta Thrashers allowed more shots against than Florida last season.
Tomas Vokoun was the lone NHL goaltender to record over 2000 saves last season. Only five goaltenders faced over 2000 shots on goal. Of those, only Martin Brodeur had a better save percentage (0.920 versus 0.919 for Vokoun). Even though he’s changed teams during that period, Vokoun’s save percentage over the last three seasons has been remarkably consistent; 0.919, 0.920 and 0.919.
Dobber himself among others questioned why I selected Vokoun over Huet in the Dobber Hockey Expert’s Draft. Yes, I realize that Huet was very hot down the stretch last season, sporting a record of 11-2, a 1.63 goals-against-average and a gaudy 0.936 save percentage with the Caps.
So why didn’t I take Huet? He’s going to a new team; one that already has an expensive goaltender on the roster. In a one-year pool, it’s best to avoid any potential crease conflicts that could occur when you have two highly paid goalies fighting to prove they are number one. Moving to a new team also comes with question marks. If Huet had stayed with Washington, that may have been a different story. No Mr. Dobber et al, Vokoun was the safer pick.
Vokoun is solidly in the second tier of goalies and I fully expect 35 wins with a 2.40 goals-against-average this season. He will once again finish at or near the top in saves this year.
When the Panthers traded away Olli Jokinen, they replaced their top offensive player with two defensive players. That deal signaled that things are about to change in sunny Florida.
Ballard led the Coyotes in hits and blocked shots last year. He along with Bouwmeester, McCabe, Allen, Boynton and Murphy gives Florida the potential to be one of the more complete and physical defensive squads in the NHL. Sadly, players like Ballard and Bouwmeester are much more valuable in real life than they are on your fantasy roster. Ballard will likely not get much power play time in Florida, not with the likes of McCabe, Bouwmeester and Murphy on the roster.
As long as the coach can protect McCabe and Murphy at even strength by pairing them up with defensively conscious and physical partners respectively, then they should both have decent seasons. McCabe’s defensive gaffes are infamous and Cory Murphy tends to get out-muscled in front of his own net, so it would help if he’s paired with a partner who can clear the crease.
Even though Jacques Martin is no longer coaching, this is still his team. Coach DeBoer will need to get the players to buy into a defensively responsible system in order for them to succeed. It will be easier without an offensive star (Jokinen) around.
How will Florida replace Jokinen’s offensive production? Out of necessity, they will do it by committee, not relying on any one player like they could with Jokinen. The offence will be led by Nathan Horton and Cory Stillman, who should each score between 65-70 points.
With increased ice time, Stephen Weiss should bump his point totals to somewhere around the 50-55 point mark. David Booth had 22 goals last year, only one of which was a power play marker. He’ll put up 45-50 points.
Zednik, Olesz and McLean will all chip in with 35 to 45 points. The wild cards are the two rookies, Shawn Matthias and Michael Frolik. Jacques Martin has stated he feels that they are both ready to play. That’s a positive sign for the rookies.
As always, when choosing players from offensively challenged clubs, take care not to select more than one or two of them. Offensively, the Panthers are only one step up from the New York Islanders.
The acquisition of Ballard and Boynton was good news for Vokoun owners. The Panthers will be a more competent defensive squad this season and combined with the under-appreciated talents of their number one goaltender, there’s reason to hope.