By all measurements, this season was a success for Florida.
At the beginning of the year, I predicted the Panthers would finish 8th in the East with 92 points. Winning the division and coming inches away from moving on to round 2 surpasses that. A successful team this year was supposed to fight FOR a playoff birth, not to win a division.
It speaks to the ability of GM of the Year nominee Dale Tallon, who was the architect of this rebuild, to turn a team of fresh faces thrown together in the summer into a real player in the East.
Today, the Panthers had locker room clean out. All the players speak to the media for the last time and grab a set of their equipment and a few twigs for summer conditioning.
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With the cleaning out of equipment and the close of this year's season for the Panthers, it means one thing: the future is here in Sunrise.
For the first time, the franchise's promise of "a better tomorrow" is going to happen. This offseason is not about rebuilding or having to clear house again. It is about finding a few pieces to make the team better and which young guys will make the squad. It is about taking that final step to become a playoff threat.
This off-season, much like last year's, is paramount. This is the beginning of the final stage. The 2011-2012 team showed us what exactly Tallon needs to do in the offseason.
There were one main issue for why the Panthers didn't win as many games and didn't get to the second round. That is roster depth. Granted, the Panthers had a lot of capable bodies, but the extra layer of scoring was not there. They relied too much on a few guys to carry the load. Priority one this offseason will be to try to bring in more scoring depth.
What is really needed, but may not happen this offseason, is for the Panthers to get an elite player.
While Stephen Weiss is a gamer, and showed so in the playoffs this year, he is not talented enough to carry the team in the post season. Most teams that make it far into the playoffs have an elite player, the Panthers do not. Since elite players just don't fall off trees, the chances of the Panthers snagging one in the offseason are slim. They may have to wait until Huberdeau can become that player.