Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Rat Pack is Back

No, not that Rat Pack, you silly.

(Was going to go with ... "Year of the Rat?" but that seems too obvious)

With the Pittsburgh Penguins showing the consistency of Robert Downey Jr. in the 90s, the Montreal Canadiens partying like mob stars, the New York Rangers somehow not firing Glen "yeah he got Gretzky but he also gave Bobby Holik $8 million per year" Sather, the Hurricanes mired in mediocrity and the Sabres facing the grim reality of it no longer being (Ryan) Miller time ... the Florida Panthers might just be the safest bet to burst through the East's modest playoff bubble.

But that masks a shocking observation: the Panthers are probably the second hottest team in the Eastern Conference right now.

As Florida tries to generate an encore performance in Boston after Tomas Vokoun's masterful 41-save shutout of the Bruins, it seems to be as good a time as ever to take a peak at these under-the-radar Panthers.


In a post focusing on Jay Bouwmeester's future (or lack thereof) in Florida, Five Hole Fanatics took a look at the Panthers' outstanding goaltending this season:

"The lone factor holding the Panthers in the race is that unsustainable .933
E[ven]S[trength] SV%."
Hopefully after shutting out the East-leading Boston Bruins, Vokoun will begin to develop some Vezina chatter. He's been absolutely outstanding since the start of 2009:

February numbers: 6-3 with a 1.66 GAA, 95.4(!) save percentage and three shutouts

January numbers: 6-2-2 with a 2.16 GAA, 92.4 save percentage (no SOs)

Really, the only off month for Vokoun the vaccum came in where he went 2-6 with a 3.29 GAA and a 90.4 save percentage. His numbers are especially impressive because he really has to earn those shutouts. The shot totals he's faced in his six total shutouts: 41, 42, 36, 27, 23 and 31.

And although Vokoun is the cleary No. 1, Craig Anderson proves to be a high quality backup (when he's not getting caught drooling over ice girls).

Heh heh. Anderson's managed a save percentage just under 93, with a 2.49 GAA and 3 shutouts in 23 games played.

Florida is in a three-way tie for first with the Islanders and Coyotes for the league's most "stolen games" while they only have one "blown game." Those stats might be the simplest - if most atypical - way to explain how much of a difference Florida's goalies make.

Of course, we cannot ignore the 6.5 million-dollar question: what to do with J-Bo?

There was a healthy, interesting debate on what to do with Bouwmeester on Five Hole Fanatics. And I'll admit that it sounded like a no-win situation after hearing that Jay Bouwmeester allegedly turned down a $6.5 million per year offer from the Panthers.

It sounded like the biggest bone of contention for Quoteless Bow was Florida's hapless playoff-less streak and without an impressive playoff run, he would probably be out of there. Up until the trade deadline, that's still the question: keep Bouwmeester for a crucial playoff run and risk losing him in the summer for nothing OR trade him for a potentially lucrative package and risk alienating your fanbase?

That's the kind of question that would cause a lot of GMs to develop a whisky habit.

Jacques Martin didn't give a definitive answer to Kevin Allen of USA Today while The Star's Paul Hunter took a look at the situation through the prism of Tomas Kaberle's trade value. Neither really provided anything new, though.

Martin's right in saying that the Panthers making the playoffs is the top priority, so accepting draft picks and mediocre rental players isn't going to cut it. You hate to say "it depends" but it does. If a team can provide a solid top-6 forward and some other goodies, the Panthers might just have to take it.

But if they go on a tailspin out of the playoffs, it will be yet another nail in Florida's coffin.

On offense

If the playoffs started today, the Panthers' 166 Goals for would only be higher than three other playoff teams: the Rangers (151), the Wild (151) and the Blue Jackets (165).

Stephen Weiss is Florida's leading scorer with 41 points (10 G, 31 A). There aren't many playoff teams whose top scorer has less than 50 points, but to the Panthers' credit they have 10 players who've scored at least 10 goals.

Much like their long-ago Cinderella run under John Vanbiesbrouck, the Panthers will need timely scoring and elite goaltending to go anywhere in the playoffs. Any other the top four teams would be heavy favorites against Florida, as even the somewhat shaky Philadelphia Flyers might just be too potent for the low scoring Panthers.

In its current form, the Panthers are a scrappy little playoff team but not much more. Is a rare playoff run worth letting Bouwmeester leave for nothing? Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Chris Kontos said...

You have to trade Jay Bow. He's not coming back to Florida and you can get picks and prospects for the hype that has been created over him. Some GM will be willing to do it... hello Kevin Lowe.