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THN.com Blog: Panthers should send Matthias down; make playoff push next season

Shawn Matthias has 21 goals and 58 points in 32 games with the OHL's Belleville Bulls.

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Shawn Matthias has 21 goals and 58 points in 32 games with the OHL's Belleville Bulls.

Question: How many glass-half-full seasons do you need in order to put together one full-glass campaign?

If you’re a Florida Panthers fan, the answer seems to be “one more.”

Of course, it always seems to be one more, which is why there have been so many empty-glass seasons in Sunrise.

The immediate impact made by power forward prospect Shawn Matthias on the Cats’ lineup is definitely a good omen looking ahead, but the Belleville Bulls product is likely returning to Canadian tundra soon.

Yes, Matthias scored two goals in his second NHL game and nearly doubled his time on ice from his debut. Yes, the Panthers beat two of the best teams in the East (New Jersey and Ottawa) when he was in the lineup. And, yes, Olli Jokinen likes playing alongside him.

But the Cats, who fleeced the Red Wings in acquiring Matthias and a draft pick (then packaged to Nashville for Tomas Vokoun) in exchange for a battered and ineffective Todd Bertuzzi, are once again like the original cast of Saturday Night Live: Not ready for primetime players.

Sure, the Panthers could snag that oh-so-coveted eighth seed in the East and be chum for a Sens team that will have Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson at full strength, not to mention some weighty presence of trade deadline spoils – Marian Hossa, Mats Sundin, etc., but despite any moral victories that would be gained in a playoff berth, the wait-til-next-year philosophy seems to be the most obvious and prudent path to take.

And that’s how it should be. Nathan Horton hasn’t scored since Jan. 3 and is on pace to have slightly weaker numbers than last year and Stephen Weiss is on an even worse clip. These guys were both top-five picks, yet that vaunted “breakout” year has yet to materialize.

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Now don’t get me wrong, both are very good players, but if the Cats want to take that next step, their second- and third-highest scorers need to break the 65-point barrier.

Which leads us to next year. Matthias has a legitimate shot at winning a Memorial Cup with Belleville this season and based on his excellent play at the world juniors, he’s a star in the making. Two other prospects, Michael Frolik and Michal Repik, may soon join the mix as well. All of a sudden the Panthers’ options on the top two lines look a lot beefier and the offense’s ceiling gets higher.

Jokinen, like a Southern Sundin, has said he wants to stay in Florida, and with the talent coming up it’s no surprise why.

The Cats have goaltending in Vokoun, options up front, and if they had listened to me earlier this year and signed Danny Markov (how many games has Cory Murphy missed? Didn’t Branislav Mezei get injured again? Oh, how you doubted me!), their improving defense would have been hex-proofed and this might have been the year for thoughts of post-season fancy.

But hold on, Florida fans. The sun will come out next year…I’m serious this time.

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