The Winds of Change Blowing in the Florida Panthers' Direction

By Mike Lewis
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

After the ice was zambonied, the bags were packed and the fans left the BB&T Center, the management of the Florida Panthers were up into the wee hours of the night discussing what direction they will have to take the team in after falling 4-3 in OT to the Western Conference’s worst, the Edmonton Oilers. The Panthers fell 3-1 to the Eastern Conference bottom dwellers, the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 25, meaning that Florida has been beaten on their own ice by the worst team in each conference this season. Even though their statistics don’t exactly reflect their place in the standings, make no mistake, Florida could very well be the worst team in the NHL.

The Panthers have lost their last six contests (0-2-4) and have yet to play a truly above average game. While the Panthers have proven they can storm back in the third period, which they did against Edmonton as well as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, they lost every one of those games. The effort has only shown up in the third period. When you only play one period in the NHL, you’re not going to win many hockey games.

Florida faces a tough decision. While fans have called for Head Coach Kevin Dineen to be relieved of his position, Florida’s General Manager Dale Tallon still has faith in the bench boss that ended a 12-year Florida playoff drought back in 2011-12. Dineen’s fondness of dump and chase hockey has been met with mixed reviews, while the power play has also been a major failure this season clocking in at the 28th position in the league, with a 10.0-percent success rate. While the Panthers lack the talent to “run-and-gun”, they haven’t had a very good go with Dineen’s strategy either. The question still remains: is this a coaching issue or a personnel issue?

Players like Tomas Kopecky (zero points in 15 games) and Kris Versteeg (five points in 14 games) have been under the microscope due to their large contracts and lack of production this season. Florida does boast one of the most impressive prospect pools in the NHL and if any GM wants to make a trade with Tallon, you better believe that those prospects will come up in conversation. GM’s are not looking for bargain players who just got lucky to be signed by Florida like Brad BoyesRyan WhitneyTom Gilbert and Scott Gomez, they are looking to take advantage of a desperate team and reap the benefits Florida has been cultivating and stockpiling over the last few years.

Goaltender Jacob Markstrom will not be a trade candidate, but there is no doubt that his spot in Florida is in jeopardy. Markstrom was once seen as a sure fire, NHL star goalie. While he has the potential still to be that caliber of a player, he is not ready. Going into training camp, Markstrom was the team’s starting goalie. When he has been called upon this season, he has not looked like a starting goalie. In 11 games, Markstrom has a 3.36 goals-against average and a .877 save percentage. It’s hard to blame all of Markstrom’s misfortunes on him, the defense is certainly bad in Florida, and leave him out to dry. Even if the defense isn’t always helping the young Swede, Markstrom is the last line of defense. He needs to come up big once in a while. Look for Markstrom to spend some time in the AHL once Tim Thomas returns from injury. Scott Clemmensen is still an NHL backup and is healthy now, so Clemmensen may just steal his job back from the 23-year old Markstrom. Markstrom has a two-way deal this season, so the Panthers will most likely exercise their right to send him down. He’s still young and budding with potential, Markstrom could use more seasoning in the AHL and get his confidence back.

Changes are coming. That much is known. Whether it will be through trades or call-ups is anybody’s guess. The Panthers might wind up making a big move to turn this sinking ship around.

Mike Lewis is a Florida Panthers writer for Follow him on Twitter @MLewsy11, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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