Florida Panthers 2012-13 Annual: Will lightning strike twice?

Corey S.
August 06 2012 01:28PM


Weiss wants to stay on top.
By Michael Miller,
via Wikimedia Commons

One year ago, Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers were the laughing stock of the Internet after he splurged to get his team to the cap floor. Tallon acquired eight multi-year contracts last season and while some of them may have appeared reasonable, many of them were just flat out terrible. Not only that but they were raising the market value by overpaying for mediocre players. Despite all of this, Florida managed to win the Southeast Division, make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and take the eventual Eastern Conference champions to seven games in the first round. So the joke is on us now, right? Not quite.

Florida did have a good season and were actually a pretty decent team at even strength, but luck played a role in them winning the Southeast Division last year. They had a worse goal differential than both Washington and Winnipeg, had the same amount of regulation and overtime wins as the Avalanche, Sabres and Hurricanes and acquired 52 of their 94 points from one-goal games, 18 of them coming in shootout/overtime losses. They also played in arguably the weakest division in the NHL, which was left wide open thanks to disappointing seasons from the Capitals and Lightning.

Tallon’s shopping spree last off-season could come back to haunt the team, as well since they are now saddled with a lot of long-term deals and could run into problems when it comes time to give Stephen Weiss a new contract after this season. The good news is that they have a lot of quality forward prospects in their system and one of them could replace Weiss eventually, but having a little under $30 mil. committed to seven players in 2014-15 could make it difficult for the Panthers to build around that group of talent, especially for a small market team.

That being said, the Southeast title is still up for grabs and the Panthers are the defending champs, so they are going to look to defend their throne coming into the year. The only problem is that their team didn’t improve much coming into this off-season while other teams in the division got better. How does Florida stack up compare to them?

Florida’s Off-Season

Aside from re-signing Kris Versteeg, Tallon’s biggest task this summer was finding a replacement for the departing Jason Garrison, who signed with Vancouver. Garrison was a big part of Florida’s top pairing last year as he played tough minutes and contributed a good amount of offense from the back-end with 16 goals. Florida decided to go the free agency route to replace him and signed Filip Kuba to a two-year deal. Kuba had a decent season last year but he’s 35-years-old and got to play a majority of his minutes alongside Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson. In Florida, he will likely be used in a similar situation since Brian Campbell is no slouch when it comes to driving the play forward but Kuba barely kept his head above water last season, so I would expect for him to regress.

Florida also needed to replace Mikael Samuelsson, who did great in a tough minute role when he was healthy, and they decided to take a chance on Peter Mueller to help fill this hole. Mueller has struggled with concussion problems for the last few years but he has been able to score and get the play moving in the right direction when he is healthy. He might have some trouble fitting into Samuelsson’s role on the second line because Mueller has never been a tough-minute player.

Other than those moves, the Panthers didn’t gain or lose much value this off-season. They decided to not qualify Wojtek Wolski, even though he appeared to play well after they traded for him but the other players they let go didn’t bring much to the table. Krys Barch, Marco Sturm, John Madden and Bracken Kearns are all very replaceable, but Florida actually acquired a couple players who might be below replacement value. The Cats signed not one but two enforcers in JF Jacques and George Parros, the latter receiving a two year contract. Seeing how the Panthers have a lot of young talent in the system, taking up two roster spots with hired knuckles may not be the best strategy.

2012-13 Outlook

Forwards

Depth Chart

LW

C

RW

Tomas Fleischmann

Stephen Weiss

Kris Versteeg

Sean Bergenheim

Marcel Goc

Scottie Upshall

Tomas Kopeckey

Shawn Matthias

Peter Mueller

JF Jacques

Mike Santorelli

Jack Skille

 

Jerrod Smithson

George Parros

 

Florida’s top line of Fleischmann, Weiss and Versteeg was another one of the main reasons why they made the playoffs last season. These three alone scored about 35% of the Panthers goals last season and were on a hot streak that seemed to last for the entire year. It is natural to be skeptical about their performance because Versteeg was the only player with a positive corsi differential per 60 minutes and even then he was barely keeping his head above water during five-on-five play. Florida shot around 10% when this line was on the ice, so I would be on the lookout for their performance to take a turn downward next season. Weiss is usually a better territorial player, though so he could be able to rebound. 

