Play-offs, What’s it All About?

(Image property of The Miami Herald; On Frozen Pond, George Richards)

It’s no secret what the ultimate goal is in the NHL. But, what does an organEYEzation need to do in order to win the most illustrious trophy in all of sports? Is it drafting? Scouting? Coaching? Spending the the cap on the game’s best? None of these approaches have proven fool proof. Sure, they’ve helped give some organizations an edge during certain periods of time. The agglomeration of drafting, scouting, coaching and spending money is what separates the wanna-be’s from the champions.

We can look at two teams in recent memory to give us a better idea of what it takes. The Detroit Red Wings are probably the best example of drafting, scouting, and coaching. Stevie Y, Fedorov (and the other Russian 5), Lidstrom, Shanahan, and Scotty Bowman. The collection of these parts led Detroit to be on top of the hockey world 3 out of 6 years in the late 90s and early 2000s. They also had a run of 25 years straight of making it to the Stanley Cup Play-offs. The Florida Panthers would be elated to qualify for the play-offs in consecutive years for the first time in over 20 years. Another sure fire example of this is the Chicago Blackhawks. Drafting Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, combined with Joel Quenneville led the Blackhawks to also win 3 cups in a span of 6 years.

Now let’s be honest, every coach or player named above are Hall of Famers or worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. Great players and coaches rise to the occasion. They are able to exhibit greatness when it matters the most. This is what separates a champion from the rest.

So why do I bring this all up? Well I have a few questions for you, the reader.

Do the Florida Panthers have well documented drafting? What about their scouting? How has their coaching looked? Does ownership give the green light to spend green? I’ll give you a few minutes to ponder those questions.

Hopefully you didn’t need that much time. The fact of the matter is, the organEYEzation have been behind the 8-ball in regards to drafting and scouting. Most recently, they tried their hand at analytics and decided to go all in and design a team that reflects that idea. It fell apart in 1 season. While drafting has gotten better over the last decade (considering the amount of players that have suited up for the Panthers as opposed to previous years), most of the players selected either never made it to the show or are no longer with the organization. Hall of Famers? Not even close. To me, that tells me that the scouting department doesn’t know what to look for in an NHL player nor have an idea of what they want their identity to be. With that kind of turnover, you can say that Florida never really has had a chance to compete. With different philosophies every few years, it’s hard to set a standard of winning. It’s tough to have stability, and for us fans, it’s tough to have patience.

On the coaching side, we’ve had a few bright spots. We’ve had the likes of Peter DeBoer, Gerard Gallant, and now Joel Quenneville. Only one of those coaches has led Florida to a post season. To credit the coaches, DeBoer took his recent stops after Florida in New Jersey and San Jose to the cup final. Gerard Gallant took Vegas to the Stanley Cup finals their inaugural season and back to the play-offs the season after. As far as Coach Q, well we all know his qualifications. So maybe coaching isn’t the missing piece.

Ownership. Now Florida has been through a lot in it’s tenure in the NHL. They’ve had owners who didn’t want to spend a dime on surrounding stars with reinforcements, pay contract extensions, or sign-off on franchise altering trades. One thing about the current ownership group is that they have proven they will spend. They will pay top dollar for talent who will be willing to come here. The latest off-season is a testament to that. They’ve spent a ton of money since they’ve taken over and to be honest, it’s refreshing to see the organEYEzation in the news about acquiring talent. However, I have a question for them. Where or what resources are allocated for the scouting department? We have drafted some bright players in the last few years, and it’s looking like they may or may not have a future in Sunrise. How are we going to compete if we do not have young talent in the pipe-line to help offset the money that is spent in the off-season?

Back to the play-offs, if we’re looking for trends, let’s take a look at the last decade of winners and where they finished in the standings:

09-10 - Chicago Blackhawks - 1st Central, Washington Capitals - President’s Trophy

10-11 - Boston Bruins - 1st North East, Vancouver - President’s Trophy

11-12 - Los Angeles Kings - 2nd Pacific, Chicago - President’s Trophy

12-13 - Chicago Blackhawks - 3rd Central, Boston - President’s Trophy

13-14 - Los Angeles Kings - 3rd Pacific, Boston - President’s Trophy

14-15 - Chicago Blackhawks - 3rd Central, New York Rangers - President’s Trophy

15-16 - Pittsburgh Penguins - 2nd Metro, Washington - President’s Trophy

16-17 - Pittsburgh Penguins - 2nd Metro, Washington - President’s Trophy

17-18 Washington Capitals - 1st Metro, Nashville - President’s Trophy

18-19 St. Louis Blues - 3rd Central, Tampa Bay - President’s Trophy

1st - Do not win the President’s trophy, ever. It’s great for a banner and a great regular season but more often than not, you’ve already played your best hockey. See Tampa Bay 2018-2019.

2nd - More often than not, you’re not even the top team in your division or conference. Again, regular season doesn’t mean a thing once round 1, game 1 starts.

3rd - All of these teams have Hall of Fame or close to Hall of Fame talent. Most of that talent was drafted.

4th and final trend - All of the teams above turned up their play as the calendar year changed. Over the decade, the teams averaged just over 26 wins in the remaining 3+ months of play. In other words, they got hot at the right time. Especially the Blackhawks in the shortened 2012-2013 season (they went 36-7-5).

What does this say about the 2019-2020 Florida Panthers? At the turn of the calendar, the team had 43 games remaining. They’ve played 6 of those, winning 4 of 6. Currently the team sits at 53 points on January 16th.  If I were to place a bet on if they were going to make the play-offs and win the cup, the team needs to win 22 more games. That will be good enough for 97 points and possibly 3rd in the Atlantic division. 3 of the 4 trends will have been met. The biggest question comes into focus.

During this time, will the team rise and become what  we’ve dreamed of?? Will Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Ekblad and Bobrovsky raise their game to another level and get their names along-side the greats of this game?

I’m thinking that the franchise has turned a corner and that yes, The Florida Panthers will win 26 games in the 2nd half of the 2019-2020 season. It’s been a long time coming and we have all the pieces in place.

Thanks for reading this article! You can follow along with Panther Parkway @pantherparkway on Twitter! You can also follow our writers: @FrankRekas, @Josh_LOPanthers, @JacobWinans8, @prudentia0, @Mister_Joester! Make sure to follow and listen to our podcast @LOPanthersPod All images unless otherwise noted are courtesy of @KimSmithImages