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30 Teams in 30 Days: Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers enter this season with the hopes of qualifying for the postseason for the first time since the lockout, despite the fact that they play in what has arguably been the worst division in hockey in recent memory.  The Panthers have hovered around the 36 win mark over the past 3 seasons and after making a few significant moves this offseason, could end up surprising quite a few teams this year and may even sneak into the playoffs in a top-heavy Eastern Conference.

Forwards:
The Panthers traded away their leading scorer and team captain, Olli Jokinen, to the Coyotes this offseason.   His departure came as no surprise to anyone in the hockey world as the writing had been on the wall for months.  The question now is who will step up to fill the leadership role and offensive contribution that Jokinen provided for so many seasons.

Signed as a free agent on July 1st, Cory Stillman, at the age of 34, brings considerable playoff experience to a young Panthers squad.  Stillman knows what it takes to win with young teams as he was a pivotal member for the Lightning and Hurricanes cup winning teams in ’04 and ’06, respectively.  He is also a terrific playmaker and really makes his linemates better.  Stillman finished last season with 65 points, including scoring 19 points in 24 games with a floundering Ottawa Senators squad to finish the season.

The success of the Panthers will ultimately lie in the production of their young forwards, specifically Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss.  Horton and Weiss have played in the shadow of Jokinen for long enough.  The former first round picks must now step up and prove that they can carry their team, like they did in Junior hockey.  Horton finished last season with 62 points, while Weiss finished with 42 in 74 games.  For the Panthers to have a chance to qualify for the playoffs, both players will need to eclipse the 60 point mark.

David Booth, a pleasant surprise for the Panthers last season, will be under increased pressure this year, especially since he is projected to play on a line with Horton and Weiss.  Rostislav Olesz, who recently signed a 6-year contract extension, will get top 6 forward minutes and if he finally stays healthy for an entire season, the Panthers should hope he eclipses the 20 goal mark.

Defence:
While there are many questions surrounding the offense, the Panthers have put together one of the strongest defense corps in the East.  Jay Bouwmeester finally started to prove his worth last year as he became the Panthers’ undisputed top defenceman when he amassed 37 points and provided strong defensive play.  He finished last season with the most ice time of any player in the league, and as he is a potential unrestricted free-agent at the end of this season, expect the speedy Alberta native to have another career year.

Recently acquired Bryan McCabe will likely flourish in the Sunshine State.  McCabe had a sub-par year last season, but that was best attributed to the combination of injuries and the unfair treatment he received from the Toronto media and fans.  Miami is not Toronto when it comes to hockey which is why the Panthers were one of the very few teams that McCabe was willing to wave his no-trade clause for.  It should not come as a surprise if McCabe thrives in this non-hockey market and ends up posting the 50+ points that he routinely put up until last season.

In addition to McCabe, the Panthers added Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton through the Jokinen trade.  Ballard has developed into an excellent offensive defenseman, demonstrating quick speed, a great outlet pass and plays a much more physical game than most people give him credit for.  Boynton is your typical stay-at-home physical defensemen who will be a great influence in the locker room.

The much improved Bryan Allen and the shot blocking Karlis Skrastins round out one of the top defensive corps in the East.

Goal:
Tomas Vokoun is a strong goaltender who can play 70+ games if needed.  He will provide the Panthers with a chance to win every game in which he starts and if the team fails to qualify for the playoffs, it will certainly not be because of goaltending.

Prediction:
Ceiling: 7th in East
Floor:  12th in East

Video:

Wheeler turns back the clock to help Jets take down the defending champs. 'The Winnipeg Jets are shredding the opposition defensively'.

https://illegalcurve.com/winnipeg-jets-morning-papers-3696/

Headlines:

Wheeler proving he’s still a leader for the Jets, regardless of title. Wheeler gets hat trick as Jets bury Avs. Wheeler nets hat trick, Hellebuyck slams the door as Jets rout Avalanche 5-0. Jets know there’s more work to be done.

https://illegalcurve.com/winnipeg-jets-morning-papers-3696/

The Jets are scheduled to practice today as they turn the page on last night's win over the defending Cup champs and prepare for the Jackets who are here on Friday.

The Moose have another day of practice as they prepare for first ever school day game.

https://illegalcurve.com/winnipeg-jets-morning-papers-3696/

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