The future looked bright in Sunrise, FL, last summer. The Panthers were looking to build off of a strong ’15-’16 campaign, in which they recorded a franchise best 103 points. The franchise hoped they could take advantage of a weaker Atlantic Division and make a deep playoff run.
Going into the 2017-18 season, the once-bright future looks rather bleak. The Panthers suffered a disappointing result in 2017. They finished with 81 points and 6th in the Atlantic Division, while never really being a factor in the playoff race. Organizationally, the franchise looked even worse. After a 11-9-1 start, the team controversially fired Head Coach Gerad Gallant and couldn’t even give him a ride home. The Panthers didn’t fare much better with interim Coach Tom Rowe, going 24-27-10 the rest of the way. Florida went into the offseason looking to rebound with a strong summer.
And they failed miserably.
The Panthers have had an awful offseason so far. The Panthers somehow lost both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to Vegas in the Expansion Draft. Thomas Vanek, an acquisition at the deadline, remains unsigned. Jussi Jokinen was bought out of his contract and signed by the Edmonton Oilers. And as noted by almost all hockey writers, Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned. The one bright spot for the Panthers was signing F Evgeny Dadonov, who returns to the Panthers after playing in the KHL. Newcomer Radim Vrbata may also provide a spark in the offense. However, asking Dadonov and Vrbata to replace the hole in roster that is left by Marchessault, Smith, Jokinen, and Jagr is nearly impossible.
The Panthers seem lost. The worst place to be in professional sports is in the middle, and that’s where the Panthers seem to be. Not good enough to compete, not bad enough to acquire great prospects in the draft. The Panthers appear to be aiming for the latter. None of their moves in the past year give the impression that they are trying to compete. It’s rare to see a team tear down their roster after a franchise-best season, but that’s what the Panthers have been doing. The 2015-16 season looks to be more like a blimp on the radar, rather than a sign of things to come. Crazier things have happened, but don’t expect the Panthers to be making a Cup run anytime soon.