The NHL has greenlit a new divisional alignment for the upcoming 2021 season, putting the Columbus Blue Jackets in a Central Division with some new - and old - friends. In this series, we'll familiarize (or in some cases, refamiliarize) ourselves with the Central Division foes. Today, we're taking a look at the Florida Panthers.
- All-Time Regular Season Record vs. FLA: 33 GP, 23-10-0 (W-L-OTL)
- All-Time Playoff Record vs. FLA: The Blue Jackets and the Panthers have not met in the postseason.
- Last Season vs. FLA: 2-1-0
Last Season Skinny
The 2019-20 NHL season was very up-and-down for the Panthers. Old friend Sergei Bobrovsky was their marquee free-agent signing, but he struggled mightily, posting a 23-19-6 record with a 3.23 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. The Panthers were led offensively by Jonathan Huberdeau (23-55-78), Aleksander Barkov (20-42-62), Mike Hoffman (29-30-59), and Evgenii Dadonov (25-22-47).
They finished with a 35-26-8 mark in their first season under head coach Joel Quenneville, which was enough for them to make the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. In the qualifying round, they were bested by the New York Islanders in four games.
The Panthers lost a lot of scoring this offseason, and they'll need to replace it by committee.
- LW Anthony Duclair (Free agent, formerly with OTT)
- RW Patric Hornqvist (Trade with PIT)
- RW Vinnie Hinostroza (Free agent, formerly with ARI)
- C Alexander Wennberg (Free agent, formerly with CBJ)
- C Carter Verhaeghe (Free agent, formerly with TBL)
- D Markus Nutivaara (Trade with CBJ)
- D Radko Gudas (Free agent, formerly with PHI)
- RW Evgenii Dadonov (Signed with OTT)
- RW Colton Sceviour (Trade with PIT)
- RW Mike Hoffman (Free agent, unlikely to return)
- RW Mark Pysyk (Signed with DAL)
- C Erik Haula (Free agent, unlikely to return)
- D Mike Matheson (Trade with PIT)
The two former Blue Jackets, Wennberg and Nutivaara, should fit in well. They were due for a change of scenery and they'll get their shot under an experienced coach. Hornqvist and Duclair will provide offensive value, but will it be enough to offset the losses of Hoffman, Dadonov, and Haula?
Florida will likely have a tough go of it. Hoffman and Dadonov are huge losses, especially on the power play. Last season, they struggled defensively and got subpar goaltending, but were bailed out by their offense most of the time. They likely won't be able to replicate that same strategy. Multiple forwards will have to step up and carry the load.
The Panthers will be hoping that Bobrovsky can return to his old form, but that will be hard to do if he doesn't have a solid group of defensemen in front of him. Aaron Ekblad and Mackenzie Weegar form a good top pair, while Nutivaara and Gudas can provide depth, but they need to find a way to produce consistent play from the blue line.
They're a better team than the Blackhawks and the Red Wings, but it would be a stretch to put them above anyone else the Central Division. Florida could challenge for a wild card spot, but it feels like Bobrovsky would have to resort to his Vezina Trophy-winning form for them to do so.