Don’t Overlook The Electric Ehlers

“We don’t have a sniper. We need somebody who can score.”

Dale Tallon (4/13/14)

There’s a big misconception that there aren’t any wingers worthy of being selected at the top of this years draft. Most hockey pundits and armchair GM’s (it takes one to know one) have penciled in defenseman Aaron Ekblad as the sure-fire first overall pick.

Although Ekblad is a great prospect and would do wonders for their blueline down the road, the Florida Panthers are still waiting for Erik Gudbranson and Dmitri Kulikov to grow into the defensemen they were drafted to become. Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon has drafted plenty of defenseman bound to rear their heads in the NHL during the next few seasons.

Mike Matheson is likely to make the leap from college into the Panthers dressing room next season, and Tallon is on the record saying Halifax Mooseheads defenseman Mackenzie Weegar will quarterback the Panthers power play for years to come.

But since Panthers fans haven’t seen these defenseman play at the NHL level yet, it’s understandable that they’d think picking Ekblad is a no-brainer.

But decisions shouldn’t be made without brains!

Up next in the pecking order you’ll find two centermen, two Sam’s, Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett, projected to fill out the 2nd and 3rd spots of the first round.

“Reinhart’s hockey sense is off the charts. He’s a tremendous playmaker who can dictate the tempo of a game, he’s an advanced two-way player who makes plays in every situation”, Corey Pronman wrote in his NHL 2014 draft report.

Hey, that sounds like Barkov.

The Panthers plugged that organizational need when they selected Barkov in last years draft.

Neither Reinhart nor Bennett stand a chance at dethroning Barkov nor Bjugstad from centering the top two lines anyway, as Tallon wants SIZE down the middle. Sure, we could convert one of them to wing, and I wouldn’t mind seeing either of them next to Barkov or Bjugstad at all (especially Bennet), but both Sam’s are playmakers more than they are high caliber goal scorers. The Panthers already have playmakers in Huberdeau and Barkov, and like Tallon said…

“We need a sniper. We need somebody who can score.”

Well ladies and gentlemen, that dangerous sniper is here. He’s dangerous as all hell on the ice and a gift from the hockey gods.

His name is Nicolaj Ehlers.

Nikolaj Ehlers. Photo by www.Bielertagblatt.ch

Ehlers (pronounced; ‘EEL-ers’) is a high scoring winger with blazing speed from Denmark who plays for the Halifax Mooseheads. Even though I know he’s from Denmark, I still think he came out of nowhere, because the numbers he’s putting up are insane.

And the fact that he hasn’t even cracked the top ten list for some draft rankings boggles my mind. After the season he’s had I don’t know what else he could possibly do to get there in this “weak draft year”. For this post, I’ve culled information from a ton of great articles online (I invite you to click on every single one of them) and mixed them all together for my sake and for yours, because I think the Panthers should seriously consider picking Nikolaj Ehlers with the first overall pick and I want to explain why we shouldn’t overlook him.

Ehlers won the rookie scoring title in the QMJHL this year and it wasn’t even close. He’s also 4th in scoring overall, and the only rookie in the top 20. Ehlers possesses all the tools to become an absolute game changer in the NHL someday. He’s putting together the résumé to prove it, too.

His 49 goals were the most by a Quebec League rookie since someone named Sidney Crosby” – Neate Sagar

Watch Ehlers capture the scoring title:

I know we can’t only judge a hockey players value by looking at stats, they don’t even quantify assets like speed, something Ehlers has plenty of,  but you can’t ignore stats either…especially when they’re more impressive than the guys shoes he’s filling in Halifax.

With Nathan MacKinnon being only 1 year removed from his former Mooseheads team in the QMJHL, I couldn’t find a better player or situation to compare stats against when trying to project Ehlers value or pontificate how his game might translate at the NHL level.

Glancing over these stats raised my eyebrows quite a bit:

  • MacKinnon Rookie Season w Mooseheads :                 GP 58 / G 31/ A 47 / PTS 78 / +11 / 1.3 PPG
  • MacKinnon Sophomore Season w Mooseheads:         GP 44 / G 32 /A 43 / PTS 75 / +40 / 1.7 PPG
  • Nikolaj Ehlers Rookie Season w Mooseheads:      GP 63 / G 49 / A  55 / PTS 105 / +65 / 1.6PPG

*It’s also worth noting that Ehlers scored a majority of his points and played on a separate line than Drouin.

