POSTED ON Friday, 10.14.2011 / 4:05 PM ET
|Defenseman Brian Campbell (left) and forward Kris Versteeg (right) are one of the new players brought in over the summer to go with holdover forward Stephen Weiss (center).|
When acquiring a new player, it usually takes some time for the individual to get adapted to a new coaching philosophy and playing style of other players. Now imagine the task that head coach Kevin Dineen has after an offseason that brought in 12 new players (including defenseman Erik Gudbranson who as the Panthers top pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, made the opening night roster).
Dineen, in his first year, gets to be the interior decorator of this new look Florida Panther team. His early season assignment is to get all the new pieces to fit, and to fit early. He recognizes that it will be a challenge, but he’s been in this position plenty of times before.
"In my six years there, there's probably about 70 percent change in your lineup year to year," said Dineen about coaching in the AHL for the Portland Pirates where turnover is the norm. "That's just the nature of the game. There's players coming up from junior, first-year pros, there's guys who have played in the NHL that are trying to re-establish themselves at that level. So I think you get used to that in the American league. You have to get everybody on the same page, and that's what's really exciting for me, to have that nice window of time to spend some time together as a group before we start the regular season."
The Panthers had six preseason games and training camp to get prepared for the regular season. If you look at their record (1-4-1) on paper, you will see they didn’t have much success. However, just getting these players experience playing with each other is good enough. Players like Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg made an immediate impact on the team, Fleischmann recorded a goal with two assists and Versteeg had a goal with one assist for the preseason.
There was plenty of positivity coming out of this offseason, but there was still one major question to be answered, who was going to be their goalie? With Scott Clemmenson out with a knee injury, it was Jose Theodore’s job to lose, and that he almost did. Theodore would go on to have an offseason he would like to forget, but coach Kevin Dineen still had faith in his old netminder plugging him in as the starter for opening day.
The Panthers would start the season off right, in their first regular season game, the Panthers would go on to beat the New York Islanders 2-0. Their success on this night was due to two newly acquired players, Brian Campbell and Jose Theodore. Campbell would play 30 minutes of ice time while logging two assists and Theodore would go on to have a shutout, saving 27 shots.
Even though the Panthers would lose their next game 4-2 to the Penguins, they are still 1-1 for the season. The Panthers seem to be ahead of schedule on the learning curve, by getting a win in their first game of the season. It will be interesting to see how this team progresses over the season. As of right now, Dineen and the new look Panthers have some work to do, but they’re not too far off.
POSTED ON Monday, 10.10.2011 / 5:07 PM ET
|Goaltender Jose Theodore, one of seven Panthers signees this off-season posted 15-11-3 record with Minnesota last season.|
Looking for a netminder on July 1 after unable to come to terms with Tomas Vokoun, the Panthers quickly made a call to a former Vezina Trophy winner as free agency started.
Jose Theodore, was their target, and the veteran 35-year-old goaltender quickly signed a two-year contract with the club. Theodore has seen plenty of action during his 13 seasons in the NHL (581 games) and though Theodore is coming off a season in which he was a backup with the Minnesota Wild, he is capable of being a starter and producing a winning season as he has had six of them in his career. He also has played in more than half of his team’s games in eight of his seasons.
“Jose is a veteran goalie who has won both the Vezina and Hart Trophy,” said Tallon at the time of the signing. “He has played in more than 500 games in the National Hockey League, earning more than 250 wins, and adds depth and experience to our team.”
With backup goalie Scott Clemmensen out with a knee injury, Theodore is going to have to carry the early season load. If you look at last seasons games played (32) you might be worried how he could hold up for the whole season, but in an interview Theodore stated he could have played in up to 55 games last season and that he wants “to return to playing at a high level.”
Theodore didn’t get off to a good start in a Panthers jersey, in his final start of the preseason he surrendered seven goals. That followed a game in which he allowed five goals. Coach Kevin Dineen had faith in his netminder, he believed that once the season started he would be ready to play.
Dineen was right, in his first regular season game for the Panthers, Theodore shut out the Islanders 2-0. Theodore now has 31 shutouts in his career, hopefully there will be plenty more of that to come in this young season.
“Things didn’t go as planned during training camp,’’ said Dineen to the Miami Herald, “but he’s a professional. He has played in Montreal, where everything is magnified to such a high level. He’s patient.’’
Theodore, starting in the most important position on the ice, will be an important player to watch this up-coming season.
BY THE NUMBERS
.916 - Recorded a .916 save percentage last season with Minnesota, his highest save percentage since 2003-04 when he had a .919 save percentage with Montreal.
