By Bryan Garfield
The Florida Panthers come into the 2021-2022 season with arguably their best team ever. Will they finally get over the hump?
The franchise has not won a playoff series since 1996, when they lost in the finals to the Colorado Avalanche, and are mired in the longest playoff series victory drought in the NHL.
But there have been good signs as of late. Last season, the Panthers shocked the world by having their best regular season ever with a record of 37 wins and 14 losses.
Unfortunately, they drew the defending Stanley Cup champions in the playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Panthers gave the Lightning all they could handle though before being eliminated by Tampa Bay in game 6.
The Lightning went on to win their second championship in two years.
Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic gives a lot of credit to the Panthers new front office saying, “After years of front-office shenanigans undermining the on-ice product, stability at the top and some shrewd, savvy offseason decisions paved the way for Florida’s best-ever regular season.”
General Manager Bill Zito came in and immediately made an impact on the team. He found diamonds in the rough with players like Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair and Gustav Forsling, who all provided massive value to the Panthers last season.
“During his first season so far in Florida, Zito has made fantastic moves that have changed the culture of the Florida Panthers franchise and finally got them to winning potential” said Joey Ganzi of The Hockey Writers in his article, “Panthers’ Bill Zito Should Be a Shoe-In for GM of the Year.”
This off-season, the Panthers re-signed players and made two major additions. Twenty-year-old goaltender Spencer Knight will likely be the Panthers opening night starter after taking the job from former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in last year’s playoffs.
Knight, a first round draft pick in 2019, is one of the most highly touted goaltending prospects in the league.
Also joining the Panthers is forward Sam Reinhart, who Florida acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.
“There are expectations now in Florida,” according to NBC’s Sean Leahy. “Ownership has spent the money and it’s time to deliver.”