2013-14 Season Preview : Florida Panthers

USA TODAY Sports

It's time to take a look at what our old friend Dale Tallon is up to down in the Sunshine State.

It only took one year for the Florida Panthers to go from Southeast Division champs in 2012 to the worst team in the NHL in 2013. So which year was the fluke?  I guess only time will tell which version of the Panthers is going to show up this year.  Despite coming off a horrible season Panther fans do have some reasons to be excited.  They do have 2013 Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau leading a group of young, up and coming talent that could lead Florida back into hockey relevancy in the next year or two.  They signed veteran Scott Gomez during the offseason and have invited Stanley Cup winning goaltender Tim Thomas to camp for a tryout. Looks like they are also going to extend tryout offers to veterans Brad Boyes and Tom Gilbert.

Today we bring in Donny Rivette from Litter Box Cats to give us his insight on the 2013-14 Florida Panthers.

Last year had to be a major disappointment coming off a division title. What improvements have the Panthers made to increase their chances of returning to the playoffs?

Disappointment? Of course. Expected? Yep, but not to the degree that the team sank to 15th in the league a lockout-shortened season later. That first-round playoff appearance in 2012 - which ended at home in double-overtime of game seven against eventual conference champion New Jersey - was mammoth, and displayed to the local community that this club is intent on getting their attention in a serious fashion, whether the rest of the Southeast showed up or not. One can blame the fall on a remarkable run of injuries, and I do for the most part, but whatever the case, Florida is a better club today. Almost certainly not playoffs-better, especially in a division with Detroit and Boston, but opportunities exist aplenty for the slew of maturing prospects widely considered as tops in the NHL.

How do you rate Kevin Dineen's job as head coach after two seasons behind the bench?

I'm rather jaded regarding Dino, having been a Whalers nut since their WHA days, so keep that in mind...but I have no reason to doubt Tallon's faith in his first hand-picked bench boss since taking Florida's GM spot in 2010. Dineen was widely regarded as one of the best coaches not in the National League to that point; give the dude a roster with some beef (and money) and he may yet win widespread acclaim for years to come. Or not. In any case, the rag-tag collection of FAs didn't perform the miracle (for this franchise) of securing a Division Championship in '12 without the efforts of Dino and assistants Craig Ramsay (offense) and Gord Murphy (defense). To be honest, the Caps helped a bit here, but still... My take? Dineen is Tallon's guy regardless of what ownership decides to spend. That fiscal restriction may hurt Dino in the short term, but he'll land on two feet.

How much pressure is on Dale Tallon to repeat his success he had here in Chicago? Is his job in any real jeopardy if the results do not improve this year?

Easy answer: no. Tallon has very reasonably preached a five-year plan for success (whatever that means) from Day One, and he'll deservedly get it. With two seasons remaining on that schedule, there is a bundle of talent - most of which he found - expected to burst into the mainstream discussion. Erik Gudbranson and Jonathan Huberdeau were easy picks. Nick Bjugstad and Mike Mattheson - at their particular points of development - and a slew of others? Inspired. Much of the credit rightfully goes to longtime director of scouting Scott Luce, but ultimately it's DT who pulls the trigger.

Is Jacob Markstrom finally ready to be a #1 NHL goaltender? (editors note : this question was answered before the Tim Thomas tryout was announced.)

I sure freaking hope so. Does he have the talent? No question, as has been proven time and again on the international stage. His demeanor is absolutely that of a guy you'd want to have a beer with, before suddenly realizing he's of the All World variety in net (to this point). Two separate knee surgeries early in his North American career didn't help matters but when he's on his game - now - it's lights-out for the competition. Make no mistake: he's serious and driven and wants to win. He remained relatively healthy in 2013 but it is debatable whether currently injured 36 year-old backup Scott Clemmensen can contribute to Marky's development in a clearly redefined league.

Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau had to have off season hip surgery. Does this make you worry about the dreaded "sophomore slump?"

Nope. Huby will be fine whenever he returns; currently being held out of camp for the most part but expect an opening night appearance in the lineup. And a resounding "negative" to the Sophomore Slump idea. I personally believe he's a talent above that, but I also liked Attack Of The Clones initially, so ya know, grain of salt.

The Panthers have some bright young stars looking to crack the lineup this year like Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck and maybe even Aleksander Barkov. Can we expect back to back Calder Trophies for the Panthers?

An intriguing question. Barkov may be the best pure forward talent on the camp roster aside from Huberdeau, so the chance exists. He's pretty young though, having just turned 18 this month, and such an achievement is never an easy lot for anyone outside of a select few to follow up on the same club. Nick Bjugstad has a bit more experience, and with both being simply electric forwards, I'd give the nod to Bjugstad based upon familiarity of the North American game (though by no means a veteran of it), barring a setback in what is being referred to a "concussion-like symptoms" for the moment. So I'm going with Bjugstad, meaning Barkov will win.

Finally, can you send us back Brian Campbell but pay all of salary? Asking for a friend...

You may tell your "friend" anything is negotiable but it will take something more than the ghost of Rusty Olesz to change any minds here (perhaps Coach Q as defensive guru behind former longtime teammate Kevin Dineen in Hartford?). Just a thought.

Thanks again to Donny for taking the time out to help us.  The Blackhawks will take their talents to South Beach on October 22nd.  You can see our old buddies Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky at the United Center on December 8th.

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