Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Inside look at Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are hoping to start the season the way they finished 2017-18 and have many of the same players to do so.
The Panthers return all 12 players who had more than 20 points last season and each defenseman who played in a game. They also traded for forward Mike Hoffman, who had 56 points (22 goals, 34 assists) for the Ottawa Senators last season and has scored at least 22 goals in four straight seasons.
Florida is optimistic after going 25-8-2 over its final 35 games, tied with the Winnipeg Jets for most wins in the NHL in that span, but it finished with 96 points, one shy of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
"[The 25-8-2 finish is] a number that we do like to fall back on, but it wasn't a playoff number unfortunately," defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. "If we can do that throughout the year or at least create something along those lines of a run, we'll be in good shape."
The strong finish and disappointment of missing the playoffs will provide extra motivation as the Panthers prepare for the season, their second with Bob Boughner as coach.
"The guys have that little bit of bad taste in their mouth," Boughner said. "We didn't like the start to our season last year, but saying that, we like what's happened in the summer with a couple of the additions and think guys are hungry. I've been talking to a lot of the players, and they're anxious to get back and train, get going the way we finished off basically."
Florida addressed two needs this offseason by acquiring a scoring forward and a veteran defenseman.
Hoffman was acquired in a trade from the San Jose Sharks on June 19, the same day he was traded from Ottawa to San Jose. He will fill out the Panthers' top two lines along with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Evgenii Dadonov and Nick Bjugstad.
"We were missing a true top-six forward last year, and I think Hoffman is really going to fit that bill," Boughner said. "Where that's going to be make us better is I think we're going to be deeper on our third and fourth lines, which is really important."
The Panthers could benefit offensively from the arrival of two of their recent first-round picks, Henrik Borgstrom (No. 23, 2016 NHL Draft) and Owen Tippett (No. 10, 2017 NHL Draft). Borgstrom, who played four NHL games last season, and Tippett, who played seven, will compete for a spot on the third line.
Florida agreed to terms on a one-year contract with 28-year-old defenseman Bogdan Kiselevich on July 1. Kiselevich, who was selected to the Kontinental Hockey League's first all-star team last season, is expected to round out the top four with Ekblad, Keith Yandle and Mike Matheson.
Retaining every player who made a significant contribution last season was beneficial. Florida has 10 players -- Barkov, Trocheck, Huberdeau, Bjugstad, Ekblad, Yandle, Matheson, forward Colton Sceviour and goalies Roberto Luongo and James Reimer -- signed through at least the 2020-21 season.
"We had so much instability a few years ago," general manager Dale Tallon said. "New faces, new players, new coaches. Now, we want to make sure that we let our young guys develop the proper way that we have a strong core. Coaches are more comfortable with the players, and players will be more comfortable with them as well. I look for everyone to get off to a good start, much better than we did last year."
The Panthers are confident they'll be more successful this season.
"This team, the core has kind of grown up together, and we feel it's time," Bjugstad said. "We've got a lot of the young guys (who) signed long-term deals, and that definitely shows that ownership wants to win, and we've got to have that trickle down into the players. There's no excuses this year.
"You don't get the opportunity to make the playoffs all the time, so why not start this year?"

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