Plenty of fans in Halifax have been comparing Ehlers to MacKinnon all year long, and when it comes to scoring and sheer offensive dominance in the QMJHL, the numbers reveal Ehlers to be the more dominant player. Perhaps it’s just as remarkable, that as far as the footrace is concerned, believe it or not, Ehlers is allegedly a faster skater than MacKinnon too.

Maybe that’s why the flying dark horse from Denmark, the fan favorite, with nicknames like “the Dashing Dane” and “the Electric Ehl”, has been flying under the radar all season? He’s just too fast. He’s got that – now you see him now you don’t – kinda speed that the hockey Gods shine on only a few men every generation.

But it’s not only the speed, nor the numbers, it’s also the environment he grew out of which separates Ehlers from guys like Ekblad. Rather than being a man playing among children, Ehlers, like the Florida Panthers beloved Aleksander Barkov, grew up as a boy playing hockey among men.

And like Barkov, he demolished them.

“He hails from Denmark and played in the Swiss Men’s League in Biel posting strong numbers like 12 points in 2 games and 8 points in 2 games at the age of 14. He is by far the fastest player in the draft which sets him apart by a huge margin. He’s had his speed compared to that of Pavel Bure and his style of offensive play compared to Peter Forsberg – something which scouts may well use to further back their opinions of Ehlers as being one of the most dynamic players in this year’s draft.” – Curtis Joe

Maybe the reason he was so far off scouts lists as top ten material was because this type of meteoric rise wasn’t supposed to happen to the dane from Denmark. With a smaller rink size and the culture shock, this was supposed to be a transitional season for Ehlers as he needed time to acclimate to Canada from Europe. But if his numbers are indicative of anything they’re suggesting he’s pretty comfortable now. If you track his point totals they’ve been skyrocketing for months, and the progress he’s making is why I think he’s separating himself from all the rest of the kids in the upcoming draft.

“One other interesting aspect to Ehlers’s season is that his points-per-game gradually increased over the course of the season. One possible narrative is that Ehlers needed time to adjust to the QMJHL. There may be something to that. No other player on this chart saw such a drastic increase in points-per-game the 2nd half of his pre-draft season as Ehlers.” – Please check out the rest of this great post from lighthousehockey.com so you can see the other studs Ehlers stats are being compared to.

I see something special in Halifax Mooseheads rookie Nicolaj Ehlers. When they were teammates, Patrick Kane must have seen something special in him too. Ehlers was fortunate enough call Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin teammates while playing for Biel in the Swiss A league in Europe during the most recent lockout, and they played a role in convincing Ehlers to move to Canada for a chance to be drafted into the NHL.

But that’s not where the Ehlers and Patrick Kane connection ends. Ehlers also been drawing comparisons to Kane from Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who famously drafted Kane first overall when he was projected by many scouts to go fourth in 2007.

Photo by Ashley Hennigar at http://mooserockhalifax.blogspot.com

Ehlers with Trophies. Photo by Ashley Hennigar at http://mooserockhalifax.blogspot.com

“Yeah really impressed with him. Tremendous speed.” Tallon said. ” I see a little Patrick Kane in him, he’s maybe a little quicker. He’s an exciting player to watch with his explosiveness. He’s a great skater. I don’t think there’s a better skater in the draft”.

In the NHL if you scored 50 goals this year you were chastised for not playing defense. Although Ehlers was 1 goal shy of 50 in the QMJHL, he’s shown zero attitude problems when it comes to playing defense. In fact, he excels in that role as one of the Mooseheads best penalty killers. By all reports, Ehlers plays more of a North American style 200 ft game than most Europeans do when they make the transition to Canada.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. His league leading and ridiculously high +65 speaks for itself.

The only knock on Ehlers that I am aware of is that at 6″0′ and 163lbs he is undersized for the NHL right now. But like Patrick Kane, he’s not afraid to go in the tall trees and fight for the puck. Also, being skinny hasn’t caused him to miss any games due to injury either. The kid’s tough.

Besides, if there’s no reason to take him other than his weight, what a better place to bring him than to America, home of the hamburger, where obesity rates fly through the clinic as fast as happy meals from drive-through windows?

