In a 31-team NHL, the Florida Panthers entered this weekend ranked 22nd in farm system, 27th in power rankings (by Hockey News), 28th in the overall standings and 29th in attendance.
That’s not a pretty picture, but here’s a closer look at the state of the Panthers:
Farm System: The big hopes are forwards such as 2017 first-round pick Owen Tippett; 2016 second-round pick Adam Mascherin; 2014 second-round pick Jayce Hawryluk; and college star Henrik Borgstrom, who will likely turn pro this summer.
Tippett, 18, is a pure goal-scorer with the highest ceiling, but Hawryluk, 21, isn’t far behind. Mascherin, 19, makes up for lack of ideal height (5-9) with speed and skill. Borgstrom, 20, has great size at 6-3 and won a national title in his freshman year at Denver.
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In addition, there are several young forwards with potential who have been in and out of the Panthers’ lineup this season, including Dryden Hunt, 22; Denis Malgin, 21; and Henrik Haapala, 23.
Florida’s goalie of the future is Samuel Montembeault, 21, who plays in the AHL, but there’s a dearth of defensemen in the system.
Goalies: Roberto Luongo, 38, has had a Hall of Fame career. But he started just 39 games last season because of injuries, and that pattern continues this year. The Panthers are committed to him contractually through the 2021-2022 season.
That’s hardly ideal given his age and recent injury history. But when he plays, Luongo is still solid (2.61 goals-against average, .928 save percentage).
Backup James Reimer, who is under contract through 2020-21, has not been as good (3.38 GAA, .901 save percentage).
Defensemen: The team’s two highest-paid players are part of this unit: Aaron Ekblad ($7.5 million annually through the 2023-24 season) and Keith Yandle ($6.35 million through 2022-2023).
Ekblad’s numbers declined last season from his previous year: from 15 to 10 in goals, from 21 to 11 in assists, from plus-18 to minus-23; from 41 giveaways to 58; and from 8.2 shooting percentage to 4.4. He needs to have a big second half.
Yandle — an offensive defensman who was signed as a free agent to be the power-play quarterback — ranks just 27th in the league in NHL.com’s assessment of fantasy point-getting D-men. Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, ranks 29th.
In Yandle’s favor is that he is incredibly durable — he hasn’t missed a game since the 2009-2009 season. But his 41 points last season were his fewest in seven years, and he is not off to a hot start this season.
Yandle has a no-trade clause in his contract, so moving him — if the Panthers were so inclined — could prove difficult, especially with his contract.
Other than Yandle, all of Florida’s defensemen are age 25 or under. Big things have been predicted for Mike Matheson, and while that hasn’t happened yet, he is not going anywhere anytime soon. Mark Pysyk is under contract through 2019-2020.
Alex Pretrovic and MacKenzie Weegar will be restricted free agents after this season, and the same is true of Ian McCoshen after the 18-19 season, so the Panthers will need to make some decisions here.
Forwards: Ideally, the Panthers would love to have nine top-notch forwards, creating three strong lines to go with a checking unit. The Panthers have three top-50 forwards (as per NHL.com): Alexsander Barkov (No. .44); Jonathan Huberdeau (45) and Vincent Trocheck (46). That’s a great start.
Evgenii Dadonov, slowed by an injury this season, and Nick Bjugstad are the remaining parts of the Panthers’ big five. But no other Panthers forward had more than five goals entering this weekend.
Radim Vrbata, 36, and Colton Sceviour, 28, will be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. At this point, they have not shown enough to return.
Two players in the primes of their careers who have yet to emerge for the Panthers are Jamie McGinn, 29, who is signed through the end of next season; and Colton Sceviour, 28, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Connor Brickley, 25, is a restricted free agent after this season.
As for the checking unit, captain Derek MacKenzie, 36, and Micheal Haley, 31, are both signed through the end of next season.
Management: Since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996, the Panthers have made just four playoff appearances, getting knocked out in the first round each time.
General manager Dale Tallon, hired by the Panthers in May of 2010, is part of that failed history.
But Tallon, 67, who set up the Chicago Blackhawks for Stanley Cup glory, is a proven NHL executive. He, along with then-coach Gerard Gallant, led the Panthers to a franchise record 47 wins in 2015-2016.
However, last season was a step backward as Gallant — now successful with the Las Vegas Golden Knights — was fired in a controversial move.
This season brought a rookie head coach with a solid reputation in Bob Boughner, and it will take a while to assess his performance.
Home ice: The Panthers are 29th in the league in home attendance, averaging 12,636 fans and ranking ahead of Carolina and the New York Islanders.
There are 24 teams who fill their arenas at more than 93 percent of capacity. The Panthers rank 29th in that category — they fill the BB&T Center to only 74.2 percent of capacity.
Part of the problem is that Miami, as a warm-weather location, is not a natural for hockey. Then again, the Tampa Bay Lightning, another warm-weather team, ranks sixth in the NHL in attendance and is filling its building at 100 percent.
The difference is that Tampa Bay leads the Atlantic Division — they have nearly twice as many points as the Panthers.
Worst yet for the Panthers: On the nights when the BB&T Center is mostly full, it appears that the opponent is bringing in a large segment of fans, negating a true home-ice advantage.
Fans of teams in the northeast typically flood the BB&T Center, particularly whenever the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins are in town.
Those fans on those nights give the BB&T Center much-needed atmosphere. But the Panthers need to draw more of their own supporters. And to do that, they have to win more while simultaneously capturing the imagination of the local market.
Something positive: One of the best things to happen to the Panthers this week came Thursday, when starting goalie Roberto Luongo skated for the first time since suffering a right-leg injury on Dec. 4. However, Luongo is several weeks away from returning to game action.
Something negative: The Panthers blew an early 2-0 lead last Sunday night, losing 5-2 to the Las Vegas Golden Knights. It was a sweet win for Vegas coach Gerard Gallant, fired by the Panthers 13 months ago. Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault, exposed to the expansion draft by the Panthers, burned his ex-team with one goal and two assists.
Injury update: After warm-ups Friday night, Forward Jamie McGinn was scratched because of an upper-body injury. His replacement in the lineup, Connor Brickley, scored the winning goal as the Panthers beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 on Friday.
Home for the holidays: On Tuesday, the Panthers finished a 2-2-1 road trip, rallying from two goals down to beat the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 in the finale. But now the Panthers are home until Jan. 2, when they visit the Minnesota Wild.
Who’s hot: Defenseman Mike Matheson scored three goals in a five-game span entering this weekend. Before that, he had zero goals in the first 28 games of the season. Center Vincent Trocheck entered Saturday with 12 points in his past 10 games.
Look ahead: Thursday, Philadelphia Flyers at Panthers; Saturday, Montreal Canadiens at Panthers.