By: Omar Virani
Who would have thought that a team who has drafted 3rd overall in the NHL Entry Draft for the past two years would be leading their division three months into the season? Who would have thought that this Cinderella team would boast one of the leagues most productive lines, two-thirds of the line being off-season acquisitions? The Florida Panthers are proving all of the critics wrong, and they are the most surprising NHL team so far this season.
With a superb record of 19-11-7, the Florida Panthers have 45 points, good enough for 1st in the Southeast Division, and 9th overall in the entire league. The Panthers are ahead of powerhouses Washington and San Jose, and only have one less point than the Vancouver Canucks, last years Presidents Trophy Winners.
A large part of their success is due to their General Manager Dale Tallon, who orchestrated a major off-season overhaul. Out were David Booth, Rositslav Olesz, Steve Bernier, Steve Reineprect, Alexander Sulzer, Darcy Hordichuk, Mike Duco and probably the teams biggest loss, goaltender Tomas Vokoun. In were Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Ed Jovanovski, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann, Marco Sturm, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Jose Theodore, and Matt Bradley.
Stephen Weiss flanks newcomers Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleishmann on his wings on the Panthers top line. Versteeg, Fleishmann and Weiss are ranked 9th, 26th and 28th in league scoring; all are ahead of superstars Alexander Ovechkin, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Zack Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. The backend is being led by Brian Campbell, who is 2nd in defenseman scoring, Dimitry Kulikov who is a power play specialist and Jason Garrisson who already has 11, that’s right 11 goals through 37 games.
If the Panthers continue this pace for the rest of the season, they are set to have a total of 98 points, and they are poised to make their first playoff appearance in 10 years, which is the longest post-season drought in NHL history.
Who knows if the Panthers will be able to keep leading their division for long? The Panthers are going to have to watch out if Alex Ovechkin heats up, because if he does the Capitals are bound to go on a tear. Steven Stamkos is in full flight, and the Bolts were one win, make it one goal away from a trip to the big dance last year as they lost to the Bruins in Game 7 of the 3rd round, so you cant count them out either. The Panthers are for real, and they deserve credit from the entire league.