To catch everyone up to speed on the offseason moves made by each Eastern Conference team, we will break down the additions, subtractions, and what to expect in the 2013 season for each team. Today, we take a look at the Florida Panthers.
2011-12 Season: 38-26-18, 94 points
(First place Southeast Division, Third place Eastern Conference)
D Filip Kuba
C Peter Mueller
RW George Parros
C Casey Wellman
C Andre Deveaux
LW Jean-Francois Jacques
D Jason Garrison (Vancouver Canucks)
LW Wojtek Wolski (Washington Capitals)
RW Bill Thomas (Colorado Avalanche)
RW Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit Red Wings)
D Sean Sullivan (Colorado Avalanche)
C Jonathan Matsumoto (San Jose Sharks)
C Bracken Kearns (San Jose Sharks)
RW Krystofer Barch (New Jersey Devils)
LW Jonathan Huberdeau
D Erik Gudbranson
C Nick Bjustad
C Drew Shore
LW Quinton Howden
Remember this press conference from last offseason where the Florida Panthers introduced nine new players to their organization? What a year it was for the Panthers. Players such as Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Kris Versteeg, and Tomas Fleischmann all helped Florida win the Southeast Division crown for the first time in franchise history. The division title also ended a ten year playoff drought for the Panthers. Although they lost to the Devils in the first round of the playoffs, it was a major step in the right direction for a team that finished in last place in the Southeast division the previous two seasons. Defenseman Jason Garrison had a career season last year by scoring 16 goals, which was the most goals by a defenseman in a season in Panthers history. Unfortunately, his great season came during a contract year, which led him to sign a large six-year, $27.6 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks. With Garrison and forward Wojtek Wolski departing, general manager Dale Tallon had to try to fill in some holes this offseason.
To help replace Garrison, Tallon brought in a familiar face. 36 year-old defenseman Filip Kuba was drafted by the Panthers in the eighth round of the 1995 NHL Draft, but only played in 18 games with the big club before being traded to the Calgary Flames. This past July, Kuba decided to return to where his career began by signing a two-year, $8 million deal. He has played his last four NHL seasons with the Ottawa Senators and is coming off a season in which he tallied 32 points in 73 games played. His plus-minus rating of 26 was the highest of his long career. At 6-4 weighing 225 pounds, Kuba certainly brings some size and skill on both sides of the game. With three goals on the power play last season, he can play on special teams in addition to five-on-five play. At his age, Kuba can still log a ton of ice time and could be a great addition for the Panthers who were seeking a replacement for Garrison.
Forward Peter Mueller was also signed by Tallon to a one-year $1.725 million contract. Mueller is an intriguing player because of his offensive upside. After being drafted eighth overall in the 2006 NHL Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes, Mueller scored 22 goals and racked up 54 points in his rookie season with Phoenix. During his next two seasons after 2007-08, his point total dropped, which made him request a trade. His request was granted as the team traded him to the Colorado Avalanche for Wolski. Mueller started to find his game once again as soon as he arrived in Colorado. However, in the 2010 season, he suffered two concussions and missed the rest of the season. In addition to a groin injury and post-concussion symptoms, he only managed to play in 32 games last season. Although Mueller may be fragile, he certainly has the talent to light the lamp with the Panthers. The NHL lockout may given him an opportunity to work on his skating and finally return to full health. The Panthers hope that the Peter Mueller of old returns in 2013.
Can the Panthers win the Southeast division again in 2013? Sure, they can. With most of the team from last season still on the roster with the exception of Garrison, Florida still should be able to compete. Mueller could find his game like many of the new Panthers did last season and Kuba should provide solid defense on the Panthers’ blue line. In addition, Florida will likely see forward Jonathan Huberdeau, the club’s top prospect, make his NHL debut this season. Huberdeau tallied 30 goals and 42 assists in only 37 games in the QMJHL last season. Huberdeau will be a contender for the Calder Memorial Trophy and will bring in more fans in Florida.
Tomas Fleischmann- Stephen Weiss- Kris Versteeg
Jonathan Huberdeau- Peter Mueller- Scottie Upshall
Sean Bergenheim- Marcel Goc- Tomas Kopecky
Casey Wellman- Shawn Matthias- Jack Skille
Other forwards: George Parros, Drew Shore
Mike Weaver – Brian Campbell
Filip Kuba – Dmitry Kulikov
Erik Gudbranson – Ed Jovanovski
Other defensemen: Keaton Ellerby, Tyson Strachan
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