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Peeke's Points: First Trimester

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Cliff Peeke, a Panther season ticket holder since DAY ONE, is back blogging on for a fifth season, giving the point of view on the Cats from a serious, die-hard fan’s perspective in his own blog titled Peeke’s Points.

A Michigan native who’s played hockey most his life (admittedly average at best), Cliff grew up watching the Red Wings games at the old Olympia Stadium.  His allegiance changed to the Panthers the moment it was announced South Florida would have a team.
Cliff owns InXpress USA – South Florida (DHL international shipping and Freight).  He has a wife and two sons (Trevor, 29, and Andrew, 13).  Andrew has played on Tier 1 Jr. Panther teams since first eligible, and will be playing defence for the Bantam Minor, Tier 1, AAA, Florida Allliance in the ’11-’12 season..

Peeke's Points Archive
Please note that the views expressed in this blog are views expressed by the blogger only and are not necessarily the views expressed by the Florida Panthers Hockey Club.

One-third of the way and to think there are 12 teams in our conference looking up at us. What a great feeling. If we can maintain the pace we’ve been on, we’ll finish with 103 points. Hockey media is finally taking note, fans are excited and rats are back on the ice.

I have been a season ticket holder since day one. I recall the early success, the great Year Of The Rat, and the few consistent years following. And then came the long drought. I’ve been very loyal to this team, but the past ten years have been difficult (to say the least). We had a pretty decent team in Peter DeBoer’s first year, missing the playoffs on a no-longer tiebreaker, but even then…we had to crawl up in the standings. I can’t remember the last time we were positioned like this…sixth in the league at the one-third mark of the season. It feels damn good.

I know I’m an optimistic fan. I would predict (actually it was “hope”) that the Panthers would make the playoffs year after year. Even then, I knew it would be a struggle just to grab the final spot. This pre-season was different. I really liked the caliber of players we brought in and thought the trading or signing of Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg were huge. For the first time in a long while, we actually had talented, creative players…and several of them. The mix looked good and the depth appeared to be there. I thought our defense would be solid and my only question mark was goaltending. 

Here’s what happened…we gelled sooner than anyone may have predicted. We own the #1 line in the NHL (Stephen Weiss, Fleischmann and Versteeg are all in the top 16 in the league in points), there is solid work from all lines, the defense has been awesome (Campbell is 2nd in points among defensemen, Jason Garrison is 1st in goals among defensemen and Dmitry Kulikov is playing years beyond his age). So how about that goaltending question mark? Well, Jose Theodore has been solid with a .924 save % (Tomas Vokoun is .907 – 23rd in league, and Roberto Luongo is .899 – 30th in league), and backups Scott Clemmensen (2.33 GAA, .916 SV%) and Jacob Markstrom (2.59 GAA) have both been great. So, going back to my preseason prediction…we will make the playoffs if goaltending is above average…still stands. If the first trimester is any indication, then we are there.

So how far? Why not first in the division and a No. 3 Conference finish. It’s possible. Looks like the competition for that spot is Washington. Although that team is loaded with top-end talent offensively, I would rather have our defense and goaltending. If we can get a little more scoring from our bottom lines and maintain our strong play in net then we have an excellent shot. From a fan’s point of view, you get the feeling the players themselves aren’t just satisfied with “making the playoffs”…they want more. And I think that attitude is catching on within the fan base…we are believing we have something special going on.

To me, it’s been rewarding to see how the so-called media hockey experts are taking note of this team. I laughed at all their preseason predictions (and comments)…placing the Panthers dead last and poo-pooing Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon’s off-season moves. Isn’t it neat to see how, one by one, these experts are starting to actually write about our team. I mean, what a surprise to see a cover story about the Panthers on Yahoo Sports. The team and the area deserves some attention and it feels good that it’s positive. I sleep better after a win…the next day is better after a win.

I’m feeling pretty good these days. And I am really proud to be a long-time loyal Panther fan.

It wasn’t that long ago that experts were calling the trade for Brian Campbell to be foolish. Why would we take on that kind of salary? How about the fact that we have the best offensive defenseman, a fixture on the power-play point, and a key contributor to Garrison’s early success (sign Garrison soon), and a player that knows what it takes to win. How about the fact that we unloaded Rostislav Olesz in the trade to where our net increase in terms of the salary cap was only $3.0 million. Where is Olesz now? The AHL…and cleared waivers. Guess what Chicago is looking for…a puck-moving defenseman. 

