It’s been over 10 years since the cats scratched the post-season, an unsavoury NHL record. To break that bad habit they made some unorthodox moves. GM Dale Tallon brought out the catnip on Free Agency Day and took a big gamble on a bunch of strays... So far it's paying off.
Many of those strays have found new life as the Panthers lead the Southeast division by three points on the Capitals. A big pat on the back for Tallon, the Panthers are seeking just their 4th playoff appearance. He managed to acquire cats with plenty of playoff experience, but for whatever reason didn’t get another chance in their old uniforms.
Acquired via trade July 1st from the Flyers for a conditional 2nd and a 3rd round pick. Having a career year with 22 goals in 59 games and leads team in points with 49.
Acquired via Free Agency July 1st to a 4 year contract.
Often injured Flashman is having a ‘comeback player of the year’ type season, on pace for 25 goals and 62 points – milestones he has yet to reach in his pro career.
Acquired via trade June 24th from Chicago for Rotislav Olesz.
Waived his no trade clause to join team. Life’s a beach for the 11 year veteran as his 39 assists are his biggest contribution since lifting the Cup in ’10.
Rounding out the other studs or duds that donned Panthers red on July 1st or via trade is playoff breakout star Sean Bergenheim, who made a big case in Tampa Bay’s run last year, John Madden, Tomas Kopecky and Ed Jovanovski, all of whom have spent time off the ice this year due to injuries, and goalie Jose Theodore, who has done well balancing the pipes with Scott Clemmensen. Vets Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson were unloaded by the Canucks in exchange for David Booth, Steve Reinprecht and a 3rd round pick in 2013. While Booth and Sturm have played less than 35 games with their new teams this year, Reiny is in the minors while Sturm should be back for the playoffs. Samuelsson has already had 5 multi point games with the Panthers, a good fit with long time cat Stephen Weiss on the top line.
Most recently the Panthers have rolled the dice by adding Wojtek Wolski and Jerred Smithson to the roster, in trades between the Rangers and the Predators respectively. The Panthers have won 3 in a row since they joined. Many of Florida’s pickups have been injured throughout the season, but it doesn’t change the fact that they still hold the Southeast lead. The big question with 20 games left in the season is can they hold on?
The Caps are familiar playoff players while the Jets are pushing to make Winnipeg proud. Two of the 3 teams in the division should make the playoffs. Thursday’s game against the Jets is monumental as Winnipeg is in 9th in the East, fighting within a 5 point battlefield for playoff contention. Just like cats, the Panthers have woken from a long nap in the Eastern basement in time to sharpen their claws. Predators by nature these kitties won’t go down easy, and it’s going to be a bloodbath to see who makes it out alive in the Southeast.