MIAMI - It was a short summer for the Panthers, and that's a very welcomed situation.
The off-season was short because the Panthers reached game 5 of the Stanley Cup final. Now, they reconvene for training camp this week, and as always, there are changes, even to a team that made as great of a run as they made. Some by team choice, and some due to salary cap, but no matter who's in the jerseys, the franchise has now reached a new level of expectations.
One that doesn't hope to make the playoffs but expects it. That will be a difficult task in an absolutely loaded eastern conference.
In the Nets
Sergei Bobrovsky got red hot in the second and third rounds of the last season's playoffs, spearheading the Panthers run to the Stanley Cup final. He returns, now 35 years old. Spencer Knight had a well-documented leave during last season and missed the playoff run. He entered the NHL/NHLPA assistance program. And he's now spoken out about why he did so. It was due to what he felt was an uncontrollable obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD. Knight got the help he felt he needed, is back on the ice, and it will be intriguing to see how he plays. Veteran goalie Anthony Stolarz was signed as the Panthers elected to move on from Alex Lyon, who is now with Detroit
Still Banged Up
Following the great post-season run, both Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour had severe injuries. Neither impact defenseman will start the season in a few weeks. The hope is sometime in November and December, both of them return.
The Duke of the West
In part to free up some money, the Panthers moved on from Anthony Duclair. Before his injury, he added great speed to the Panthers' offense and had a great goal scoring season. But with only one year left on his deal, the Panthers elected to get a depth player and a draft pick in a trade with San Jose. The Panthers then basically used the money to sign solid free agent Evan Rodriguez, who they feel can play a top six role on the team.
Both Marc and Eric Stahl contributed to the Panthers keeping the ship on the right track and getting into the playoffs last year. Marc played all 82 regular season games and all 21 playoff games. The Panthers wanted to get a younger on defense, so he moved on as a free agent to Philadelphia. Eric, it would appear, played his last NHL hockey last season for the Cats. In the Duclair trade, the Panthers received Steven Lorentz as a depth forward. They also signed an intriguing player in Kevin Stenlund. Bill Zito knew him well from when they drafted him in Columbus, and the thought is he has the inside track to replace Staal as the fourth-line center. Both new players are 6'4 and over 200 pounds, bringing size to the forward group.
What to Expect
The Panthers will start playing preseason games next week. There are a few spots to be decided, like who will be a wingers next to Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett. Carter Verhaeghe and Matthew Tkachuk are locked into the top six, and Sam Reinhart likely is as well, leaving one more spot, likely to be taken by newcomer Evan Rodriguez or Eetu Luostarinen And who will claim an open third line spot next to center Anton Lundell. Perhaps the most interesting situation is on the blue line. With the injuries on defense, Paul Maurice has some big decisions to make about new defense pairs up and down the lineup. And a lot of eyes will be on goaltender Spencer Knight. Opening night is October 12 in Minnesota.
Hockey, is back.
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