Opposition Site – Litter Box Cats
The team Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester once led to many a non-playoff appearance is in town this evening. This year represents yet another reboot season for a franchise that has continually failed to get over the hump despite numerous high draft picks and regarded hockey men making their way through town.
This time, it’s erstwhile Chicago GM Dale Tallon giving it the ol’ college try. No doubt the hope is Tallon can revive the club in a similar manner to the Blackhawks, although one should keep in mind that Tallon was not only the architect who drafted Toews, Kane, Bolland, Keith, Seabrook, etc, but also the man who doled out ridiculous salaries to Campbell and Huet. He also failed to mail out RFA offers to Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg which resulted in the two becoming free agents and garnering much fatter salaries. In many ways, Tallon is simultaneously responsible for the ‘Hawks Stanely Cup championship as well as the egregious tear down that occured immediately afterward.
His work this past off-season for the Panthers was mostly commendable, given the goal wasn’t to win but to rebuild. He garnered a ton of future assets at the entry draft, dealing Keith Ballard for a package including the Canucks first rounder and then doing the same with Nathan Horton and Boston Bruins. His work in free agency was a lot more sedate, however, featuring mostly lost cost, low risk, low reward signings like the one year, $1.6M deal given to Chris Higgins. The Panthers were also looking for a way to dump the burdensome contract of Rostislav Olesz ($3.125M per year for next 5 years), but like everyone else trying to dump bad contracts this summer, found it difficult. He remains on the roster and will likely be injured any day now.
As such, the Panthers remain in their perpetual rebuild so their roster is rather unimpressive. There’s some quality up front in Stephen Weiss and David Booth (assuming the latter is fully recovered from his various concussions from last year), but things drop off pretty rapidly after that. Cory Stillman and Steven Reinprecht are certainly NHLers, but not guys upon which an organization can hang great expectations. Mikael Frolik continues to find his feet at the NHL level and may well develop into a heavy hitter. He has back-to-back 20 goal seasons and there’s little doubt the franchise is looking for him to take a big step sooner rather than later. The rest of the front-end is third liners of various stripes: Radek Dvorak (yup, he’s still in the league), Steve Bernier, Marty Reasoner, the aforementioned Chris Higgins. There’s enough actual players here that you have to take the Panthers seriously, but not enough high-end talent that you have to actually fear them. On the blueline, the current ES ice time leaders are Dennis Wideman and sophomore Dmitry Kulikov. So…yeah, the back-end isn’t all that impressive. As always, Tomas Vokoun is the pillar of strength in net and will likely be a top 5 goaltender in the league again, not that anyone will notice.
The Panthers are 0-2 to start the year, scoring just three goals thus far. They gave both EDM and VAN a run for their money and the speed quotient in each game was high, but it wasn’t enough to deliver a victory in either contest for FLA.
A fully stocked and healthy Flames club would be expected to defeat the Panthers on most nights. However, the team as currently constructed under the weight of various injuries may in fact struggle against the Panthers so there’s no expectation of an easy ‘W’ this evening. Watch for Iginla to be matched against Weiss’ line and for that to be the primary conflict.