Putting on weight is no surprise for the young 18 year old either, he’s already working on it.

“I’ve been working out with the team and working out alone. I’m trying to gain weight right now. I know I need to gain some weight to play in the NHL and that’s my goal. I’m at 163 lbs and I would like to be at about 185 or 190. I think that would be a good size for a player like me” he acknowledged in a recent interview with Dan Robertson. 

If you told me I could eat my way to an NHL contract I’d already be dining at that million dollar bash.

But even if his weight means he’s two years away, the Panthers have $30 million dollars to spend on someone to keep his spot warm for the next couple of seasons while he bulks up and continues to light up the QMJHL. By the time Ehlers makes his way to the big leagues, he could be brought into a much better situation than Barkov, Huberdeau and Bjugstad were brought into.

He’ll also have a more seasoned Barkov or Bjugstad to help him find his way. I can already imagine those two guys fighting to have him on their line. And Ehlers would be a perfect candidate for either of them because he loves playing with big guys who can open up the ice for him.

Ehlers also has found a natural fit with line mates Brent Andrews and Andrew Ryan. “We have a great chemistry together”, he says. “They’re two big guys and they give me some time and space to do what I can to get some points for the team. I think it’s great playing with them.” 

And if the timing is right, in 1-2 years Ehlers could be an instrumental addition to the Panthers lineup as they make a push for a deep playoff run and try to forge that perfect storm of players to really carry them all the way to the Stanley Cup.

Dale Tallon knows more than anyone that the Florida Panthers are missing a high-scoring, speedy right winger in their ever increasing prospect pool. The Panthers just don’t have the same kind of depth on right wing they have on the blue line and at the center position. Although Ehlers is listed as LW, if you scour his footage online, you’ll find that almost all the footage of him is scoring and attacking from the RW.

If the Panthers are looking for a speedy, high scoring, dynamic winger who can play on the RW and score a ton of goals with Barkov or Bjugstad and Huberdeau for years to come, I think Nicolaj Ehlers has the best chance out of anyone in this draft to fulfill that role. Ehlers would also allow the Florida Panthers to bring in a little bit of that magic they missed out on by not drafting MacKinnon or Drouin last year…maybe even a little more.

He’d also bring that speed and electricity onto the ice Panthers fans haven’t seen since the days of Pavel Bure. Last month Ehlers scored 17 goals in eight games, with hat tricks in three straight games. If that’s not the sniper the Panthers need in their lineup or the kind of player worthy of taking number 1 overall, or the kind of guy the Panthers marketing department is drooling over, I don’t know who is.

On a year where there “isn’t a consensus number 1 overall pick”, I think if Dale Tallon “takes a chance” on anybody, it’s got to be on the Electric Ehl.

Dale Tallon on Ehlers potentially being drafted top 5: Why not? I’m willing to take some chances. We took a chance with Kane first overall. We have a great young nucleus of centers now and tremendous depth on the blue line and up the middle and for us moving forward. We need to add skill speed and grit on the wing.”

He’s the dark horse, but I’d bet all my money on Ehlers for the races in the long run. But at the end of the day I’m not the one holding the chips in this poker game. And maybe people are right and you can’t trust a thing a GM says anyway, especially one like Tallon. But boy am I glad to see Dale Tallon talking about Ehlers.

Check out Panthers GM Dale Tallon talk about Ehlers, Weegar, and Huberdeau.

If you’d like to talk more about it leave me a comment below or shoot me a message on twitter @cats2thecup

Team Full of Penalty Killers are Worst Penalty Killers in League

With 6 games remaining in the Florida Panthers 2013/2014 regular season schedule, Scottie Upshall leads the team with a breakout year and career-high 35 points. While Upshall is playing great this season, if you compare his numbers against the rest of the league his stock drops to 172nd overall in the points department.

This is the type of offensive production Panthers fans have been subjected to in recent memory. Besides maybe Olli Jokinen, the Florida Panthers haven’t had a single legitimate offensive superstar wear their jersey since the good old days of Pavel Bure at the turn of the century.

Pavel The Rocket Bure

To compensate for the lack of firepower on offense, over the years the Cats have consistently stuck a bunch of hard-nosed outcasts and weathered veterans together to hold down the offensive fort while Fanthers hope their draft picks can develop into NHL stars before new management guts the team.

