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Saturday, September 12, 2009

OGA SPR: The Florida Panthers - by Big Tex

Lucky 13 - this is the 13th installment in OGA's preseason tour of the league. Here's hoping it brings the Florida Panthers better luck in 2009-10...

Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): In 2008-09, On Goal Analysis was able to call 29 of 30 teams either IN or OUT of the playoffs prior to their mathematical clinch or elimination. The Florida Panthers were the infamous “Team No.30”, and with good reason: Finishing the season at 4.65 vs. the PQC, the Cats ended up tied with Montreal (also 4.65). As the Panthers and Canadiens finished with identical 41-30-11 records, the 8th (and final) Eastern Conference playoff seed went to Montreal based on their 3-1-0 record against Florida during the season. While some (myself included) will argue that the Panthers were more deserving of the 8th seed, “rules is rules,” as people who like to follow rules would say.

Post Lockout Average versus the PQC: Over the 1st three post-Lockout seasons, Florida averaged 4.27 vs. the PQC, and were called at Tee Time 8 December 2005, 7 December 2006 and 2 January 2008. What is largely overlooked due to the disappointment over so narrowly missing the playoffs last season is Florida’s 4.65 vs. the PQC, which was the second-best finish in franchise history. In fact, it was slightly better than their 4.6 finish in 1995-96, in which the Panthers lost to Colorado in the Stanley Cup Finals. 2008-09 was a marked improvement for the ‘Cats, but…can they build on it?

How does Florida look heading into the 2009-10 season?

Team Play: ISSUE – The Blueline. Truthfully, Florida has more than a couple of question marks among the forward lines, too, but the New & Not-Necessarily-Improved blueline corps (Now Bouwmeester Free!!!) earns OGA’s focus. In addition to the departure of Jay “30-minutes-a-night” Bouwmeester, Florida also said goodbye to Nick Boynton (now with Anaheim), Karlis Skrastins (Dallas), and apparently, to Jassen Cullimore (UFA), as well. Replacing those ‘Cats are Jordan Leopold, Ville Koistinen, and…who else? Well, that’s why they have training camp every year, right? - To find the answers to such questions. Seriously, the Panthers have invited veterans Martin Skoula and Christian Backman (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) to camp, and they’ll compete with a handful of rookies for available roster spots. No matter who ends up on the Opening Night roster, the Panthers’ defensemen have big skates (and minutes) to fill.

Fantasy Value: Forwards: The Panthers’ projected top line of Nathan Horton (67GP, 22-23-45, -5), Stephen Weiss (78GP, 14-47-61, +19) and David Booth (72GP, 31-29-60, +10) are all worth watching. Horton is expected to put up much better numbers now that he’s back on the wing, and hopes are high for Booth. Sophomore centerman Michael Frolik (79GP, 21-24-45, +10) could improve upon his rookie performance, provided linemate Cory Stillman (63GP, 17-32-49, +1) stays healthy.

Defensemen: On defense, Bryan McCabe (69GP, 15-24-39, -1) and Keith Ballard (82GP, 6-28-34, +14), and possibly a healthy Bryan Allen (2GP, 0-1-1, +2) are decent late-round pickups in deeper leagues.

Goalies: In goal, Tomas Vokoun (26-23-6, 2.49 GAA, .926 Sv%, 6 SO) is always a good pick.

Schedule Analysis: ISSUE – Much has been written about the Panthers’ pre-season travel schedule, up to and including a trip across the pond to open the season in Helsinki, Finland. Given the ‘Cats heartbreaking finish last season, the most critical part of the 2009-10 sked will be the final five games, four of which are on the road: @TOR, @MTL, @OTT, vs. NSH and @BUF. Every point is critical.

Ah, Sunday; On the Lord’s Day, OGA looks at a team in the City of Angels…

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.

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