The race for the Calder Trophy is wide open this year as we are now into the second half of the season.
The last time a team had back-to-back Calder winners was the Boston Bruins back in 1967-68. Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson were the two to accomplish the feat, and they turned out alright, with Orr becoming one of the greatest blue liners of all time.
The Flying Finn is currently tied for eighth in rookie scoring with 22 points, seven behind the leader Nathan McKinnon of Colorado who was taken one spot ahead of Barkov in this past summer's draft. Barkov has averaged close to a point a game over the last month and seems poised to have a big second half. The Panthers young gun has taken and won more face-offs than any other rookie and is playing in every situation. Barkov leads the Panthers in scoring and is playing big minutes. He plays against the other team's top lines and he is on the ice late in games to protect leads. He is as good defensively as he is offensively which is something that you just don't see from many 18-year olds.
It will be interesting to see how the rookie race unfolds in the second half of the season. I believe Barkov will be in the middle of the conversation by year's end.
The Panthers' future is filled with promise with loads of young talent and Barkov will be front and center leading the way for years to come. The Calder race is one to watch closely if you are a Panther fan.
How awesome would it be if they are able to accomplish a feat that hasn't been duplicated in 46 years in the NHL?
As 2013 comes to a close, we get ready to turn the page to 2014 and the Panthers are hoping for bigger and better things in the new year. Here's a look at what I am hoping to see for the Panthers in 2014 led by a lot of their Young Guns.
Jonathan Huberdeau to take another step forward and start to emerge as the star that he is destined to become in the NHL.
Aleksander Barkov continues to develop and becomes a dominate two-way forward who will not only score goals but will be a shut down centerman night in and night out.
Nick Bjugstad has already grown by leaps and bounds and I believe he has the ability to be a big-time star. I also hope to see him become a leader on this young Panther team.
Jacob Markstrom needs to prove to everyone that he is the goaltender of the future.
Erik Gudbranson has shown he can dominate physically. Would like to see his offensive game to continue to evolve. He has a a big shot and skates extremely well no reason to think he shouldn't.
For a team to be successful the elder statesman must be consistent in their production.
A healthy Tim Thomas.
Ed Jovanovski to return to the game he loves and Captain this team on the ice.
This Panther team is loaded with potential. Potential is one thing but realizing that potential is something totally different. I am hoping 2014 is the year that potential turns into reality.
Happy New Year!
|Panthers forward Krys Barch drops the gloves against Boston's Shawn Thornton in a game in Boston.|
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about fighting in the NHL. There are some that feel fighting should be banned from hockey. I for one feel that it belongs in the sport and plays an important role.
Here are some reasons I am a proponent for fighting.
1. There has to be an outlet for players when the tempers start to flare up with an opponent. Without fighting I believe the stick work, elbows and dirty checks would increase as these would be the alternatives to punish an opponent without fighting.
2. You have to be able to protect the stars of the league. Without fighting you could target the stars and punish them without the fear of any retribution. I know back when I played if I went after one of the marquee players I would have to answer for it. It made you think twice.
3. A good fight can change the momentum of the game. I know from being on an NHL bench during a fight, it can inspire a team.
4. Players want it in the game. A recent poll of NHL players found that 98% felt fighting should be allowed.
I played in Germany my last couple years of pro hockey where you got kicked out of the game and suspended for the next one if you fought. The stick work was violent in the German league. It was also frustrating when a guy 5'5 would talk trash to you and be allowed to run all over the ice playing with wreckless abandon because he had no fear of any consequences.
Fighting plays an important role in the NHL. It always has and always should.
Coaching changes in the NHL are always a tough thing to go through for everyone involved.
From a players perspective it is something I have had to go through on a number of occasions in my career. It is a gut-wrenching ordeal that literally made me sick to my stomach. As a player you have to feel a heavy burden for what has happened. If you don't you are in the wrong business.
A hockey team is a family and the coach is like the father figure. We, as players, are the ones who have the control of the outcomes of games. The coach being let go means we have failed in one way or the other to get the job done. This is how I was taught to look at the game of hockey. It goes beyond the game. We are a family that all have families. I found from some great teammates that I played with that it wasn't about my own success or failure that mattered. It was about the guy next to me that mattered. It's a team sport so if I failed that it meant that my teammate or coach also paid the price for my failure.
I learned that pro sports had nothing to do with me; it was about the people around me. My best teammates played for my family and not for themselves. I also learned fast if we had success, we stayed together, if not changes were always made.
Along with the money of pro sports comes incredible pressure. I feel for Kevin (Dineen), Craig (Ramsay) and Gord (Murphy) and their families and I truly wish them all the best. I am excited for Peter (Horachek), Skrewy (Brian Skrudland) and John (Madden) and I know again we have caring passionate people who are committed to getting the Panthers to the top.
