Panthers forwards: is this it?

A quick peek at the NHL Stats Page is all a Cats fan requires to sink into a further funk, even on the heels of a well-executed game in Pittsburgh Saturday night. Of course, the result was all too familiar...

Individually, some Panthers are finally producing what's been expected of them for some time: as has been widely reported, forwards Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton - whipping boys of the highest order in Sunrise - have 20 and 19 points in the same number of games played, respectively. Who among the faithful are anything less than giddy over what these two have done to reverse their sagging fortunes? There are a lot of beaming Fantasy Hockey owners who gambled in their drafts...and won big.

Beyond those two, the year has been an offensive washout: Michael Frolik's two goals on Friday (his first since November 30th) give him nine on the season. Much-heralded "second-line center" (the organization's words) Steven Reinprecht has scored once in twelve games. Radek Dvorak (who has indeed wratcheted up the intensity this season) hasn't seen the back of a net in nine.

Who else among the forwards have any true offensive expectations on the shoulders? Rostislav Olesz and his 14 points? Teased year after year, we know better. Gregory Campbell or Kamil Kreps, who are a combined -13? "Suitcase" Shawn Matthias? Or perhaps faceoff whizz Dominic Moore, who - by no fault of his own - has an unfortunate habit of getting hurt. A lot.

"But Whale! But Whale! What of David Booth and Cory Stillman? Where would the Cats be with them in the lineup?"

Undoubtedly leading the Eastern Conference in every major category.

What's it matter? They're not here now and probably won't be for some time. Based upon the little we've heard through the Panthers grapevine, it's entirely conceivable Booth won't return at all this season. Concussions tend to be nasty and unpredictable, and this one - his first - is no different. At least we know whom to hate when the postseason fires up.

Stillman is shooting for a late-December rollout, but realistically let's guess mid-January. I love and miss Stiller's hustle, leadership, and contributions as much as the next fan, but if you're hanging Florida's playoff fortunes on the return of a winger who celebrates his 36th birthday in a week, I've got some ProSet hockey cards from 1992 up for sale that are due to explode in value soon. Soon.

What to do, what to do?