Are The Florida Panthers Genuine Stanley Cup Contenders?

When the Florida Panthers reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1995-96, the team’s third season in the NHL, nobody would have believed it would be at least 27 years until the Panthers again reached hockey’s biggest game. Reaching the Stanley Cup finals so soon into the team’s history seems to have been something of a jinx, with the Panthers getting nowhere near the finals since. Could the current season be the year Panthers fans get to enjoy th excitement of the Stanley Cup?

Florida Panthers center Sam Reinhart, right, scores the winning goal against San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer (47) during the shootout of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Panthers fans around the world fully believed it was their team’s time to shine last season. The Panthers became only the seventh team in the NHL to open with an 8-0-0 record, which also happened to be a franchise record. By the end of January, the Panthers were 32-9-5, and punters flocked to the sites offering online betting to Florida residents as they were hopeful of their beloved team navigating their way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Panthers Should Have Won the Stanley Cup Last Year

The 2021-22 regular season saw Panther log a 58-18-6 record, meaning they amassed a league-best 122 points. Nobody scored more than the 340 goals of the Panthers, while only 11 other teams beat the 246 goals allowed. It was a superb regular season where the Panthers looked, at times, unbeatable.

Panthers lost three of their final regular season games, and the erratic form followed them into the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Washington Capitals. They lost 4-2 in the opening game and won 5-1 in the second before falling 6-1 in Game 3. The Panthers made hard work of beating the Capitals in the next three games, requiring overtime in two of them, but they progressed 4-2 nonetheless, setting up a local derby against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is an understatement to say the Panthers did not give a good account of themselves against the Lightning. They rarely looked threatening in any of the four Eastern Conference Second Round games and ultimately bowed out of the playoffs 4-0 with their tails between their legs. It was a case of back to the drawing board for the Panthers.

Interim head coach Andrew Brunette was offered a significant position within the Panthers’ organization, but he ultimately left for an assistant position with the New Jersey Devils. In came Paul Maurice with the task of guiding the Panthers to Stanley Cup glory. Many considered Maurice’s appointment as a little left field, not least because he has only reached the Stanley Cup finals once, back in 2001-02.

Lots of Movement In The Panthers’ Roster

The Panthers saw a lot of movement in the off-season, losing the likes of Noel Acciari, Claude Giroux, and Mason Marchment. Still, the departure of Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames caught everyone’s attention. Panthers acquired Matthew Tkachuk, a player with 382 points across nine professional seasons, in addition to a prospect and a first-round pick in the blockbuster deal. Also joining the Panthers roster were Rudolfs Balcers, Nick Cousins, Marc Staal, and Colin White.

Florida Panthers players celebrate a goal by Eetu Luostarinen (27) as New York Islanders Noah Dobson (8) lies on the ice during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Michael Laughlin)

Tkachuk has hit the ice running and looks set to become an integral part of any success the Panthers enjoy. At the time of writing, Tkachuk leads the Panthers in terms of goals (3), assists (5), points (8), and penalty minutes (14). The winger is already repaying some of the $76 million eight-year contract he signed before trading to the Panthers.

Maurice’s Panthers have started the regular season campaign well and currently occupy third place in the Atlantic Division with a 5-3-1 record. They trail only the Buffalo Sabres (6-3-0) and the Boston Bruins (8-1-0). Fans are delighted to see the Panthers one place above the Tampa Bay Lightning (5-4-0)!