The Florida Panthers have probably been the NHL's most incompetent franchise over the past 15 seasons, even more so than the Edmonton Oilers, who at least made a Stanley Cup run back in 2006. A large part of that incompetence stems from the team's draft history from 2000-2009, before current general manager Dale Tallon took over in May of 2010.
With that in mind, I went back and tried to determine just how good our teams could have been if they would have been perfect at the draft tables. I did set up some rules before doing this, however.
- I could only change selections if the desired player was taken 1-10 spots behind the player the team actually took. That way, we keep the draft rankings at least slightly intact, as there is usually a good reason why certain players are taken in the first round, and others are taken in the seventh.
- If the team traded their first round selection that year, I undid the trade and treated that pick as if the Panthers had been the team making the selection. This only happened twice; in 2003, when they essentially swapped Marc-Andre Fleury for Nathan Horton, and in 2008, when the team trade for Tomas Vokoun.
- I aimed to build the best possible team for the 2015-2016 season, not the best team for any previous seasons. I tried to keep it salary cap compliant, but that made it no fun, so don't worry about the cap hits. I've included the player's statistics from 2014-2015 for reference.
- I only looked at drafts from 2000-2009. Tallon has done a pretty good job with his selections.
Replaces Tyler Plante as the 32nd overall selection in 2005
Last season, only 21 players generated more individual scoring chances (per war-on-ice.com) than James Neal, and he didn't even play a full season. That type of goal scoring ability is hard to come by, and with how recent seasons have turned out, would be absolutely incredible to have. It's almost a guarantee that Neal would play with either Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci, two playmakers who would compliment his shoot-first mentality.
Was originally drafted by Florida 10th overall in 2010
A possession driving forward who can score at even strength and is effective on the penalty kill? Sounds like a great fit for a second or third line role, which is where Frolik would fit in on the roster, given that Neal would likely play on the first line.
Fun note: Frolik is one of two players the Panthers actually drafted that I kept on the roster. He was traded to Chicago in 2011 for Hugh Jessiman and Jack Skille.
Replaces Petr Taticek as the 9th overall selection in 2002
This one is a bit of a stretch, but there seriously were no other left wingers. Hopefully, in this alternate reality, Semin simply plays to the best of his abilities and flourishes in a middle six role while on this fictional version of the 2015-2016 Florida Panthers.
Replaces Matt Caruso as the 103rd overall selection in 2006
Matt Beleskey took advantage of playing next to Ryan Getzlaf and turned a career year into a five-year, $3.8-million AAV contract. His NHL career had been decidedly below average until the 2014-2015 season, so it should be interesting to see how he performs in Boston next season. For our purposes, however, it's almost a slam dunk that he can succeed in a fourth line role, or step up higher in the lineup if others falter.
What we learned
There were no left wingers around where the Panthers were selecting. Like, wow. Over nine years of drafts, I had access to about 630 players, and still had to take Alexander Semin and Matt Beleskey. Yeesh.
Stay tuned for the rest of the "Hindsight is 20/20" team, as LBC will be rolling out some more wingers, defenseman, and goaltenders that the Cats could have had, if the scouting staff was perfect and could predict the future.