The Florida Panthers drop the puck Friday Oct. 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning to open the 2017-18 season. Florida will play in a home-and-home with the Lightning as the Panthers return to Sunrise Saturday for their home opener.
Last season was an up-and-down campaign for the Cats as they finished the year 35-36-11. The real story however was off the ice as General Manager Tom Rowe fired Head Coach Gerard Gallant mid-season and replaced him on the bench.
Gallant’s firing came as a surprise to a lot of people as he led the team to the playoffs the previous year. Things were not much better after Rowe took over and the team was well out of playoff contention at season’s end. The off-season brought a lot of changes, most notably in the front office with Dale Tallon returning to his General Manager role and the hiring of new Head Coach Bob Boughner.
Florida lost a great deal of their offensive production from last year as leading goal scorer Johnathan Marchessault was taken by Las Vegas in the expansion draft. The team also parted ways with Reilly Smith via trade with Vegas, and Jaromir Jagr was not resigned and joins Calgary for his 24th season.
With a good young core including Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Evgeni Davidov the Panthers have a lot of talent and speed on their top line. Vincent Trocheck leads a solid second line and defenseman Aaron Ekblad is already one of the best blueliners in the NHL. However the defense behind Ekblad is very inexperienced and may have some rough times ahead until they learn the ropes on this level.
At age 38 goalie Roberto Luongo started to show some wear and tear as he struggled with hip injuries last year. Backup goalie James Reimer was pretty solid in his appearances and may be asked to take on even more of a workload as the season goes on.