Although we have yet to draft an NHL superstar, players like Scott Gomez, Ed Jovanovski, Krys Barch and Tomas Kopecky have been making a living in South Florida for two decades. That’s why it isn’t a huge surprise they own the lowest power play percentage in the league at the moment of this writing.

But the fact that these same gritty character guys, the defensively responsible guys, the wily veterans, the ones who lack the offensive fortitude to put the puck in the net, these grinders and penalty killers — are also the worst penalty killers in the league — just makes me wonder how we got this bad?

It’s no secret that the Panthers have hung their pride on some lesser talented NHL players, a group of hard-working, high energy, blue-chipping, penalty killers that work their butts off to compensate for the lack of offensive ability. So on the offensive end of things it’s been like watching the darkness around the star trying to be the light.

But can anyone explain how it’s just as dark on the defensive side of things?

For a quick recap, here’s a few snippets of what we’ve been sold regarding the quality of players and penalty killers:

But the list goes on and on and backwards for twenty years.

If a much-improved penalty kill unit has “much-improved” yet still the worst penalty kill unit in the league, maybe we should no longer strive to be penalty killers? I’m sure Panthers new owner, Vinny Viola, is thinking the same thing as he stares at his brand new sinking ship.

Although we may only be experiencing repercussions of previous ownership, with the departure of long-time team President Michael Yormark earlier this month, and then last weeks sudden news that Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon fired Assistant GM, Mike Santos, 9 games before the season’s end so he could take the team in “different directions“, signal large ripples raining down from the front office.

Whether or not it’s a step in the right direction remains to be seen, but from the looks of it there’s nowhere else to look but up.

Perhaps this is Viola’s key opening the gate and setting free all the hard nosed grinders who can’t score goals or kill penalties? Maybe this is the sound of the trumpet signaling the end of an era – with players Shawn Matthias, Marcel Goc, and Mike Weaver all departing at the trade deadline.

Panthers fans, I know this might sound crazy… but I don’t think this is a time to be afraid. This is cause for celebration. It looks like we’re ditching the penalty killer code written into the blood-line of this organization. Now that Vinny Viola is in town, it looks like we’re ready to start supplanting our roster for some real NHL quality.

It makes perfect sense, too. Because if Viola’s gonna make the Florida Panthers a great product, he’s gonna have to get some better ingredients than the one’s the previous owner left in the fridge.

So Fanthers, don’t think twice it’s alright, because it appears that we may be on the cusp of creating a better team with a higher upside by ditching all the penalty killers on a team full of the worst penalty killers in the league.

LeBjugstad Shooting Like a Rising Star

LeBjugstad

Photoshopped by Tony Vargas

Come gather ’round people wherever you roam, because ever since Nick LeBjugstad brought his talents to the Sunshine State things have started looking up.

Sure, he stands at roughly 6’8″ by the time he’s laced up and ready for work; but it’s the level of coordination, speed and skill in that big body of his that make Nick Bjugstad one of the most monstrous players to ever put on a Panthers uniform.

Like fellow Florida superstar LeBron James, big players with fast muscle twitch fibers have enormous potential to dominate a sport.

And if you’ve seen Nick Bjugstad recently, you know he’s capable of dominating his opponents.

Any athlete with that rare genetic makeup has been born blessed with the winning lottery ticket already ingrained in their DNA, thus becoming the jackpot prize for teams looking to compete against the greatest athletes in the world. Physically, it’s the best of both worlds.

But to top it off the kids got brains and whole lot of heart.

When Bjugstad was called up at the tail end of the 2012-2013 season, he appeared to be observing more than he was participating, and only racked up 1 point in 11 games and a -8.

For many fans eager to finally watch him play after being acquired in the first round of the 2010 draft, it appeared that perhaps the 19th overall pick would need a bit more time developing in the AHL before he could handle the responsibility that comes with playing for the big boys.

But for Nick LeBjugstad, those 11 games were enough. He evaluated the situation and transformed himself during the off season, and by the time Nick Bjugstad showed up for the rookie tournament in September, his dominating performance made it was clear he wasn’t only observing.

He was calculating. 

