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.
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:
- Jesse Winchester, “he’s earned his keep with the Panthers by being hard-nosed with the puck as well as being one of the team’s most dependable penalty killers“.
- Tomas Kopecky, “he’s counted on in the much-improved penalty-kill unit, where his average 1:57 ice time is third most among forwards behind Jesse Winchester and Marcel Goc”.
- Marcel Goc, “he hasn’t been a big-time point producer but is a guy who can add talent at even-strength and on the penalty kill, where his 2:17 per game this season has led Florida.”
- And Mike Weaver, “He’s just a battler and never gives up on a play,” said Panthers forward Jesse Winchester, an integral part of the PK unit along with Shawn Matthias, Dmitry Kulikov, Drew Shore and Marcel Goc.“He sends a great message to the rest of the guys, not only on the PK, but on the team. Someone who’s willing to sacrifice their body every night and doesn’t get a lot of recognition for it.” Weaver has built a successful 12-year career out of being one of the best Pkers in the NHL.”
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.