Florida has failed to qualify for the playoffs in 15 of their 19 seasons, falling to a record of 15-27-6 last season, resulting in the second overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft (Aleksander Barkov). They come to Dallas tonight, as will every single team in the Eastern Conference thanks to realignment, looking to escape with two points.
We learn a little more about the Stars' opening night foe with help from our SB Nation counterparts at Litter Box Cats. Thanks to Kevin Kraczkowski for answering our questions...
Brad: While the Stars exited the preseason with exactly the lineup expected as far back as July, the Panthers had a rather newsy September. Brad Boyes, Tom Gilbert, Tim Thomas and Krys Barch all enter the fold (or re-enter). What do fans make of all the late activity? Poor planning, injuries, or just necessary adjustments?
Kevin: There was a lot of talk locally about how quiet GM Dale Tallon was on FA day this past summer, especially after the great signing bonanza of 2011. Fans are interpreting this recent slew of unexpected activity as a renewed commitment to make something, ANYTHING happen. Florida's not a huge threat in their new division, at least not yet, but the front office is showing that being dead last is not on the Panther's radar this season. Plus, Scott Gomez!
Brad: Can you give us an idea of what the lines and the defensive pairings may look like tonight?
Kevin: Marcel Goc will center the first line, flanked by Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. This decision reunites 2/3d's of the NHL's top scoring line from the first quarter of 2011-12. The Panthers are hoping for a little of that magic to show itself again.
The second line features the last Calder Trophy winner, in Jonathan Huberdeau, with what could be the next, in Aleksander Barkov. The two are joined by recently signed vet Brad Boyes.
Shawn Matthias will center Tomas Kopecky and Jesse Winchester, and Gomez will anchor the fourth line with often injured Scotty Upshall (with something to prove) and another youngster in Drew Shore.
Defensively, look for power play quarterback Brian Campbell and 21 year old Erik Gudbranson to chew up a ton of minutes. The second pairing of Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver will start a fourth season together, while some permutation of Matt Gilroy, Brad Gilbert, and newly acquired Ryan Whitney flesh out the blue line.
Brad: Is Tim Thomas going to be "the guy" in the Florida net, or do you expect a back and forth competition as the season wears on? Also, as an aside, really....Do you enjoy "Florida retirement" themed humor? I'm asking for a friend.
Kevin: Ha! Who doesn't, amirite? But to the goaltending question:
Thomas didn't really get a lot of NHL experience until he was in his 30's, and won Veniza Trophies at 34 and 37 years of age. He may come out of this "hiatus" with a fresh outlook and even fresher legs. If not, Florida has what they think is a very capable "1A" in gigantic youngster Jacob Markstrom. Barring injuries, I think they'll each start at least 30 games.
Brad: Barkov will be the name many of us are looking for tonight. What can you tell us about his style of game and expected impact this year?
Kevin: Barkov just turned 18, but for the past two years has earned valuable seasoning in the Finnish Elite League with Tappara (Finnish for "battle axe"). Last season, he racked up 48 points in 53 games. He has outstanding technical skills and decent size, along with a hockey sense that belies his age. Although he is not accustomed to the more physical aspects of the North American style of hockey, he should be big and strong enough to adapt, and hopefully excel.
Look to Litter Box Cats for our answers to some of his Dallas Stars questions soon...