The Panthers overhauled their defense and added a reliable backup goalie in James Reimer. Add that to their burgeoning group of forwards and you've got what looks like a contender.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 2nd in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 21-1
Key additions: Keith Yandle, D; James Reimer, G; Jason Demers, D; Jared McCann, LW; Mark Pysyk, D; Jonathan Marchessault, LW
Key departures: Brian Campbell, D; Dmitry Kulikov, D; Erik Gudbranson, D; Willie Mitchell, D; Teddy Purcell, RW; Al Montoya, G
-How good will Aleksander Barkov be? Really good. The big center will be 21 when the season begins, but he’s already in his fourth NHL campaign. Given how pivots of his ilk tend to progress, we’re looking at another big leap from a kid who was nearly a point-per-gamer in 2015-16. Barkov’s production has jumped every year and, with the talent surrounding him, there’s no reason to believe he’ll be slowing down anytime soon. Funny to think he was once seen as a dicey pick over Jonathan Drouin and Seth Jones in the 2013 draft.
-How fluky was the Panthers' division title? It was a little bit fluky, to be sure. Florida had one of the best winning percentages in one-goal games, and there’s no math to prove that will happen again this season. The team also had a high PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage), which is equated with “ luck.” Plus, Roberto Luongo continued to play like a goaltender 10 years younger than his actual age of 37. That helped a lot. This season, Luongo is returning from off-season hip surgery, and the Cats won’t rush or pressure him. Hence the signing of James Reimer over the summer.
-Will Jaromir Jagr lead the team in scoring again? No, but the legend will turn 45 during the season, so it’s no shame if he gets passed by Barkov or Vince Trocheck or Jonathan Huberdeau. Jagr couldn’t find his offense during the first-round loss to the Isles, but you can’t say he slowed down as the season went on: the ageless one tallied 11 points in the last nine games of the season. Either way, it’s time for the younger generations to take the reins full time.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Florida Panthers are on the rise and the rest of the East should look out. Sure last season was a bit of a fluke, but they’ve made massive improvements to the team that should help in the present and in the future.
Start at the top where the team has five first line forwards, a tie for the most in the league. None of them are incredibly high end first liners, but the first four are still young with room to grow. Aleksander Barkov is perhaps the most underrated here as he’s only 21 and took a meteoric leap last season. Because this takes into account the last three seasons of a player’s career, Barkov’s slow start to his career drags him down (along with some regression that applies to every player). If he plays anything like he did last season, or takes another leap forward, the Panthers could threaten the division crown.
The defense was completely remodelled with a focus on transition and moving the puck up ice. Brian Campbell is a big loss, but the additions of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers should offset that, not to mention the immediate improvements over Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Willie Mitchell. This defence may not look like they can handle the defensive zone as well as most, but they probably won’t have to spend much time there thanks to their puck-moving ability.
In net is Roberto Luongo who was phenomenal last season, but with age a concern a steady back-up was necessary. James Reimer can be that and more and provides an extremely capable safety net in case Luongo falters.
It was a very busy off-season, one where the team made a lot of savvy and calculated moves. In 2015-16 they were a top 10 team by points, but their underlying numbers suggested that was a bit of a mirage. Other teams that experienced a similar fortune in the past doubled down on their good luck, but not the Panthers who revamped their bottom six, their defensive core, and back-up goalie. With all that combined they should be a legit top 10 team this season and a new force at the top of the league.
Up next: Anaheim Ducks
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