Fast forward to this present day and the Florida Panthers are once again at the tail end of an unsuccessful season. But instead of averaging 1 point in 11 games, Nick LeBjugstad’s remarkable 31 points in 62 games make him a 1 point per 2 game player on one of the worst teams in the National Hockey League.

And he’s still just a rookie.

It’s all this and more that makes it fitting to put the “Le” in Nick LeBjugstad. Though the Florida Panthers  may suck right now, they’re not gonna suck for much longer. Especially not when Nick Bjugstad keeps improving and shooting like a rising star in this league.

Olympic torched Panthers playing for Pride

The Florida Panthers will kick the rust off their skates as they take on Alex Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals tonight at 7:30. It’ll be their first game since the Olympic break – which didn’t fare so well for the two Cats chosen to represent their country – as rookie sensation Aleksander Barkov and the pesky penalty killing Tomas Kopecky were both injured in Sochi with likely season ending injuries.

There aren’t very many teams in the history of the NHL that have depended on a rookie to center their first line, but these Florida Panthers are different. Barkov’s absence has left a glaring hole between Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim. Luckily, the Florida Panthers have a big backup plan….fellow second line rookie, Nick Bjugstad.

Dale Tallon dipped his hands into the San Antonio Rampage’s AHL roster to find someone to fill Bjugstad’s former spot on the second line and chose Drew Shore to fill the slot between the sophomore slumping reigning rookie of the year, Jonathan Huberdeau and the often struggling right winger, Scottie Upshall.

No one has heard the rumors that if either Drew Shore or Nick Bjugstad are injured in the coming weeks that Dale Tallon will dip his hands into local high school teams, because that’d be a joke. But for an organization that prides itself on depth, it’s surprising how much they rely on youth over depth to score against the best players in the world.

Whether or not our new top 6 lineup is a recipe for success or disaster remains to be seen, but with the season quickly coming to an end just like the Panthers playoff dreams, I can only hope that these professional ice hockey players will play for the pride of wearing a Florida Panthers jersey rather than for the hopes and dreams of being traded away to a Stanley Cup contending team at the trade deadline and kissing Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.

Maybe if they can find a competitive edge as sharp as their skates the Panther’s will be able to end the season on a positive note, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that the positive note may not sound until after the final horn blows and the season comes to a close.

The Panthers are poised to be very active during free agency and are positioned to take a top five pick. The Panthers learned last year that being the worst team in the NHL won’t guarantee you the best player in the draft when they missed out on first overall pick in rookie scoring leader Nathan Mackinnon to the Colorado Avalanche. So perhaps they’ll get lucky this time and go number 1 overall. Their chances would certainly increase if they manage to fall apart and ride a losing streak of unimaginable lows.

Florida Panthers Burn Maple Leafs

The Florida Panthers basked in the embers of the Toronto Maple Leafs last night after extinguishing the flames of one of the NHL’s hottest teams. The 4-1 victory was one of the Panthers better performances of the season. So does it come as any surprise then that their triumphant effort happened to coincide with a season-high 48 shots on goal?

I dont think so.

Although head coach Peter Horachek expressed concern over the Panthers effort in recent games, the Cats had all hands on deck in Tuesday night’s win. The Panthers commitment to outworking the Maple Leafs even manifested in an elusive powerplay goal when Tom Gilbert’s slapshot put the Panthers on the scoreboard with his 3rd goal of the year and 8th point in 9 games.

Aside from the aforementioned evasive powerplay goal, there were quite a few anomalies that really made this one of the Panthers most exciting games of the season.

Let us reminisce.

It’s no secret that reigning rookie of the year, Jonathan Huberdeau, has been Tangled Up In Blue all season long. Although the sophomore slump has fastened a firm grip around his body of work, we got to see him express some of that positively snake-bitten pent up aggression when he body slammed Jake Gardiner halfway through the game for the first fight of his NHL career.

When I initially saw Jonathan picking the fight I admittedly was concerned for his well being. But by the time he plowed Jake Gardiner onto the ice I felt that same wave of pure beardly manliness radiating from his aura that energized the Florida Panthers bench, as well as the BB&T Center, I sank back into lawn chair,  sipped my pina colada, and bathed in the glory of the Miami sunshine.