7 - Had a career-high seven shutouts during 2001-02 season, helping him capture the Vezina and Hart Trophies.
40 - Started the season in 40th place among netminders in victories with 260. Added another one against the NY Islanders in game one of the 2011-12 season.
67 - Played in career-high 67 games twice, during the 2001-02 and 2003-04 seasons with Montreal.
77 - Recorded 77 victories in the previous three seasons with Washington and Minnesota. Had a .606 winning percentage while going 77-35-15 over that span.
POSTED ON Friday, 10.7.2011 / 4:55 PM ET
|Forward Tomas Fleischmann, one of seven Panthers signees this off-season posted 21 points in 22 games with Colorado last season.
After missing more than half of the season last year, Fleischmann is itching to get back on the ice and start a new season. He might have only appeared in 45 games last season, but in his previous three campaigns, he has averaged 72 games. His health is no longer an issue coming into this season after recovering from the blood clots found in his lungs . Therefore the main question is, how well will he fit into the Panthers first line plans?
Fleischmann was one of seven players acquired via free agency over the offseason to start the season with the Panthers, but to GM Dale Tallon, he has the potential to be the staple to this year’s offseason.
“Tomas Fleischmann,” Tallon said with a smile, “is going to be something special.”
Starting off the 2011-12 season on the first line, Fleischmann will be asked to carry a lot of the offensive load this year. What he will benefit from is that he gets to play alongside other talented forwards like David Booth, Stephen Weiss, Scottie Upshall and Kris Versteeg.
“He hasn’t reached his peak yet,” said Tallon. “His numbers are just going to go up. He’s a very skilled guy who makes other players better.”
Others are labeling Fleischmann as a “wildcard,” but Tallon sees something special from this young forward. He believes Fleischmann has the ability to score and make plenty of plays if the offense focuses on him.
It’s not like he hasn’t performed before, it was only two seasons ago when Fleishmann scored 23 goals and added 28 assists for the Washington Capitals.
Keep an eye on him this season, because if he can remain healthy for the majority of the season, Fleischmann has the capability to improve those numbers and even become a star in the Panther offense.
BY THE NUMBERS
.955 - Points a game that Fleischmann averaged last season in Colorado, posting 21 points in 22 games after being acquired from Washington.
3 - Recorded a hat trick, including the game-winner December 15, 2010 at Chicago for Colorado.
6 - Had six multi-point games this past season split between Washington and Colorado.
21 - Averaged just 21 penalty minutes in last four seasons while averaging 66 games played.
51 - Recorded career high 51 points during 2009-10 season with Washington.
POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.4.2011 / 4:31 PM ET
|Forward Kris Versteeg, who already has three seasons of 20-plus goals was acquired by the Panthers from Philadelphia on July 1.
Versteeg, at only 25 years old, has already scored over 20 goals three times in his career. Selected 134th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, some would say that he has exceeded expectations as a player.
GM Dale Tallon has been a believer since the beginning of his young career. Back in 2007, Versteeg was acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks through trade with Boston. Fast-forward a couple of years and now as Panthers GM, Tallon acquire Versteeg again via trade in a deal with Philadelphia for a 2012 or 2013 conditional second round pick as well as a 2012 third round pick. Versteeg would be one of 10 new players added during the offseason.
“(Versteeg) is versatile enough to play any forward position and brings passion and commitment to the rink every single day," Tallon said.
Heading into this season, Versteeg will need to become a key contributor to the Panthers offense. He will be asked to provide that offensive spark, scoring plenty of goals while adding some assists.
"When I came here I almost feel like I'm home, it just feels comfortable right away here,'' said Versteeg of being in South Florida and on the Panthers.
There is no need to worry about him. He will produce. Over his first three full seasons, Versteeg has averaged 21 goals with 27 assists, and even played a major role during the Chicago Blackhawks championship run.
Being that he is 25, it’s surprising how deep Versteeg’s resume is. He has already won a Stanley Cup, produced during the regular season and post-season, and was named as a Calder Trophy finalist as the league’s top rookie.
His experiences during the regular season and post-season will go a long way in this revamped Panther locker room. The sky is the limit for this young Panther forward, which is why he is a player to watch out for this upcoming 2011 season.
BY THE NUMBERS
4 - Will suit up for fourth team in last 24 months. After playing for Chicago in 2009-10, Versteeg was traded to Toronto to begin last season. There he split time between Toronto and Philadelphia.
11 - Registered 11 multi-point games last season during his time split between Toronto and Philadelphia.
53 - Recorded career high 53 points during his first full season with Chicago during the 2007-08 campaign.
250 - Has played in 250 games in four seasons in the league, averaging 79 games played over his three full seasons.