Month: March 2014

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.

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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.