Parker Michaels continues his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. Today at No. 11, the Florida Panthers.
The Florida Panthers finished last season with 44 wins and 96 points, just one shy of a playoff spot. They became just the second team in NHL history joining the 2014-15 Boston Bruins to finish with at least 96 points and miss the playoffs.
It was a tale of two seasons for the Cats who started poorly and entered the All-Star break with a 19-22-6 record and a 27th place standing overall. The second half was a different story as the team came out of the break winning four in a row and seven of eight and had two more winning streaks of at least five games before the end. Florida went 25-8-2 over the second half of the season, tied with the Nashville Predators for the most points in the NHL with 52 over that span and the Winnipeg Jets for the most wins in the league over the second half.
It was an impressive finish but a disappointing one at the same time and it left a bad taste in the players mouths heading into the summer, for how poorly they began the season. The Panthers have a great young core who will look to take the next step and secure a playoff spot for just the third time in the last 18 years. They have only made it out of the first round once in their 25-year history when they lost in the Stanley Cup Final in their third year of existence.
General Manager Dale Tallon kicked off the Panthers summer with a bang when he acquired top-six winger Mike Hoffman from the San Jose Sharks. Hoffman was moved from the Ottawa Senators to the Sharks just hours earlier before being flipped to Florida for a 2018 fourth and fifth-round draft pick and a 2019 second-round pick. After allegations surfaced against Hoffman’s fiancée for harassment and cyberbullying of Erik Karlsson’s wife, the Senators were forced to fix their broken locker room by trading the goal scorer.
The Hoffman camp denied any wrongdoing and while it is still a messy court situation, no criminal charges have been laid. The Panthers did their due diligence on the issue, including head coach Bob Boughner and his wife who traveled to Waterloo for a personal dinner with Hoffman and his fiancée. Boughner said he does not believe half of what allegedly happened in Ottawa and the other half would not be an issue as the Hoffman’s are “good people. Really good people.”
Despite any alleged off-ice issues for Hoffman, it does not change the fact he is a star top-six player who has scored at least 22 goals in each of his four full seasons in the league. His insertion into the Panthers lineup gives them one of the best top-six units in the NHL.
The only other addition made by Tallon this summer was for Bogdan Kiselevich, a KHL first-team all-star last season, who signed a one-year contract on July 1. Kiselevich played nine seasons in the KHL and is a strong two-way defender. He was expected to make an immediate impact in the Panthers top-four but took a puck to the face in Saturday’s preseason game which broke his jaw and needed 40 stitches. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks but will miss some time.
Florida returns their top 13 scorers from last season, losing only forwards Radim Vrbata and Connor Brickley. Vrbata retired after 16 NHL seasons and Brickley signed as a free agent with Nashville. The Panthers young core is among the best in the league and have been together long enough now that this could be the season everything comes together.
Stanley Cup: +4500 (Bovada)
Eastern Conference: +2400 (Bovada)
Atlantic Division: +1600 (Bovada)
Regular Season Points: 93.5 (-115, -105) (Bookmaker), 94.5 (-130, +100) (Bovada), 95.5 (-120, +100) (BetOnline)
Make Playoffs: YES -200, NO +160 (BetOnline), YES -210, NO +170 (Bovada)
Current odds as of September 30, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Individual Player Ratings represent how many points in the standings each player is directly responsible for over the course of the full season and is called Point Shares. It involves the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I further use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here. The average value for a forward is 3.5 and a defenseman is 4.4 Point Shares
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: 12
NHL RANK: 13
NHL RANK: 11
NHL RANK: 8
NHL RANK: 19
NHL RANK: 4
(Starter – 20, Backup – 33)
The depth chart is set for the top-nine with everyone locked in to begin but the fourth line will be a work in progress. Veteran center Derek MacKenzie was the regular fourth line center last season but had his captaincy removed this summer in favor of the younger Barkov and is expected to see a reduction in games played, which is good news for Panthers fans as he carries a negative Point Shares value of -0.4 overall. Prospect Juho Lammikko has lined up under center most of the preseason and could survive the final cut and split time with MacKenzie. Lammikko does not offer much upside but is still an improvement over MacKenzie. His survival of the final cut may depend on whether the team feels tough guy Micheal Haley will be ready for the opener or will have to start on IR. Haley suffered a groin strain in preseason and is expected to be cleared for contact on Wednesday, the opening day of the NHL season. Bottom-six forward Jamie McGinn will also begin the season on IR after undergoing successful back surgery earlier this month. McGinn is not expected back for a few months.
The young core of Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad are in that 25-26 years old range which is when players typically have their best seasons. And Aleksander Barkov is just 23 but this will already be his sixth full NHL season. Barkov has quietly become a bona fide superstar and stud No.1 center in this league. He put up almost a point per game last year (78 in 79 games) and with the chemistry formed beside Evgeni Dadonov, an even bigger success should be in store.
On defense, the NHL’s active ironman leader Keith Yandle was banged up this weekend and is questionable to be ready for opening night. The Panthers only play two games over the first ten days so there should not be any rush, but he is one tough cookie and chances are he will be ready by next Saturday’s opener.
With the injury to Kiselevich who will open the season on the IR, the door opens for rookie Jacob MacDonald who has had an impressive camp. The undrafted 25-year old is smart with the puck but will be sheltered on the third pairing as the Cats will lean heavily on their top four until Kiselevich returns.
Florida’s chances this season though boil down to how well Roberto Luongo can hold up in net. The 39-year old is the oldest active goaltender in the league and has been limited to 40 and 35 games in the last two seasons due to injuries. James Reimer has been a solid backup, but it would be worrisome if he had to take on a full-time role for much of the season. Tallon went out and signed former Winnipeg Jet Michael Hutchinson who will be the third-stringer and next in line if Luongo (or Reimer) go down.
My point projection of 100.7 is above the current market of offshore sportsbooks who sit between 93.5 and 95.5 overall. I was not expecting to find value on this number but the 93.5 at Bovada for only -115 is a definite add to our regular season point total list. A full unit would be the recommendation here.
Current Stanley Cup Futures list Florida on average from 18th to 20th overall, with a high of 14th at Bookmaker and a low of 22nd at Bovada. If you are looking for Florida Futures this season, look no further than Bovada who currently has significantly better prices for division, conference and Stanley Cup. For a team who is expected to finish in a wild card spot and could cross over to the Metro bracket, their price of +4500 for the Cup offers solid value for a half unit bet.
Regarding prop bets for awards, there is nothing I am interested in at this time. Luongo is listed as the final choice for the Vezina at +4000 but chances are he will miss time at some point. Barkov is listed under the Rocket Richard, Art Ross and Hart categories. He scored 27 goals last season but is more of a playmaker so should never really be a threat for the Rocket Richard. It is possible he does build on his career high of 78 points last season, but it would be a stretch to jump all the way to the top of the league. A +7500 number for the Hart at Bovada and BetOnline would be the most plausible if you are determined to add him to your list.
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com