Facing Off: Can the Florida Panthers make the postseason in 2011-12?

Welcome to Facing Off, our new weekly editorial in which two LBC staffers go head-to-head and voice their opinions on all things Panthers. We invite the community to give us their take as well, so once you've finished reading, feel free to post your comments. Please remember that we are simply voicing our opinions and asking our readers to do the same; therefore, keep the commenting civil and avoid any flame wars. Executing debate module...

This week's topic: Can the Florida Panthers make the playoffs this season?

Our featured authors: Alex & Ryan

Here we sit, on the precipice of another NHL season, one in which the Panthers' faithful fans are abuzz in anticipation after an off-season of upheaval, change and hope. It's been a wild summer, and most fans can't wait to get the season going and see how the revamped roster gels and bonds throughout the opening of the year. Perhaps the biggest question in the back of everyone's mind, though, is: Can the Panthers make the playoffs this season?

Ryan Says:

I may be going against the popular opinion, but yes, the Panthers will make the playoffs this year. Crazy to think, isn't it? However, let's take a closer look at the team and I'll share with you why I think this is a postseason squad capable of making some noise in the East.

Over the last several seasons, the Cats have lacked offense... and when I say lacked, I mean they are almost always in the cellar in terms of offensive production. We've all seen the 5-on-5 play, we've seen the horrendous man advantage, and countless other situations, and it's obvious that this team has struggled to score goals in almost any scenario. Why, you ask? Well, for one, this team lacked finishers, but let's not forget how the last two coaches (Jacques Martin and Peter DeBoer) both had systems that didn't really fit the personnel in the organization. Martin prefers a defensively solid game, and DeBoer prefers a high-energy forechecking game. Neither of these two styles really fit the Panthers players during their tenures, and to no fault of their own: An organization with as much turnover as the Panthers tends to mean that the new GM or coach won't have the tools they need to fit their style right off the bat. Hence several seasons of mediocrity before things turn a corner, and since no one stays around long enough to turn said corner.... well, you can see where I'm going with this.

What's changed? Quite a bit, and although GM Dale Tallon and assistant GM Mike Santos didn't bring in a 40-goal scorer, they did bring in a boatload of scoring depth. Last season's Panther lineup "boasted" three 20-goal scorers, and only two other players that cracked double digits in goal scoring. This year's roster? Eight players with at least 10 or more goals, and some (Shawn Matthias, Marcel Goc) that would have hit that mark had injuries not cut their season short. Panther mainstays like Stephen Weiss and David Booth now can focus on being playmakers as well as scorers, as they now have far more depth around them in terms of putting the puck in the net. It's reasonable to think the Panthers, who only scored 195 goals last season, should be able to add 25-30 more tallies next season and become a very competent offensive squad.

I don't have much to say about the defensive aspect of the team, as they were ranked around the middle of the pack defensively last season, and drastically improved on the blueline by acquiring Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski, and possibly keeping stud rookie Erik Gudbranson with the big club this year. This team is only going to get better this year defensively, especially once the players have had time to mesh and find solid defensive pairings. That being said, defensive performance also relies on solid...

I'm probably going to get plenty of feedback on this (read: rotten veggies thrown my way), but I'm going to say it anyway: Jose Theodore is going to be one of the top six goalies in the Eastern Conference this season, barring injury. He's got a very solid defensive lineup in front of him, a head coach that is preaching and teaching a puck possession system (meaning, in theory, the shot total against should be down from the astronomical levels of seasons before), and he's out to prove he's still a viable starter in the NHL. I can hear the collective groans from all who disagree, but let's give Theo a chance. We all know he's not Tomas Vokoun, but with a better lineup in front of him and more scoring support, he's going to have a chance to surpass Vokoun's win total from last season and help the Cats stay competitive night in and night out.

So there you have it. I didn't even mention new head coach Kevin Dineen, who I think will be mentioned for the Jack Adams award at least once in the next three years. For every question asked about the Panthers this season, there are just as many positive answers to reply with. This is no doubt a team on the rise, and they will rise quicker than most folks think.

Alright Alex, put down the cabbage you were going to throw at me for that Theodore comment. It's your turn.

Alex Says:

Good thing everyone threw their cabbage at you, and forgot all about me. Sorry folks; while this year's Panthers will be the best team since 2008-09, that doesn't mean this team is going to be as good as 2008-09.

The Southeast

The Panthers have finished last in the Southeast for two consecutive seasons, and this season might be no different. Well, except for the Panthers finishing in the bottom of the conference. On paper, the Panthers are projected to be fighting with the Winnipeg Jets for fourth place in the division. The resurrected Jets are young and have upside, and look better on paper than the Panthers. Of course the game isn't played on paper, but even if the Panthers play better than the Jets, they’re still not better than the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the four time division champions, Washington Capitals. The Panthers got better; however, so did the division.

Backup goaltending

Say what you want about Tomas Vokoun; the man is an elite goaltender. Since coming to Florida in 2007-08, Vokoun has been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Replacing him will be Jose Theodore who, like Vokoun, is underrated. While I do like Theodore (I ordered a Theodore red jersey) he's no Vokoun, however a platoon of Theodore and Scott Clemmensen might be just as good. But Vokoun wasn’t the only solid goalie on the roster. Whether it’s Craig Anderson or Clemmensen, for as long as Vokoun has been in Florida, the Panthers had always had a solid backup behind him. Unless Theodore can play like his days in Montreal, the Panthers goaltending will be its weakest since 2006-07.

Defensive depth

Yeah, you read that right. Yes, Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski were good moves and Erik Gudbranson has huge upside. But Jovanovski is on the wrong side of 30 and played 50 games last season, Gudbranson is 19 and used to pushing around kids younger than him (not to mention how rookie defensemen usually don't play that well in their first season), Ellerby has a one way deal and if he starts the year in the AHL, will the team risk another possible Michael Grabner? Can Mike Weaver keep up the defense at 34 years of age? Let's not forget about the depth in San Antonio. Nolan Yonkman has played only 66 NHL games, averaging nine minutes over his short career, and hasn't done much with his ice time. Colby Robak and Keith Seabrook haven't played a single NHL game, and Tyson Strachan hasn't been able to improve since his impressive 30 game 2008-09 season. Is it improved? Yes, but there’s too many question marks for me to list it as a strength for Florida.

Like I said before, I see this team as a number ten seed in the East. Which isn’t bad considering that last few years.

Your Take: NHL Playoffs for the Cats, yes or no...