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30 Teams in 3(2) Days -- Florida

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The Florida Panthers play in a division with Alex Ovechkin, Vinny Lecavalier, Ilya Kovalchuk and Eric Staal. That’s four of the upper elite in the NHL, but unfortunately for Panthers fans, none of them call sunny South Florida home. Another problem for the Panthers in recent seasons has been their peskiness. Yes, they should be trying to win, but they have not had a team with any chance even if it snuck into the playoffs. Instead of rebuilding the Panthers have been in no-man’s land — just outside the playoffs, which means no high draft pick to fetch that Ovechkin or Lecavalier to build around. It does appear the Panthers took a small step in that direction this offseason.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

2007-08: 38-35-9, 85 points (third in Southeast)

PLAYOFFS: NONE

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Speedy David Booth notched 22 goals and looked like he be a top-six guy. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester had a career-best 15 goals and led the NHL in ice time. Goalie Tomas Vokoun was solid and became a strong voice in the dressing room.

WHAT WENT WRONG: It’s probably never a good thing when your No. 1 center and captain has a disappointing season and then helps talk his way out of town. Stephen Weiss did not make The Leap as the Panthers hoped he would. Richard Zednik went through one of the worst on-ice incidents in league history when his neck was cut open by a skate. Jozef Stumpel was a big disappointment and was bought out at season’s end. Noah Welch, an intriguing defense prospect, missed all but four games because of injury. In the end, Jacques Martin fired himself as coach but remains the general manager.

ARRIVALS: LW Cory Stillman, D Keith Ballard, D Nick Boynton

DEPARTURES: C Olli Jokinen, C Jozef Stumpel, D Branislav Mezei, D Steve Montador

IMPACT PROSPECTS: C Shawn Matthias, C Michael Frolik

CAMP QUESTIONS

Who replaces Jokinen?

That’s actually a pretty easy answer – Weiss will likely take over No. 1 center duties. It is the spot behind Weiss that is interesting. It could be Brett McLean, but it could also be Matthias – who looked good in a four-game cameo last year – or even Frolik if he has a great camp. This team is definitely going to struggle to score goals, but there is a little bit of depth on the wing. Finding another top-two center will be imperative.

What changes will Peter DeBoer make?

DeBoer has been a very successful coach in the OHL, but he’s make a big step up. It will be interesting to see if he tweaks or overhauls systems and line combinations, especially considering the former coach is still his boss.

PROGNOSIS: The Panthers are going to be young, and they’re probably not going to score a whole lot. That said, there are some interesting young forwards on this team, and the defense corps should be pretty solid (if the rumored deal for Bryan McCabe happens, Leafs fans will probably say otherwise). Florida needs guys like Weiss and Welch to fulfill their promise, and having Horton, Ballard and Bouwmeester go from really good young players to great would also help. They are at least another year away, but the Panthers might not be quite as bad some will project. But like I said before, being bad for a year (especially this year) might not be the worst thing.

DEPTH CHART*

Cory StillmanStephen WeissNathan Horton
David BoothBrett McLeanRostislav Olesz
Kamil KrepsShawn MatthiasRadek Dvorak
Ville Peltonen/Wade BelakGregory CampbellMichael Frolik/Richard Zednik
Jay BouwmeesterKeith Ballard
Bryan AllenNick Boynton
Mike Van RynCory Murphy
Noah WelchKarlis Skrastins
Tomas Vokoun
Craig Anderson

*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations

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