What Went Wrong is our annual series where we look at the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the weeks, we have gone through them team-by-team to discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
You can check out our previous editions on the Ottawa Senators, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.
The Florida Panthers missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons after posting a 36-32-14 record for a 19th-place finish in the league’s overall standings. Florida has failed to qualify for the postseason in three straight years and the team has been plagued by bad starts for the past two campaigns. Florida missed the playoffs by just one point in 2017-18 following a late-season surge, but they didn’t come nearly as close last year. The Panthers were 12 points behind Columbus for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Florida had a 2-5-3 start to the 2018-19 campaign. They had a five-game winning streak afterward by were sitting with a mark of 17-20-8 two months later on Jan. 15. That proved to be too difficult of a hole to dig themselves out of this time around and it cost coach Bob Boughner his job a day after the regular season ended. The team felt that expectations for the squad were not being lived up to and a change behind the bench was necessary. Florida named Joel Quenneville as the new head coach shortly later. He has captured three Stanley Cups and his 890 regular-season wins are the second most in NHL history.
That won’t be the only change the Panthers make this off-season after the team allowed the fourth-most goals in the league (273) and finished 28th overall in goals against per game (3.33). The defense corps had issues in their own end and the team led the league in giveaways with 1,234.
Goaltending was a problem. Roberto Luongo, who recently announced his retirement, had a difficult season. The 40-year-old netminder suffered a Grade 1 MCL strain in his right knee in the team’s season opener, which sidelined him until Nov. 1. Luongo was limited to 43 appearances in 2018-19. He finished with a 3.12 goals-against average and .899 save percentage, which were uncharacteristic numbers for him. James Reimer, who still has another two years remaining on his contract, wasn’t able to step up in Luongo’s absence. He registered a 3.09 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 36 games played. The Panthers turned to Sam Montembeault for help in the crease and he started his NHL career with a mark of 4-0-1, but his hot play didn’t last when he went 0-3-0 with a 4.53 goals-against average and .856 save percentage in his next five outings. Florida has placed a high priority on addressing the crease this off-season and they have been heavily linked to free-agent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who would be a great addition.
Another issue that Florida faced in 2018-19 was holding onto leads. The club had the worst win percentage after a first-period lead (.483) and the second-worst win percentage when leading after two periods (.735). The Panthers also had the most losses when leading after two periods (six). Florida needs to be much better at sealing the deal next season and they need to stop giving so many points away.
There is plenty of optimism going into 2019-20 with Joel Quenneville leading a talented group of scorers. Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov and Keith Yandle are coming off career years offensively. The club’s defense corps may need some changes, but there is hope for improvement from them and for the team as a whole next season. Stronger play between the pipes, getting off to a strong start and some bounce-back performances from players like Vincent Trocheck should get them back in the Wild Card hunt. Still, it will be a tough task to rise in what will be a highly-competitive Atlantic Division.
Vincent Trocheck - Trocheck went through a frustrating season in 2018-19. He missed 27 games due to a fractured right ankle and struggled to produce on a consistent basis once he was able to return, especially in the goal department. Trocheck concluded the year with 10 goals and 34 points in 55 appearances. He was excellent in 2017-18 with 31 goals and 75 points in 82 contests after he had 23 markers and 54 points over 82 matches the previous campaign. Trocheck should be able to bounce back next season. If he stays healthy then Florida’s offense will be bolstered by his scoring from the second line.
Owen Tippett - Tippett suited up in seven games with Florida in 2017-18 and he scored one goal. The 10th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft was returned to the OHL that season. He accounted for 33 goals and 74 points in 54 games for Mississauga and Saginaw last campaign. The 20-year-old winger also had 11 goals and 22 points in 17 playoff matches for the Spirit. Additionally, Tippett added four points in five contests with Canada at the 2019 World Junior Championship. He will turn pro next season and will be looking to claim a roster spot with the Panthers out of training camp. Tippett could earn a spot as a top-nine forward on the team and he can contribute offensively with his dangerous shot.
Henrik Borgstrom - Borgstrom will be looking to make some progress in 2019-20 after he chipped in eight goals and 10 assists in 50 games with the Panthers last year. The soon-to-be 22-year-old center could be ticketed for the third line next campaign, but he remains a key prospect for the Panthers moving forward. Borgstrom notched 22 points in 24 games at the AHL level last season. He should be able to take positive strides forward next campaign.
Mike Matheson - Matheson had a personal worst minus-24 rating last season and he led the league with 135 giveaways, which are numbers not befitting of a player who skates on a team’s shutdown pairing. He also posted 27 points for a second straight year, so he didn’t improve much offensively even though he accomplished last season’s total in fewer games. Matheson showed promise in 2017-18 and he will look to get back on track in 2019-20.