I love this team and I know there is a commitment from everyone to get us where we need to be. We are family!
Celebrating the Cats 20th anniversary, I wanted to take a look back at three influential Panthers. The Draft is always important to a franchise, especially an expansion franchise. You really can't judge a player taken in a draft until many years down the road. The three Panthers who had big impacts on the franchise happen to be the first three 1st round picks in franchise history.
It was important for the Panthers to draft well right out of the gate to kick start the expansion franchise. The first ever pick was Rob Niedermayer, drafted 5th overall in 1993. Niedsy played seven years in a Panther uniform and though he didn't reach the lofty expectations many expected, he came in and was a steady contributor for the Panthers. His best year was the 1995-96 season when he had 28 goals and 61 points as the Cats made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. A very solid pick at No. 5, Robby went on to play 1,153 games for five clubs over 17 years, including a Stanley Cup with his brother Scott in 2007 in Anaheim. Definitely a resume worthy of a No. 5 overall pick.
In 1994, the Panthers had the first overall pick and it was critical to make the right choice. They got the "right guy" as defenseman Ed Jovanovski was taken above everybody else. In his second tour of duty with the Panthers, Jovo Cop is embarking on his 19th year in the NHL. It is year number six in a Panther uniform for the blue liner. Jovo spent his first four years in the NHL in Florida before being traded to Vancouver for Pavel Bure in the 1998-99 season. Jovo has played 1,091 NHL games and has been a 5-time All Star. It's awesome to see Eddie back home to finish his career with the team that drafted him first overall in 1994. No question looking back, the Panthers made the right pick.
In 1995, the Panthers had the 10th overall pick. That pick turned out to be forward Radek Dvorak. 36-yrs old, Radek is in year number 18 in the NHL. He had two separate stops with the Panthers and played nine years in a Cats uniform. He is second on the Panthers all-time games played list with 613. In his 18 years Dvorak has played over 1200 games for eight NHL clubs. Pretty impressive numbers for Dvo.
You add it all up and you get a total more than 3400 games and 53 years of NHL hockey. Amazing numbers. The Panthers got off to a great start and established themselves quickly in the NHL. A big part were these three outstanding Panthers.
|Forward Aleksander Barkov celebrates his first NHL goal with linemate Brad Boyes in the season opener in Dallas (Getty Images)|
With the season underway, I thought I would offer my thoughts and ideas on the upcoming year. First off there is a full 82 games. Everyone gets the benefit of a full training camp, which I think should be beneficial for almost every team. The Panthers were a team that struggled during last year's lockout and having a full camp should be a big benefit in the long run.
The Panthers have the reigning Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau and 2nd overall pick Aleksander Barkov should be in the running for the Calder this season. These two talented young forwards are going to be the cornerstones of the Panthers for many years to come. If you take a look at some of the top teams in the league, many are blessed with a dynamic duo up front. Chicago has Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Anaheim has Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Vancouver has the Sedin twins. Having two big guns up front is a huge advantage in the NHL. The Panthers are hoping this will be the case with Huberdeau and Barkov. I for one believe both are going to be big stars for many years to come.
As far as this season goes for the Panthers, it is one filled with a lot of intrigue. New ownership and new faces have filled this team with a renewed sense of optimism. The biggest addition to the Panthers was goaltender Tim Thomas. After a year off the 39-year old netminder is back in the NHL with the Panthers. Many people wonder with his age and the year off, will he be able to get back to his elite goaltending status. Here are some reasons I believe he will. He is an ultra competitive guy with a passion and will to win. He has accomplished a lot as an older goalie. He won his Vezina trophies at the age of 35 and 37 and he is the oldest goalie ever to win the Conn Smythe trophy as the Stanley Cup playoff MVP in 2011. Only two years removed from his last Vezina and fresh from a year off, I expect a huge year from Thomas. Nothing about his career has been conventional as he didn't even get into the NHL until the age of 31. He toiled for years in the minors before getting his shot. Thomas is a proven winner who took the hard road to the top. Thomas will bring a swagger and work ethic that will be infectious for the entire Panther team.
Some other things the Panthers need this year to be successful. Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov are two young talented defenseman who need to take another step forward and offer big contributions from the back end. The Panthers need a healthy year from Kris Versteeg and they need him to produce offensively like he did two years ago. Brian Campbell and Thomas Fleischmann have been the everyday go-to guys and the team needs the same quality consistent production from both of them. The additions of Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Brad Boyes should add a veteran presence, leadership and depth that was missing last year.
It's going to be another exciting hockey season. The Panthers are going to be an exciting team to watch. I believe this team will take a huge step forward this year.