Many of the other SBN NHL sites are working on the following theme for their particular team and that theme is this: which edition of (fill in the blank) came the closest to winning a Stanley Cup but didn’t, or should have, or something along those lines.
With only four other Panthers squads actually making the postseason, I found the theme of the second best team not worth exploring as those teams all got bounced in the first round.
What I thought might be fun was to take a look back at the four Florida teams that just missed the playoffs and take a vote on which one would have had the best chance to, not win the Cup (...let’s not get crazy here), but actually advance to second round, something no Florida squad has managed to do other than the beloved ‘95-96 team.
Now, keep in mind, these aren’t exactly “the best” Florida teams that missed the playoffs. They are the ones who were closest to a playoff spot when the season ended. The ‘14-15, ‘05-06, ‘06-07 and ‘07-08 Panthers all finished with more points than the ‘93-’94 Cats, but those teams missed the playoffs by six or seven points, so they didn’t get included.
Remember to stay on topic when voting and consider the Panthers team and who its first round opponent would have been had they just won another measly game.
1993-94 Panthers: 33-34-17 - 83 points (one point out of a playoff spot)
The scrappy, inaugural edition of the Florida Panthers surprised the hockey world by setting a then league record for most points by an expansion team and finishing one point behind the New York Islanders for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. A 1-4-4 run over its final nine games cost this first edition what would have been a rather shocking spot in the postseason, with a 5-2 loss to Quebec Nordiques on April 12 being the final nail in the coffin. Instead, it was the Islanders who went on to challenge the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs and they were promptly swept by their older, more popular rivals. Would the Cats have been a tougher out? Perhaps... The Panthers and Broadway Blueshirts played a late season game on April 4 at Madison Square Garden with the Rangers eking out a tough 3-2 win. Maybe John Vanbiesbrouck would have stood on his head and given his former team fits. But, with the way Panthers 1.0 closed out their first campaign, chances are they would have suffered the same fate as the Islanders and fallen to Mark Messier and the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Hypothetical opponent: New York Rangers
1994-95 Panthers: 20-22-6 - 46 points (one point out of a playoff spot)
A lockout reduced the Panthers second season to 48 games and the late Roger Neilson’s club flirted with a .500 record for a second straight year by collecting 46 points. Once again, the Cats finished in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, this time one point the New York Rangers. Jesse Belanger led the team with 15 goals and 29 points and The Beezer posted a stingy 2.47 GAA. Florida went 6-3-1 over its final ten games, but back-to-back road losses to Buffalo and New Jersey on April 26 and April 28 helped do them in. The 47-point Rangers would go on to upset the 65-point Nordiques four games to two in the first round, suggesting the Panthers, who were on a pretty good roll to close out the season, could have done the same thing. If only the Cats had won one more game or if the shortened season was just a few games longer...
Hypothetical opponent: Quebec Nordiques
2008-09 Panthers: 41-30-11 - 93 points (tied Montreal - lost tiebreaker)
The Panthers finished this season with an identical record to the Northeast Division’s Montreal Canadiens, but the Habs squeaked into the playoffs by beating the Cats three out of four times to get the nod via tiebreaker. This Pete DeBoer-coached bunch was led by career-years from forwards Stephen Weiss and David Booth and the strong tandem of Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson in net. The ‘08-09 edition won six of its last eight games, but a 3-1 loss to the mediocre Atlanta Thrashers on April 3 and a even tougher 2-1 defeat to the Philadelphia Flyers on home ice on April 7 helped tilt things Montreal’s way. Had the Cats gained one more point, they would have been the ones facing the Boston Bruins in the first round. The Bruins made real short work of the Canadiens, sweeping them in four games before they bowed out in seven to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Conference Semifinals. Would the Panthers have been a better adversary? I think so. Would they have pulled the upset? Unlikely, but one never knows...
Hypothetical opponent: Boston Bruins
2017-18 Panthers: 44-30-8 - 96 points (one point out of a playoff spot)
This is the “best” Panthers team (followed by the 91-point 2014-15 squad) that didn’t make the postseason, and along with the 2014–15 Boston Bruins and 2018–19 Montreal Canadiens, hold the NHL record for the most points by a team to miss the playoffs. Had the Panthers won one more game to get to 98 points, they would have replaced the Columbus Blue Jackets as Wild Card 1. With just one additional point, they would have replaced the New Jersey Devils as Wild Card 2. As WC1, the Cats would have drawn the Washington Capitals in the first round. The Capitals were on the ropes early in its series against Columbus, but rebounded and eventually won the Stanley Cup over Vegas. As WC2, the Panthers would have faced the Tampa Bay Lightning, who cruised to a 4-1 series win over the Devils in reality. Would Aleksander Barkov, Roberto Luongo & Co. fared against either one of those teams than the Blue Jackets or Devils? Or would they continued the tradition of opening round flame outs like the similarly constructed 2015-16 team?
Hypothetical opponent: Washington Capitals or Tampa Bay Lightning
Which of Florida’s "just missed" teams had the best chance of winning a playoff round?
This poll is closed
1993-94 Panthers (83 points)
1994-95 Panthers (46 points)
2008-09 Panthers (93 points)
2017-18 Panthers (96 points)