Although Hubby couldn’t put together a goal to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick, last night was a breakthrough performance for him. That wasn’t just a typical fight, that was a game changing fight. Huberdeau flexed his beard muscles at exactly the right hour of the night, and if the Panthers were about to show any signs of slowing down at the halfway mark, they had to think twice after seeing Hubby throw it down like that.  

Yet the Panthers didn’t really seem to slow down at all. They didn’t take their feet off the gas pedal from the moment the Killer B’s opened the game going to the final sound of the horn. The Barkov line set the tone as soon as the puck dropped by establishing sustained pressure in the offensive zone, and the Panthers didn’t wilt. The effort was contagious as all 4 lines playing inspired hockey culminated in the Panthers outshooting the Maple Leafs 19 to 4 in the first period.

After losing a series of games recently, this was an important win for the Panthers. Not only was it against a division rival, but it was against a team that decisively spanked them just a week prior and served as a shot of medicine for fresh wounds.

“This was probably our best game of the year”, said Tim Thomas afterwards.

Although there were plenty of reasons to smile after all was said and done, there’s one important lesson the Panthers have to internalize.

They have to know that they can  beat any team in the league if they bring the effort for sixty minutes. On any given night if they all work together and work as hard as they’re capable of, the Florida Panthers can beat anyone. This team was built to win with hustle and grit, not with an offensive superstar. Besides, who needs an offensive superstar when Tim Thomas has your back?

If the Panthers can will themselves to outplay their opponent for 60 minutes they will defeat them. That’s really all it comes down to. And in a game where Jonathan Huberdeau dropped the gloves and Erik Gudbranson hit two posts, anything is possible.

Like Jovo said, “To win we need to play with intensity, because if not, we’re just a mediocre team.”

Thanks for reading, please share this post, comment below, or give me a shout out on Twitter @Cats2theCup

Don’t Call it a Comeback

After last nights loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets I can’t tell whether we should be asking ourselves, “what’s wrong with the Florida Panthers?” or “what’s not wrong with the Florida Panthers?” as the endangered cats teeter-totter on the brink of an evaporating playoff dream yet again.

This current Panthers squad is playing like they’ve lost their heart and soul give or take 20 minutes of effort here and there. It’s almost becoming too hard to watch them as their body language crumbles while the game wears on. But can you really blame them for their lack of confidence?

It’s got to be pretty brutal to play for a team whose offensive strategy is to seemingly kill their own power plays.

Also…although it’s very hard for me to admit this… I think Tim Thomas may have given up on this team. Their dismal performance against the Boston Bruins was a downright embarrassing homecoming for the former champion and quite possibly the nail in the coffin.

Although I love what he’s done for the Panthers, at this point, it would seemingly be in the best interest for Tim Thomas and the Florida Panthers to part ways so we can give Timmy a shot playing for a contender at the trade deadline, and we can grab a pick to help our franchise. I’d hate to see him walk away from no return after the season a la Bouwmeester.  After the way this season has played out the task of re-signing Tim Thomas may prove to be too mighty.

It was only a couple weeks ago when Panther fans were able to ponder whether we’d be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, but a string of recent losses to the Avalanche, Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Columbus Blue Jackets have turned those playoff dreams into unrealistic fantasies.

It’s time to get real and start wheeling and dealing.

The Florida Panthers organization will have to start seriously considering who they’ll choose at the draft with a top 5 pick and how they’re going to spend all their new money on free agency if they’re going to find any Shelter From the Storm.

I’m personally hoping we get a big top 6 power forward who can play on the wing and score goals. Whether we get him through free agency, the draft, or at the trade deadline, we need a first line right winger to fill the void Tomas Fleischmann left behind after his departure from his former self.

With the Olympics right around the corner, Dale Tallon will have extra time to re-evaluate the current Panthers squad and strategize how he’s going to turn this team into Stanley Cup contenders. It would be nice to hear from him and get an update on his vision and how the blueprint is going to be adjusted during the Olympic break, but it would also be great to hear from you.

Thanks for reading and say hi to me on twitter @cats2thecup

Florida Panthers Haven’t Given Up Yet

The Florida Panthers haven’t given up yet as they continue to fight for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern conference. After back-to-back wins on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, the Cats have earned four points in twenty-four hours and a pat on the back.