This line was also given a territorial advantage over their other units and Kevin Dineen is able to do this because of his excellent shutdown line featuring Marcel Goc and Sean Bergenheim. These two along with Mikael Samuelsson handled most of the defensive zone starts and were able to drive the play forward despite that. This unit is great as a defensive line but they didn’t produce much offense last season. In fact, Florida didn’t get much offense from outside of their top-line but getting a full season from Scottie Upshall could help out this area. Florida’s second line could be more effective as an offensive unit if Upshall is able to stay healthy and play competently against the toughs.

Since Florida’s top-six handles most of the tough minutes, their third and fourth lines can feast on some easier competition. This seems to be where Mueller fits in the best since he’s never been a tough-minute player and can boost Florida’s scoring depth. Tomas Kopecky and Shawn Matthias weren’t exactly the best at driving possession last season, so Florida will need to hope that they can perform better next year. They aren’t playing too difficult of a role, so they should be capable of at least pushing the puck in the right direction even if they don’t provide much scoring. Their fourth line might end up consisting of two goons and Jerrod Smithson, so they probably won’t play many minutes.

Defense

Brian Campbell - Filip Kuba
Mike Weaver - Dmitry Kulikov
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski
Keaton Ellerby

Replacing Jason Garrison will be no easy task but the Panthers will have to hope that Filip Kuba can hold the fort down for the next two years. I’m not sure if Kuba can handle a top-pairing role but Florida fans better hope that Campbell is good enough to at least keep his partner’s head above ground this year. Campbell and Garrison played around 23-26 minutes last season, so Kuba is going to be taking on a lot of mileage if he is going to replace Garrison. That being said, he played a similar role in Ottawa but his performance was inferior to Garrison’s and he is also getting up there in age.

Kuba and Campbell won’t have to play the tough minutes because Mike Weaver handles virtually all of those. Weaver has always been underrated as a shutdown defenseman but he has emerged as a very reliable top-four option since arriving in Florida two years ago. His play seemed to drop off a bit last season and I’m not sure how much of it is related to him playing with Dmitry Kulikov instead of Garrison as his partner.  On that subject, Kulikov is a RFA and has yet to be signed to an extension yet, but I am sure that Tallon will get something worked out. He has been solid but unspectacular in a top-four role for the Cats the last three years, so he shouldn’t be too expensive.

Kulikov will likely be on the second pairing with Weaver while the third-pairing will consist of Erik Gudbranson and Ed Jovanovski. Gudbranson is still very young and struggled a bit last season despite playing in a sheltered role. I would expect him to improve this year and possibly take over one of the spots in the top four as he gets older. He isn’t ready for those minutes right now, though. Jovanovski played similar minutes but was completely underwater and was limited to only 13 minutes per night at even strength. At 36 years of age, it’s hard to imagine him getting much better next season or the remainder of his contract.

Goaltending
Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
Jacob Markstrom (minors)

The Panthers received solid goaltending from the Jose Theodore/Scott Clemmensen tandem last season with both goalies posting slightly above average save percentages at even strength. They decided to re-sign Clemmensen for two years, so they will go into next season with the same tandem. Going the cheap/short-term route with goaltending is never a bad idea, but this is a tad risky because Theodore is going to be 36 in September and Clemmensen is a solid 1a/b goalie at best. The upside isn’t that high with these two but if they can replicate what they did last year, then the Panthers goaltending should be in good shape. They also have Jacob Markstrom to fall back on if one of these two ends up having a bad year, but it looks like the Panthers are going to wait until Theodore’s contract runs out before Markstrom comes up full-time.

