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!
While the Florida Panthers seek consistency, chemistry, and wins, a couple of early season surprises from inside the organization need mentioning.
Down in San Antonio, the Cat’s AHL farm team, first year pro Vincent Trocheck has caught the eye of everyone. Off one of the most successful Canadian junior careers topped off by last year’s 50 goals and OHL league MVP season, Trocheck continues to impress. The Pittsburgh, PA native and third round draft pick (64th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has recorded five goals and 11 points through the Rampage’s first nine games.
The smallish forward (5'11, 180 lbs) could be up to the big club before Mrs Moller picks out the Thanksgiving turkey. Highly competitive, Vinnie the “points machine” Trocheck has to be the Panther’s #1 prospect not in the NHL.
In Florida, Panther’s forward Jesse Winchester was considered just another “filler” in training camp, likely headed to Texas to lead the young prospects in San Antonio this year. After four up and down seasons in Ottawa, a suffered concussion, and last year bouncing around Finland like a lost reindeer, Winchester showed up in South Florida in early in September, determined to make the team. The Colgate University grad spent his 30th birthday early (born a day later) October 3rd celebrating the Panthers opening night win in Dallas.
Fast forward to early November, and lo and behold, Jesse “The Bandit”, is tied for second on the team with 3 goals, is fifth with 27 shots, and one of Coach Dineen’s most trusted penalty killer and defensive forward.
Confidence and competitiveness, Trocheck and Winchester, two reasons why we “the fans” root for all sports individuals, not just the stars.
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.
"The Champs are coming, the Champs are coming..."
Game 3 of the Panthers' season-long 6-game home stand has the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in town. Both teams come off wins Saturday night, the Panthers beat Minnesota 2-1 in a shootout while the Blackawks earned a 3-1 victory over Toronto. Tonight will be a different challenge as the Hawks present a big, literally, challenge. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews get all the pub, and it's well deserved, but Chicago boasts a number of big, strong forwards that the Panthers must physically match up with.
The Hawks defense is solid, led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The Panthers will need to have everyone going tonight to get a win. Tim Thomas has been super the last two games since returning from injury and said he's getting better as he goes along.
That bodes well as does the timely goal scoring of rookie Aleksander Barkov and 20-year old second year forward Jonathan Huberdeau. These two have been fun to watch and have produced. Panthers' fans are watching stars in the making right before their eyes. A win tonight would be a huge shot in the arm for the Cats. With Buffalo and Tampa Bay in town this weekend it could shape up to be a solid home stand. A big effort is needed tonight though.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. at the BB&T Center, and we are on the air at 7 p.m. with the pre-game show.
The Panthers “dip” into the NHL free agent “pool” has resulted in immediate dividends early this 2013-14 season.
Whether it be; the Collective bargaining agreement (CBA), team imposed salary caps, youth movement or compliance buy-outs, a lot of quality NHL players, in all positions, found themselves without a team late in the off-season and early in fall training camps. Panthers GM Dale Tallon aggressively signed/invited a handful of players, and has hit the jackpot on most, if not all of them.
Starting in goal, the decision to invite, and then the ultimately signing of two-time Vezina Trophy winner and Stanley Cup MVP Tim Thomas after the All Star’s self imposed “year-off sabbatical” brought skepticism around the circuit, but Timmy has been nothing short of spectacular in goal, staring in three of his six appearances, displaying his “battle at all costs” attitude and play.
Both Tom Gilbert and Matt Gilroy have fit in nicely in Coach Dineen’s blue line brigade, specializing in power play offence. Utility forward Jesse Winchester has proven his worth with aggressive penalty killing, fore checking, and face-offs. And where would the Cats be without “hired gun”, former 40-goal scorer Brad Boyes? He leads the Cats in goals, scoring chances, and salted away the Panthers shoot out win Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild with a nifty back hand move in the shootout.
The Panthers “Blueprint” is still based on the young guns like Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson, Aleksander Barkov, and others, but the decision to add immediate help through free agency to allow their other top prospects to develop further in the AHL will pay off down the road. That plan by Dale Tallon and company will be an exercise other teams will adopt in the near future. Welcome to the new NHL.
It was a much needed win for the Panthers Saturday night. Playing at home following a pair of one goal losses, they desperately needed some positives to fall back on. The 2-1 shootout win against Minnesota was just what the doctor ordered. For the second game in a row the Panthers tied the game after trailing in the 3rd period as second overall pick Aleksander Barkov redirected Tomas Fleischmann's power play shot past Josh Harding.