Although their opponents stood at polar opposites in the standings, these were two huge victories for the Panthers who have struggled to establish consistency all season long. Ask any Panthers fan and they’ll tell you that one of their most frustrating traits has been how the quality of the teams they face has been reflected in the quality of their effort.

Yet one night after spanking Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Florida Panthers pounced onto an airplane, flew into Buffalo, and fed upon the worst team in the NHL with that restless, hungry feeling every sports fan wants to see from their favorite team as they set their sights on that final wildcard playoff spot.

For the first time all season, the Panthers seemed to understand that celebrating a win against a first rate team would have been premature. After all, there’s really no reason to celebrate a win against a great team if you’re going to lose against a worse team the following night. At the end of the day, each victory is worth two points after all.

That’s exactly why I was happier to see the Panthers beat the Buffalo Sabres than the Pittsburgh Penguins. To be totally honest, the Penguins were probably just as guilty for coasting against lesser competition as everyone else does. But beating the Penguins is always a victory worthy of being proud of, and it’s always important for lesser teams to build off that type of momentum.

That’s exactly what the Cats did.

The fact that they were able to come out and earn two more points in regulation on tired legs after playing against the best competition in the world spoke volumes about their character and development. One of the biggest challenge any team faces is bringing their ‘A game’ against the worst team in the league.

That’s because in the world of sports it’s easy to feel like you don’t need to work so hard against lesser teams. I can understand if champions struggle to find it within themselves to play their hearts out against some the lesser teams in the league every now and then, but with the twentieth-anniversary logo printed all around the Florida Panthers and not a single Stanley Cup banner waving above them, they shouldn’t have to look too far outside of themselves to find reasons to bring their A-game every night.

But they do.

Let’s be honest here, none of these guys are responsible for what’s gone on for the past twenty years. Finnish sensation and Florida Panthers leading scorer, 18 year old rookie Aleksander Barkov wasn’t even alive when the Panthers were born. So if there’s going to be a transformation within the Florida Panthers locker room, it won’t be coming out of a sentimental advertisement harping on a twentieth anniversary, nor from any other marketing ploys conjured up by the Florida Panthers advertising department.

So where’s this spark coming from?

Perhaps some of their spark is trickling down from the front office now that Dale Tallon and Vincent Viola are bringing in the type of stability and investment that the Florida Panthers organization and their fans have never seen before.

Maybe some of it can even be attributed to the return of Captain Ed Jovanovski, who’s been contributing both offensively and defensively upon his return to the panthers lineup.

But at the end of the day, if there’s going to be any serious type of metamorphosis occurring within the Panthers organization, it’s going to have to spring forth from the hearts and farts of the guys inside the locker room.

Particularly, it’s gonna have to come from the young guns.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon has been harping on building a Stanley Cup contending team here in South Florida by selecting the right players from the draft to build around. For years now and he’s been filling up the squad with a young core of extremely talented, yet high-character players.

With the additions of Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, and most recently – and perhaps importantly – Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers have established the core foundation of the heart and soul of this team.

And if anything we can gather anything from their recent play against the Buffalo Sabres last night and the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before that, it’s the fact that the Cats are appearing too mature to be celebrating prematurely.

Here’s a few reasons why:  

1)  Huberdeau is passing through his slump.

2) Bjugstad is still pouncing fearlessly towards the net.

3) Gudbranson wasn’t accused of murder while defending.   

4) Barkov can rack up the points while injured (bless his soul).

5) The lines outside of the Killer B’s are clicking

6) Great Goaltending

So what’s next for the Panthers?

With their next game against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, the next thing the Panthers have to prove to themselves and the rest of the NHL is that they can take two steps forward without taking one step back.

Panthers need to win.

Don’t forget to share this article and to follow me on twitter at @Cats2theCup 

Panthers Need To Trade For More

The Florida Panthers made another bold move last week by trading AHL players with the Edmonton Oilers. I wonder what bright light lit up inside Dale Tallon’s mind when he looked at the Panthers atrocious power play and lack of offensive fire-power and then decided to trade Steve Pinizzotto and Jack Combs for Ryan Martindale and Derek Nesbitt.

Okay, okay, i’m just kidding. I know Tallon is just trying to make sure our boys coming up through the AHL aren’t playing on a losing team, and we got some pretty good players in return. But the Panthers need work.

