Florida finished number one in the Atlantic Division with a 47-26-9 record and 103 points. I believed from the start they were a playoff team, but a 12 game winning streak that shot them to first in the division was unexpected. Their success brought a 30% increase in attendance, proving that the low attendance was due to the constant subpar play on the ice, not the area in which they play. Unfortunately, they lost a hard fought series in the first round to the Islanders in six games. Three of them ended in OT, all won by New York. That was the difference. I would mark it down as a very successful season for them, however.
They have a very good young core consisting of guys like Aaron Ekblad, Alexander Barkov, and Jonathan Huberdeau. Along with them are very solid veteran players, such as Jussi Jokinen, who, as I’ve stated for years, is my favorite player. As an alternate captain for Florida, he plays a two-way game and can produce 50-60 points in a season. Then there is Jaromir Jagr, who continues to defy father-time at 45 years old. In his 79 games played last season, he gave the Panthers 66 points, scoring 27 goals and 39 assists.
Florida had a very eventful offseason, starting with a trade for Keith Yandle. Since he was a pending free agent, the Rangers could only get a 4th round pick for him. Since the Panthers were able to sign him, it turned out to be a steal. The departure of long time Florida Panther, Dmitri Kulikov, really had no effect due to the acquisition of Yandle. I would even say it was an upgrade.
On July 1st, they signed Colton Sceviour, a solid bottom six forward, to a two year contract. They also acquired Jonathan Marchessault, who, for Tampa Bay, delivered 7 goals and 11 assists in 45 games. He looks to be a promising top 9 forward. The one problem is his size at 163lbs. It would be ideal for him to pack on some pounds.
More importantly on July 1st, they re-signed Aaron Ekblad to an eight year deal. He is one of the best young defensemen in the league, as shown by his calder memorial trophy he won in 2015. Three days later, they re-signed Vincent Trochek to a six year contract. He is also a part of the young core they have, and in 75 games last season, he gave Florida 25 goals and 27 assists. He’s only at 23, too. With growth, he could becomes a 70+ point getter in the league. On August 25th, the traded Lawson Crouse and Dave Bolland for conditional 2nd and 3rd round picks. I really don’t get the trade, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad one.
They also recently re-signed Jonathan Huberdeau to a six year contract. He has been great in the four years he’s been around, notching 59 points last season. Basically, they have all their best players locked in for the next several years. They will be strong again next year, I think solidifying a top 3 spot as they did last season, and quite possibly end up first.