Positive 1. Tim Thomas looked like his Vezina winning self from two years ago.
Positive 2. Jonathan Huberdeau (shootout game-winner) and Barkov scored, again showing these two young forwards are stars in the making.
Positive 3. They proved they're a much better shootout team than year's past.
Positive 4. Thomas's attitude. Before the game he told his teammates, "I'm tired of losing." The guy is legit in every way.
Positive 5. Now 1-1 on the season-long 6-game home stand.
The Panthers prepare for the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks as they face off Tuesday night. They'll need all hands on deck to beat Chicago but if they can pull out a win, the positive vibes will really be flowing.
We start the coverage at 7 p.m. Tuesday on FOX Sports Florida, with face off at 7:30 p.m. It will be interesting to watch Thomas, who has now stopped 67 of 71 shots over the last two games, face Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and the rest of the Blackhawks.
It's game day here in Nashville as the Panthers play the Predators tonight at 8pm on Fox Sports Florida. Jacob Markstrom starts in goal again, as Tim Thomas appears ready to play Thursday at home against his former team, the Boston Bruins.
Big center Nick Bjugstad looks like he will make his season debut tonight. He suffered a concussion during training camp. Now healthy, he brings size and a right handed presence to the lineup. Bjugstad played in 11 games last season after spending three years at the University of Minnesota. He should play with Krys Barch and Tomas Kopecky tonight.
The Panthers would love to grab a win here as they head home for a 6-game home stand against some of the NHL's top teams like Boston and defending Stanley Cup Champs Chicago. Nashville plays a defensive style of hockey so this may be a low scoring grind-it-out type of game. It also features and intriguing teenage matchup between Florida's Aleksander Barkov and the Predators' Seth Jones. They were both drafted in June and Nashville thought they'd end up with Barkov at No. 4 but the Panthers surprised many and selected the big center 2nd overall. Jones, the top rated defenseman in the draft went 4th.
Tonight, it's the first ever matchup between these two talents who are years ahead of their age as players. I have a 1-on-1 interview with Nashville's GM David Poile about the two players and also discuss the Olympics with him.
Poile is GM of Team USA and is in charge of selecting the team that will play in the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia in February. I have a vested interest in the team as I will be going to the Games to do radio play-by-play for Westwood One radio network. My on-air partner will be former Panthers defenseman Bret Hedican.
That's the latest today from Music City.
Florida Panthers TV Play-by-Play
CBS 4 Miami Sports/SportsBang
WINZ Radio 940am Morning Host
The Panthers young players have been impressive early in the season. While the team has had some frustrating inconsistencies, I've been very impressed and encouraged by a number of players.
Aleksander Barkov has been strong on his skates and is already contributing offensively at age 18. I can imagine what he's going to be like in a few years. He could be that top line "big horse" center the Panthers have been looking for.
Jonathan Huberdeau has shown his offensive instincts with some skilled goals and passes but what's really impressed me is the way he's handled himself. In the home opener we saw Huberdeau get physical with Penguins Defenseman Brooks Orpik then jawed nose to nose with him. Showing a physical side of his game is huge for a young offensive player. That kind of reputation gets around the league quickly.
In goal, Jacob Markstrom has been solid. He came in off the bench when Tim Thomas got hurt in Philadelphia and shut out the Flyers for 52 minutes. A loss suffered in Tampa was as much a result of the team's performance as the goalie's. Markstrom then played well in the home opener, beating the Penguins and wasn't the problem against Los Angeles on Sunday.
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson is still feeling his way but the 21-year old defenseman is playing physical hockey and skating well. Gudbranson is one of those guys that hates to lose and that's what I love about him.
These four players will be major factors moving forward for the Panthers and their starts to the season have been encouraging. Meanwhile, Vincent Trocheck has gotten off to a nice start to his professional career in San Antonio (AHL). Nick Bjugstad is recovered from his concussion and the big center is ready to hit the ice. The Panthers college players have started well too with Rocco Grimaldi at North Dakota picking up five points in two games against Vermont and goalie Sam Brittain at Denver posting shut outs in two games against Merrimack. Recent draft pick Chris Clapperton is averaging almost two points a game in the QMJHL, and sits second in the league in scoring with 21 points in 11 games.
Victories now at the NHL level are the most important aspect but I have my eye in what's coming up for the 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.