And with Tallon recently pouring a few nourishing words into Panthers fans starving ears upon his announcement to the media that Vinnie Viola had given the green light to spend to the ceiling cap, I think every Florida Panther fans heart fluttered with excitement when they first heard there was a trade. Unfortunately, the trade hasn’t had any foreseeable impact on the Florida Panthers roster, nor is it the kind of blockbuster trade that should turn the San Antonio Rampage into perennial contenders.

It’s hard to tell if this trade addresses a problem or reveals a bigger problem; has Dale Tallon assembled a Florida Panthers roster full of players that have no trade value? Looking back to earlier in the season, he essentially had to pay the Blackhawks to take half of Versteeg’s contract even though he received two NHL hockey players in return. The fact that two NHL hockey players in exchange for Kris Versteeg alone wasn’t deemed a fair enough trade frightens me when I think of how much we’d have to pay to trade a guy like Tom Gilbert.

I understand that trading players we had to suck for an entire season to get via the draft is not the solution to rebuilding a franchise, but surely Tallon should be able to find trade value for people like Shawn Matthias, Krys Barch, and Tomas Fleischmann. And if he can’t find any teams willing to put these players on their team, maybe that’s sheds a little bit of light on why we are a losing franchise.

I know Dale Tallon might deem it wise to wait until the trade deadline to make any moves so he can get more value from teams looking for that extra boost in the postseason, but Panthers fans deserve more than what we are getting out of the team right now and making us wait until we miss the playoffs is absolutely preposterous when we’re playing the way we are.

If we judge Tallon – and the rest of the gang that thought Club Red was a good idea – based on their actions instead of their words, the message that Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers organization is sending to the Panthers fan base is clear: “You are investing your time and energy in a defective product and you’ll have to wait a long time before we fix it.”

When’s the last time that was ever an appropriate way to treat your customers disenchanted by bad service anyway? Where else in the world could you go where that is an appropriate response to low quality performance? Can you imagine receiving a defective meal from a restaurant and yet still returning again and again after the manager tells you that “you are investing your time and energy in a defective product and you’ll have to wait a long time before we fix it” in hopes that one day your meal will taste like a meal from a five star restaurant?

This actually sounds a lot like the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Unfortunately for me, that loud and resounding message is clearly not enough to keep me away from paying attention to the Panthers squad in my free time. Even though we are one of the regular bottom feeders of the NHL, I really, really hope that Dale Tallon can reward us with a free dessert  a high scoring power forward down the road for making us put up with the worst power play in the league and another year of mediocrity.

A new Florida Panthers blog

Although the Florida Panthers play a sport, it sure as hell ain’t all fun and games. There aren’t nearly enough bright spots between the losses nor enough literature on this franchise to occupy my mind in my downtime, so I figured it was time for me to shed a little bit of light on the darkness springing from my heart game after game by making some solid contributions to the Florida Panthers universe.

Since this is my first blog post on here, let me get this outta the way and tell you a little bit about myself and how I’ve come to write about the Florida Panthers. The Florida Panthers managed to capture me during those precious formative years of my childhood. I became a die-hard Panthers fan in 1996 during their magical run to ruin when they were just four wins away from winning Lord Stanley’s Cup and lady luck left them for the enemy. I saw the spell of the rat become the curse of the rat before my very eyes when those Colorado hippies knocked the Panthers out of the playoffs as swiftly as Scott Mellanby’s hockey stick launched a thousand plastic raining-rats in South Florida.

Looking back now, I realize the pangs of that loss may have reverberated into my bones and spilled out into my life in ways I haven’t yet understood. Perhaps this blog may just be a repercussion of the pile of losses the Florida Panthers have pounded into my skull over the years. Maybe it’s serving as a coping mechanism because I’ve grown out of screaming into my pillow after the decade of irrelevance.

These days the bandwagon’s almost empty, but I’m still here cheering on all the mediocrity and mishaps that continue to haunt this franchise as they chase Lord Stanley’s cup from a far. Besides using this blog to get the words out of my head, I hope to provide the Florida Panthers organization and their fans with a loud voice of belligerency and senseless reason to combat the sounds of laughter booming from other NHL teams and their respective fan bases as they continue to joke and jeer about our fan base and our franchise after we beat them.

I guess that’s it for the first post. Cheers.

Here’s to another win after the sun sets in sunrise.