For a record 10 consecutive seasons (and 11 years overall), the Florida Panthers have finished out of playoff contention. From near misses to abject failures, the Panthers find a way every year to watch the postseason action from the golf course.
When new General Manager Dale Tallon came on board before the 2009-10 season, it was clear that some things needed to change. He asked Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss if they were interested in staying on board for the long haul. Horton said no, and was traded to the Boston Bruins, where he helped the team win a Stanley Cup last season. Weiss expressed an interest in seeing Tallon's vision through.
After another season of futility, Tallon rebuilt the roster from the ground up. Today, there are 14 Panthers on the active roster that were not there at this time last year.
Now, Weiss stands at the cusp of a milestone. He is currently tied for second with Robert Svehla with 229 career Florida Panthers assists. Olli Jokinen is the all-time leader with 231.
To this point, Stephen Weiss' best season was 2008-09, when he scored 14 goals and 47 assists in 78 games for the Panthers. That's 0.78 points per game. He already has 31 points this season in 31 games.
This goes to show that Stephen Weiss has always possessed first line talent; he just needed the supporting personnel to realize his potential. Now that he is on a bonifide first line with Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, he is finally living up to Florida's expectations.
For the Florida Panthers to continue to challenge for a high playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, the first line needs to be only part of the solution. As of this writing, the Panthers starting five of Versteeg, Weiss, Fleischmann, Jason Garrison and Brian Campbell are a combined plus-71, while the rest of the roster is a combined minus-73.
As this shows, the Panthers have a huge dropoff in talent after their first line. Although the Panthers boast their best record after 31 games since they were 19-8-2-2 in 1999-00, the season is still young. For the Panthers to reach the playoffs this season and to play at an elite level, they need their second line to improve and show some results. Shawn Matthias is a good start, as he is the only other player on the roster with a positive plus/minus rating (at plus-two).
Tallon traded away forward David Booth after he posted one assist and a minus-six rating in his first six games this season. At the time, the Panthers were 3-3-0. Since that time, they have posted a 13-6-6 record.
The team is currently on a three game losing streak, although the Panthers have secured points in two out of the three contests. The keys for the lower lines are Tomas Kopecky, Jack Skille and Mike Santorelli. If those three can start producing at a little higher level the Panthers may rebound nicely.
To this point, Kopecky's main value to the club is evident on the penalty kill. He seems to have a magnet for the puck on his stick. He clears the puck out as much as the rest of the team combined. At even strength, Kopecky is a dismal minus-11.
Skille exists as a spark plug for either the second or third line, depending on the night. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and he always skates like the team is down by one goal in game seven. What he lacks in skill, he makes up for in intensity.
Santorelli was out with an injury for the first seven games of the season. Since that time, he has posted four goals and a minus-seven rating. The talent is there, Santorelli is just coming up short on the results.
Tallon may look to soon shake up the roster a little to get the Cats out of these mid-season doldrums. Nobody is untouchable, nothing is sacred. Tallon is not scared to pull the trigger.