Oh yes…we supposedly over-paid for Fleischmann. I always thought that given the minutes, he would be a star in this league. He was not going to get that with Washington and in Colorado he was a point a game player. If healthy, and I guess that was the big question mark, he will succeed…I knew that…and he is. 

Couple other quick points….
  • Michael Frolik’s playing time is diminishing
  • Michael Grabner was a recent scratch and I’m done lamenting that waiver move
  • Why is Phoenix still doing well?
  • Isn’t it kind of nice to see Steve Yzerman’s Lightning struggle
  • Carolina is finished…that team is in bad shape.
  • Jay Bouwmeester couldn’t wait to get out and he still hasn’t seen the playoffs and in 2+ seasons with the Flames has notched only 8 goals and is a consistent minus player. Our biggest mistake was not trading him at deadline. That’s in the past now.
  • Many of our home games have had intense nail-biting finishes. Isn’t it an awesome feeling winning those games and leaving the arena high-fiving rather than the many years exodus of zombie-like fans.
  • It’s 10:00 in the morning and I can’t wait for the puck to drop tonight vs. Boston.

Here are my Pre-Season predictions that I had posted.  It’s still early in the season, but no doubt I was ‘off” on a few. Still, its good to see how things are shaping up….

  1. Washington Capitals…where they are – 8.  There is still enough top-end talent on this team to make a very serious run.  First in Conference probably won’t happen, but will make playoffs. Hard to feel sorry for Vokoun and his agent as they “settled” for what they thought was a much better team….should have believed in the “blueprint”. 
  2. Philadelphia Flyers…where they are – 4.  I think they will finish on top now. Leads NHL in goals with 93 so offense is no problem. Goalies both at .900 save %, so if they get hot…watch out.
  3. Buffalo Sabres…where they are – 7.  This team will make the playoffs but won’t finish in top 3.  Well-balanced hockey club.
  4. Pittsburgh Penguins…where they are – 1.  A definite contender for the #1 spot, especially with a healthy Sidney Crosby. Still, this team plays very well without him and that’s what makes them a favorite…they are just that good.
  5. Boston Bruins…where they are – 2.  What a November for the Bruins! Chris Kelly is having a career season. They have balanced team scoring and the best goalie…Tim Thomas. Top 3 team for sure.
  6. FLORIDA PANTHERS…where they are – 3. Boasting the #1 line in hockey, Panthers will make the playoffs this year. Proving so-called media hockey experts wrong. May well be a battle between Cats and Caps for first in division.
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning…where they are – 13.  What happened? Team plus/minus is -67…that’s what…and sub-par goaltending. Out of playoffs and Yzerman may need to re-tool.
  8. Montreal Canadiens…where they are – 11.  Just not enough offensive fire-power to make it into the playoffs this year. I was off on this one. Balanced team…but…
  9. New Jersey Devils…where they are – 12. Is it just me, or does anyone else like seeing Ilya Kovalchuk at a team leading minus -11. No way DeBoer leads them to playoffs.
  10. New York Rangers…where they are – 5. Henrik Lundqvist is amazing in goal…and that will be the main reason they are in the playoffs. Will finish somewhere between 5-8 spot.
  11. Toronto Maple Leafs…where they are – 6.  Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are having great seasons but goaltending is highly suspect. They got off to nice start, but I’m not sure they can hang on. If they do…they barely squeak in.
  12. Carolina….where they are – 15.  Cam Ward at .900 and Eric Staal at -17…new coach Kirk Muller has his work cut out. High draft pick awaits this team.
  13. New York Islanders…where they are -14. Marty Reasoner a -15? Grabner a recent healthy scratch? This young team has a future, but certainly not this year. Bottom-two team.
  14. Winnipeg Jets…where they are – 10.  Jets are playing well lately and may slip under the radar and into the playoffs. They are only one point out today. 
  15. Ottawa Senators…where they are – 9. They will slip out of playoff contention. In fact, it’s amazing with a minus-10 goal differential that they are even this high at this point in season.
Go Panthers! This is way too much fun…keep up the great play. I appreciate that we are “relevant” at the one-third mark!

I enjoy reading the comments (some from around the world) after one of these…so please share your thoughts…my email is
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