No Atlantic Division division rival of the Boston Bruins made a bigger splash than the Florida Panthers this past summer. A Hall of Fame coach, elite goaltender and some solid depth all migrated to South Florida. After a disappointing last two seasons, the Panthers look poised to return to the playoffs this spring. As a result, they’ll pose a threat to the Boston Bruins in an ultra-competitive Atlantic Division.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville: Arguably the best coach in hockey will now take up residence in Florida. Quenneville will be tasked with changing the culture of the Panthers and unlocking some of their young talent. There is no better man for the job, and he’ll make an immediate impact.
G Sergei Bobrovsky: Too often last season, solid efforts were wasted by poor goaltending in South Florida. With Bobrovsky in goal, don’t expect that to be a theme again this season. A truly elite netminder, Bobrovsky will turn a weakness into a strength.
D Anton Stralman: No longer a top-four defender, Stralman is still a leader and can anchor a third pair. He’s a player with a history of winning, and should bounce back with better health this season. This is a low-risk, high-reward signing that could strengthen an inconsistent defensive group.
F Brett Connolly: Connolly never lived up to his draft hype, but he’s emerged as a very solid middle-six forward. He can play on the powerplay, is a responsible two-way forward, and should be able to chip in 15 goals. He’s a very valuable player.
F Noel Acciari: The former Bruin will add some much needed toughness to the Panthers lineup, while also helping with the culture change.
G Roberto Luongo: Luongo struggled a season ago, but his leadership will be missed. A franchise icon and future Hall of Fame inductee, Luongo’s loss via retirement is a big one.
F Riley Sheahan: Sheahan struggled in Pittsburgh, but settled in nicely as a depth player in Florida. He signed with Edmonton last week, leaving a hole in the Panthers’ bottom-six.
Why They’ll Threaten The Bruins
The Panthers have all kinds of talent, they have for years. Now, the Panthers have a high-level coach and goaltender, along with enhanced depth. This team should have the skill to compete with the top teams in the division, and their speed might rival that of Tampa Bay and Toronto.
An argument can be made that the Panthers have closed the gap on the Bruins in almost every area. Bobrovsky and Rask are comparable, while Quenneville has proven more than any other coach in the game. The top-end talent belongs to the Bruins, but Florida might just have more depth. People might want to count the Panthers out, but that wouldn’t be smart. They’ll make life miserable for the Bruins this season.
Expect the Panthers to be a tough out every night, and don’t be surprised when they return to the playoffs after a three season absence.
Final Point Prediction: 96 (Wild Card)