FGD: Jockeying for Position



Remember when Dale Tallon landed in Florida and started throwing money around like a drunken sailor? Some rather bold expectations were born regarding the Panthers that summer, particularly because the erstwhile Hawks GM had recently built a powerhouse in Chicago (though it took many years and many blunders to get it right).

Florida briefly flirted with competitiveness shortly thereafter, but their charge towards respectability was mostly due to a percentages bubble that eventually burst. Since then, they’ve fallen back down to the league’s basement and there’s a good chance they will try to sell off anything that isn’t nailed down this season (or under 23 years old).

As a result, the Panthers are one of the other clubs battling with the Flames for 2014 draft position. Calgary is currently 27th overall, with just two more points than Florida who also has a game in hand. Both clubs have similar mediocre possession stats and both rosters feature an uneven mix of decent middle-tier NHLers and youngsters still finding their legs in the show. Florida is also one of three other teams who has suffered wort goaltending than the Flames at even strength this year (.879), though if Thomas can stay healthy and regain his form, that may not last. 

Either way you look at it, this is a close one to call tonight. Whether the competition is to win the the game or win the race to the bottom of the league, this one is a coin flip. The real question is "will this be more entertaining than the Blue Jackets game?"

The Lineup

Here’s how things will likely shake out after the exit of Tim Jackman.

  • Cammalleri – Stajan – Stempniak
  • Baertschi – Monahan – Hudler
  • Bouma – Colborne – D. Jones
  • B. Jones – Backlund – McGrattan
  • Russell – Brodie
  • Wideman – Butler
  • O’Brien – Smid
  • Berra

Tj Galiardi was the odd man out during practice yesterday. Of course, It’s possible Hartley will decide to insert him back into the lineup. If so, expect Blair Jones to get the pressbox ticket.

Speaking of Jones, he has had a monster start to the season in Abbotsford. The 6’3", 215 pounder managed 8 goals and 20 points in just 16 games to lead the Heat in scoring. He also fired a team high 54 shots on net, which is good for a 3.4/game average. I always liked Jones as a potential bottom rotation option who could put in quality minutes and maybe slide up the depth chart in a pinch, so it will be interesting to see if he can leverage his hot start to get back into Hartley’s good graces and maybe stick at the NHL level for good.

Reto Berra gets the start again and it’s become clear that Hartley is going to give the 26-year Swiss puckstopper every opportunity to prove himself in the NHL. The rookie’s performance has been uneven so far, alternating between eye-popping, highlight reel saves and sequences where he loses his net and swims around gracelessly on the ice. His overall SV% (.889) and ES SV% (.892) are awful in absolute terms, though it’s true that almost anyone can put up those sorts of stats in a such small sample of games. At some point, though, Berra will have to start stopping pucks at least an average NHL rate to justify Hartley’s love.

The Opposition

Via our friends at Daily Faceoff, here are the Panthers probably lines:

  • Huberdeau – Bjugstad – Fleischmann
  • Upshall – Barkov – Boyes
  • Kopecky – Goc – Winchester
  • Hayes – Matthias – Barch
  • Campbell – Gilbert
  • Gudbranson – Kulikov
  • Motteau – Gilroy
  • Thomas

Florida is yet another club to play in Clagary on the second night of a back-to-back (not that it’s helped Calgary or anything). They lost to the Oilers last night with Tim thomas in net, though there’s a good chance they’ll go back to the former Vezina winnner since he’s been the only goalie worth a damn for them so far this year.

One guy to watch tonight is Aleksandr Barkov, this past summer’s second overall pick and a player I was hoping would fall to the Flames. The big Fin is having a comparable season to Sean Monahan: they both start out more often in the offensive zone, they both have respectable, if unspectacular, possession rates and they are both considered similar kinds of players – big, smart, well-rounded centerman. Monahan has outscored Barkov so far, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they finish within a few points of each other by the end of the season (health permitting).

And, yes, that’s Tom Gilbert, an off-season buy-out who had to practically beg for work, on Florida’s top pairing. On the face of it that seems a grave indictment of the Panther’s roster, but the truth is he has the second best underlying numbers on Florida’s blueline after Brian Campbell. He’s a guy I kinda wish the Flames had taken a chance on, even if the result would be to flip him at the deadline for a second rouder or something. Oh well.

Sum it up

It’s only November, but neither club has much to play for at this point aside from pride and player development. The Flames have the worst record in the league over their last 10 games (2-6-2) and are in free fall since the end of their respectable opening month. If they lose to Florida tonight, the Panthers will leap frog them in the standings and leave Calgary battling with the Sabres (11 points) and Oilers (16 points) for "worst in the league" honors.