The NHL preseason wrapped up on Sunday night and with that hockey fans and players alike now wait for the official opening to the regular season this Tuesday. After a shortened season brought on by the lockout teams will be happy to get a full 82 games season in and a fresh start. One team that will really be hoping to have a fresh start is the Florida Panthers and with some interesting offseason transactions the Panthers may surprise.
No doubt the most intriguing signing the Panthers have made is in goal with the signing of former Boston Bruin and Vezina Trophy winner, Tim Thomas. Thomas returns to the NHL after taking the entire last season off for ‘personal reasons’. Thomas joined the team on a professional tryout basis and after impressing the coaching staff signed a contract with the team.
The Panthers were obviously very determined to sign a high calibre goalie after they sent tryout offers to not only Thomas, but also to Jose Theodore and Ilya Bryzgalov. Last season Jacob Markstrom played the bulk of the games for the Panthers playing in 23 games and posting an 8-14-1 record. However, after compiling just a 0.901 save percentage and a 3.22 goals against average, it is clear that the organization does not feel that the young Swedish netminder is ready to handle starting goalie responsibilities just yet.
Another interesting signing for the Panthers was that of former 40 goals scorer, Brad Boyes. Ever since hitting his peak in St. Louis in 07-08, Boyes has never been able to eclipse the 40 goal plateau again. However, while with the Islander last season Boyes put up a respectable 35 points for the Isles good enough for third on the team behind only John Tavares and Matt Moulsn. So, with a fresh start and a bigger role as a veteran on a growing team, Boyes could be a very valuable asset.
The most recent transaction that Florida has made heading into the regular season was signing veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney. After putting up 17 points in 34 games for the Oilers last season Whitney joined the St. Louis Blues this training camp on a professional tryout. After being cut by the team Saturday, Florida wasted no time signing Whitney to a one year $900,000 deal.
Whitney brings a lot of playoff experience with both the Anaheim Ducks and the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he was even fortunate enough to hoist the Stanley Cup in 2009. Whitney knows what it takes to win and though he is on the back end of his career, by accepting a professional tryout he had made it clear that he still has a passion to play.
Besides bringing in veteran players to the lineup, the Panthers will also look for big contributions from their young guns as well. Johnathan Huberdeau finished last season with 14 goals and 31 points finishing second on the team in scoring behind Thomas Fleischmann. So, looking ahead Huberdeau would like to improve on his Calder Trophy-winning season and prove to the team that though he is young he can be counted on to lead the team offensively.
Next to Huberdeau is 2012 first round draft pick, Aleksander Barkov. Barkov was one of the most intriguing names in this year’s draft as many scouts believed that of all the skaters in the draft he was the most ‘NHL ready’ player. In fact some scouts even had Barkov ranked as high as number one in the draft, which makes it no surprise he was chosen ahead of Tampa Bay Lightning’s Jonathan Drouin and Nashville defenseman Seth Jones , who was believed to go second overall (where Barkov was ultimately selected).
Besides these names the Panthers have a solid core with the likes of Kris Versteeg, Thomas Fleischmann, Thomas Kopecky, and Brian Campbell. Last season was pretty dismal for the Panthers, with just a few shining moments to look back on. However, management has proved that they are serious about bringing a winner to Florida. Many people may not have a lot of hope for the Panthers after last season, but this is a team that may turn a lot of heads this season.
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