Better Luck Next Year: The Florida Panthers will be a total wild card again
They will keep us guessing this season.
Welcome back to Better Luck Next Season where we will take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and what sits ahead for all of the teams that missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs or lost in the playoffs. Today we look at the Florida Panthers, the reigning Eastern Conference champions who look like a total wild card team again.
You could tell the Florida Panthers were starting to build something very intriguing a few years ago, and then the pieces all of a sudden fell into place during the 2021-22 season. It was during that year they set a franchise record with 58 wins, won the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular season team, and looked like a roster that was going to be set up for pretty consistent contention.
Then they went out after that season and made one of the boldest trades in recent NHL memory when they traded Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames for Matthew Tkachuk. It was the definition of a blockbuster and gave the Panthers another cornerstone player to build around and one of the best all-around forwards in hockey.
It immediately made them a popular Stanley Cup pick in the Eastern Conference going into the 2022-23 season.
I, on the other hand, was not entirely convinced it was going to work out that well and wondered (in this very space) if maybe they missed an opportunity during the 2022 playoffs when they were eliminated in the Second Round.
Even with the addition of Tkachuk they still had some pretty big question marks (specifically in goal) and had lost a LOT of talent off of that 2021-22 roster. Huberdeau and Weegar were a steep price to pay for Tkachuk, they lost Mason Marchment and Claude Giroux to free agency, and they were also going to be without Anthony Duclair for at least the first half of the 2022-23 season as he recovered from an injury.
That was a lot of talent to replace in one offseason, and when you factored in the question marks that already existed on the back end it just seemed like a team in line for a huge regression.
In the end, both sides were correct.
The regression happened, they mostly stunk for three quarters of the season, and they had some serious flaws on the back end that severely limited their upside.
But because they caught fire over the last month-and-a-half of the season thanks to some stellar goaltending, not to mention the Pittsburgh Penguins wetting the bed over the final week of the season, they managed to sneak into a playoff spot and ended up going to the Stanley Cup Final anyway as a No. 8 seed. They overcame a 3-1 series deficit and beat a record-setting Boston Bruins team, and then kept going right through Toronto and Carolina on the way to a meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights.
It creates a lot of questions going into the 2023-24 season on just what the Panthers are and what should be expected from them.
And I am not sure there is an easy answer to any of those questions.
As great as Tkachuk is, and as great as their playoff run was, the whole narrative around all of this is completely different if Pittsburgh wins that late-season game against Chicago. Instead of talking about Tkachuk’s year as an MVP finalist and how clutch he was in the playoffs, we are discussing what the Panthers need to do different after missing the playoffs and why they failed.
Sports can be wild. The narratives can be even wilder.
So let’s talk a little more about the Panthers.
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