Special Teams

Florida had a solid powerplay last season as they were in the top-half of the league in shots per 60 minutes and in the top-10 in powerplay percentage. They lost two big producers in Samuelsson and Garrison this off-season though and neither are going to be easy to replace, especially Garrison. Compare Garrison’s production on the powerplay to Kuba’s and you’ll notice a big drop off. Kuba was a regular on the Senators powerplay and they produced fewer shots on goal with the man advantage when he was on the ice than any other defenseman. It will also be difficult for Versteeg, Goc and Bergenheim to replicate these shooting percentages, so the Panthers powerplay may see a big drop.

Their penalty kill, unfortunately, was at the other end of the spectrum as they were a bottom five team in preventing shots and goals while playing with the man down. Much like the powerplay, the performance of the PK is going to depend on how Kuba performs. Unfortunately for the Cats, the Senators gave up a ton of shots on the penalty kill while he was on the ice last season, so they will need him to have a better season, especially since Garrison was one of their top PK’ers. I would also expect Gudbranson to start killing penalties more often but he may not need to do that next season.

Prediction

Florida got a bit weaker while the rest of the division got stronger over the off-season, so the chances of them winning consecutive Southeast Division titles looks pretty low right now. Factor in them not gaining as many points from OT losses as last season and Kuba being a downgrade from Garrison and it’s easy to see Florida ending towards the bottom of the division next season. Their top-line is very strong, though and the Southeast could end up being weak yet again, so the door is open for the Panthers to at least be competitive.

They are going to need a lot of things to go right for them, though. Can Kuba be an adequate replacement for Garrison? Can their top line produce as they did last season? Will Scottie Upshall and Peter Mueller be able to stay healthy? Will Erik Gudbranson step up into a bigger role? Will Theodore/Clemmensen be above average again? All of those things are uncertainties at the moment and will play a huge factor into what kind of year Florida has.

More of the NHLNumbers Annual:

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Corey runs the Carolina Hurricanes blog www.shutdownline.com where he tracks scoring chances and writes about all things related to the Hurricanes and the Southeast Division. He is also a staff writer at www.canescountry.com and is a regular on the NHL Numbers Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @Shutdownline
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#1 Peterman
August 06 2012, 02:27PM
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Mueller is a big wildcard here. He was very successful in his short stint with the Avs while healthy. Last season can't really count because he had several health issues.

Mueller has a rocket shot and tremendous offensive instincts. If he is healthy, I can see him in a top-6 role with 1st unit PP time as well. Mueller can/has manned the point on the PP, and may be able to make up for Garrison's loss.

With a healthy Mueller, FLA can definitely compete for the division. Without him, they'll need some youngsters to step up or face missing the playoffs.

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#2 Derek T.
August 06 2012, 07:00PM
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When's the last time a team went from winning a division to finishing last the next season? I'd bet on Florida doing just that.

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#3 Derek Zona
August 06 2012, 07:45PM
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@Derek T.

I see the Panthers as the only team who can't win the division. That probably means that they will.

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#5 Luongo
August 06 2012, 09:59PM
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We'll keep Garrison, and give yah Luongo. Just joshin'

Wonder how much of a role their young guns will play next yr? Their back end looks suspect - with the exception of Weaver and Campbell.

Carolina and Tampa got a heck of a lot better this offseason. They are probably 2 of 3 teams that improved. Frankly, I don't think many teams gained this summer. Some maintained, some lost, but not many improved. Gotta think there are more trades in the works this summer.

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#6 Derek Zona
August 07 2012, 06:24AM
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@Corey S.

Losing Garrison hurts, goaltending should take a step back as well. The Jets *should* get better goaltending this year and the Canes and Lightning are better. If the Caps are healthy, they're back as well. It's going to be very difficult for the Panthers to stay out of the basement.

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#7 Colin
August 07 2012, 02:47PM
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Great article, I just wanted to point out the irony in an article being posted on NHL numbers that uses links to CapGeek for salary cap hits.

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