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Peeke's Points: Looking Ahead

Monday, 03.21.2011 / 1:18 PM ET / Blogs
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Peeke\'s Points: Looking Ahead
Panthers Blogger Cliff Peeke
Cliff Peeke, a Panther season ticket holder since Day One, is back blogging on for a fourth season, giving the point of view on the Cats from a serious, die-hard fan’s perspective in his own blog titled Peeke's Points.

A Michigan native who’s played hockey (admittedly average at best) most of his life, Cliff grew up watching Red Wings games at the old Olympia Stadium. His allegiance changed to the Panthers the moment it was announced South Florida would have a team.

Cliff has played in adult leagues at IncredibleIce and his oldest son (age 28) plays there as well. His youngest son (age 12) is a member of the Panthers ’98 Panthers Alliance Tier 1 Pee Wee team.

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And with the fourth pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers are pleased to select from the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League…center Sean Couturier.

When Dale Tallon makes that announcement, I’ll jump out of my chair and high-five anyone nearby at my Entry Draft Party at my house. 

Sadly, this is what I get to look forward to. I can’t believe that my 13-year-old son has yet to experience an NHL playoff game with our beloved Panthers on the ice. Yet another off-season of trades, free-agency, and the entry draft…wow…now that’s excitement. Not (at least right now).

Okay so let’s turn a negative into a positive. As we keep sliding down in the standings, it is very realistic to think we may once again hold a top four pick…and possibly third overall. Let’s say it’s Edmonton, then Ottawa, then Colorado, followed by the Panthers.
  1. Edmonton picks defenseman Adam Larsson
  2. Ottawa picks left wing Gabriel Landeskog
  3. Colorado picks defenseman Ryan Murphy
  4. Florida picks center Sean Couturier
In this scenario, Tallon will actually have a difficult decision to make as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will also be available. We hear that Tallon want to get “bigger” and the 6-4 Couturier will provide size, skill and is a two-way center whose style is reported to be similar to Jordan Staal. But I say…if Nugent-Hopkins is available…take him instead. Analysts have said that he possesses unbelievable vision, quickness and creativity. He’s elusive, hard to check, and makes everyone around him better. We really need an exciting centerman like that…one that is projected to be a first-liner. Either way, whether it’s Couturier or Nugent-Hopkins, we probably can’t go wrong. But to get either of them, we will have to finish in the bottom four.

And that’s what makes going to games so excruciating for me. The “realistic” side says that it’s ok to lose so we can insure ourselves a sweet draft position since the playoffs are out of reach this year. But once the puck drops the “fan” side of me comes out and I find there is no way I can root for the opposition.

Take Saturday night’s game against the Islanders for example. We are jockeying with them for one of those low four spots. We end up losing in OT. Normally I would be angry…but not Saturday night. I left the arena thinking, “I’ll take that”.  But I will say this…this is the last year I will ever hope for a sweet draft spot at this point of the season. 

So…I have no choice but to believe that Tallon’s “blueprint” moves forward on a brisk pace. My investment for next season is proof I am willing to “believe”.  A brutal reminder of horrific Panther trades/buy-outs/waiver moves reared its ugly head Saturday, as the Islanders’ (and brief Panther property) Michael Grabner scored his 30th goal of the season, while boasting a plus 17 +/-. Ouch.

What hard-core fans want is for Panther management to score big on moves, get good value in return and minimize mistakes. So let’s say we “forgive” that one smudge/stain and look at the positives. Remember, I am willing to invest in the future of this team. I’m game. Here’s what I like…and there are plenty of positives…
  1. The line of Stephen Weiss, Sergei Samsonov and Niclas Bergfors. This was created after the trade deadline and the line is clicking. Samsonov is a free agent and I would like to see him in a Panther jersey next season…I want that line playing together in 2011-12.
  2. Our young defense is getting a ton of ice time…and experience. Dmitry Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby may be a strong future pairing. I’m a big fan of Kulikov…a huge upside there. Jason Garrison continues to impress and is rewarded with a lot of ice time. I like Clay Wilson’s play and am hoping he gets a serious look. I thought Alexander Sulzer played well until his injury. Hopefully he gets some ice time before the season ends. Throw in Erik Gudbranson and a couple other defense prospects and there will be some real challenges for that position in the fall. Even with veteran Mike Weaver, this will be a young talented group.
  3. That is why we need to focus on Couturier and Nugent-Hopkins in the draft and make sure we are in a spot to get one of them. While they may not provide immediate help (but it’s possible), the free agent market will have to be tapped if only because we do have to reach the minimum salary position.
  4. The only problem to that is this year’s free agent crop is not as strong in years past (bad timing?). This will be tricky. You don’t want to over-pay and you certainly do not want to give someone their “final contract”.  There are some teams that are way too close to the salary cap and may have to reluctantly trade a productive, high-priced player. As I look at my lists of free agents, I’m thinking that working several trades may be the best (only?) option. The problem with that process is having to trade one or more of our prospects only to see them thrive elsewhere.
  5. A question mark may be goaltending. If I were a General Manager and spending over $4.0 million on a goalie, I would expect him to “steal” a lot of games. Free agent Ilya Bryzgalov (who carries Phoenix on his back) is just that guy. Scott Clemmenson has a year left, Tomas Vokoun is a free agent, and Jacob Markstrom/Tyler Plante are in the wings. It will be very interesting to see how this position plays out during the summer months.
  6. Until now and the end of the season, Tallon gets a good look at some players that, if we were in the playoff hunt, would not be logging ice time with the Panthers. With the numerous trades and injuries, we get a chance to see how Michal Repik, for example, takes advantage of the opportunity. He seems more comfortable with each game and seems to be around the net with many scoring chances. 
  7. Evgeny Dadonov makes the team. Too much skill. He’s a young Samsonov.
There really is a lot to look forward to, but unfortunately not the playoffs. With regards to the playoffs, I’ve resigned myself to grasping that the Rangers are in. I am now a huge Buffalo Sabres fan as I absolutely do not want to see Carolina in there. Let’s Go Buff-A-LO !!!

In the west, I’m hoping it ends up like this…(1) Vancouver, (2) Detroit, (3) San Jose, (4) Phoenix, (5) Los Angeles, (6) Dallas, (7) Nashville and (8) Anaheim. One more time, look at Phoenix’ roster and tell me how they do it. They are in constant turmoil, have little fan support, lack star-appeal, but they do have Bryzgalov. Without him, they are a lottery pick next year.

Remember this…we get either Couturier or Nugent-Hopkins and coupled with last year’s draft…we are on our way. It just has to happen. And in so doing, it makes me a highly conflicted Panther fan.

I enjoy reading the comments (some from around the world) after one of these…so please share your thoughts…my email is




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