The St. Louis Blues rise toward the top of the Western Conference was slow and methodical. The Florida Panthers shot to the top of the Eastern Conference out of nowhere.
Not everybody picked the St. Louis Blues to advance to the conference finals, but many knew they would be good. Anyone who claims they knew the Florida Panthers would finish third best in the conference and top the Atlantic Division is a good liar.
The Panthers came out of nowhere. They finished outside the playoffs the year prior and were well under .500 the season before that.
The Panthers have just been an odd team over the course of their history. They have brief flashes of greatness, only to return to obscurity.
Now the question is whether the Panthers continue their success. They have only made the playoffs three times in this century.
The Panthers have never finished above .500 in the season following those three playoff years. The last time they made the postseason back-to-back was in 1995-96 and 1996-97.
Those were special years for the club. John VanBiesbrouck led them all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, but they lost in the second round the following season.
Florida must now try to build on success instead of handing it right back. The question is whether they will be able to.
There was a lot of turnover on a roster that won 47 games. The new players must fit in quickly and the team must figure it they are going to be the same with new players or have to switch styles.
The Panthers had a puzzling offseason. Despite their success on the ice, Dale Tallon was relieved of his duties.
Current general manager, Tom Rowe, began last season as the head coach of the Panthers’ AHL affiliate. He was fast tracked into the office by way of a short stop as the associate GM position.
The Panthers did lose almost as many players. Still, it is an interesting amount of turnover given where they finished 2015-16.
Florida paid a lot for Yandle, but he should be a valuable addition. He was underwhelming with the Rangers, but has still averaged 49 points in all full seasons since 2010 and that doesn’t include 30 points in the last work stoppage.
Reimer has not quite lived up to the promise he showed initially in Toronto. Even so, he provides a good backup to the aging Roberto Luongo, which should allow Luongo more games off in the regular season.
Demers might be one of the sneakier additions. He was one of the better defensemen on a weak defensive team in Dallas, but he is a good mix of physicality and offensive ability.
Sceviour followed his Dallas teammate to south Florida (actually it was vice versa since Sceviour signed first). Both players are decent positional defenders with some scoring ability. They should fit in better in the Eastern Conference since there are more puck movers and less banging.
Berra’s addition is a bit odd since it seems unlikely he would unseat Reimer. Perhaps it is a signal the team may look to move Luongo if possible.
Pysyk and McCann provide some good, young depth.
With new players, you’re bound to lose some. Such was definitely the case with the Panthers.
Campbell was still very productive in his time in Florida. He is 37 though.
Montoya put up respectable numbers last season, but he’s over 30 now. He was replaceable and the Panthers brought in two goaltenders that are at least on his level if not above.
Purcell was a rental, so no great loss. Hudler was as well and is not near the player he was in Detroit.
Gudbranson may be the biggest loss. He’s not a scorer, but he’s a big, young defenseman.
He threw his body around, blocked shots and kept his penalty minutes low. Sometimes those are the guys you need to help out your skill players.
Florida seems poised to break their streak of under .500 seasons following a playoff year. There was a lot of roster change, but much of it seems for the positive.
Getting everyone on the same page and to gel will be key for Florida. There weren’t a ton of teams that made great improvements out east, but there were enough for Florida to want a quick start.
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Goaltending is also going to be important for this team. Reimer is an upgrade from Montoya, but Luongo is still going to be the make or break man for the Panthers.
It seems unlikely the Panthers will match their unbelievable season. 103 points was pretty incredible.
They will likely fall behind their intrastate rivals, Tampa Bay. However, there seems to be little to suggest (short of injury) they will not be a playoff team and potential contender again.
Of course, relying on a 43 year old Jaromir Jagr as your top scorer could backfire.
The Blues have not had much trouble with the Panthers no matter how good they have been. St. Louis has dominated the regular season series.
The Blues have a 20-8-3 overall record against the Panthers. St. Louis finished last season 1-1 against Florida.
That loss was the first time the Blues had lost to the Panthers since 2009-10. St. Louis lost 3-1 at home last year but took the road game 5-3.
The first game this year will be at home. Florida will have to come up to the cooler weather on Monday, February 20. The Blues travel to Florida for a brief spring break trip on Thursday, April 6.
The Blues will be wanting to return to their more typical 2-0 record against the Panthers. It will be difficult as the Panthers have a good, young team even with vets like Jagr.