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Peeke's Points: Mid-Season Report Card

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Panthers Blogger Cliff Peeke
Cliff Peeke, a Panther season ticket holder since Day One, is back blogging on for another season, giving the point of view on the Cats from a serious, die-hard fan’s perspective.

A Michigan native who’s played hockey (admittedly average at best) most of his life, Cliff grew up watching 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 has played in adult leagues at IncredibleIce and his oldest son (age 25) plays there as well. His youngest son (age 9) is a member of the Jr. Panthers ’98 Squirt Travel Team.

Peeke's Points Archive

An hour before the puck dropped last night, I was treated to an interesting Season Seat Owner event called “Cats Connection”, in which invitees of Account Reps were given a glimpse of the future and an assessment of the present by Hall Of Famer Denis Potvin. In addition to some food and a short video, each Rep had an opportunity to thank their respective clients for their continued support. This “connection” will continue prior to another four games, and further demonstrates to me what I have known for so long…that this organization has an uncanny way of making their valued assets, SSO’s, feel like family. In fact, Denis Potvin spoke of the “family” theme as it related to the chemistry within the locker-room, long-term management contracts (which equates to consistency), and our hard-core passionate fans. If you have the opportunity to attend this SSO meeting, I highly encourage doing so. Congratulations to Michelle and Ryan for putting this together, and each of the Reps for making us feel a part of the Panthers “family”.

Now…to hockey operations. That win last night was huge as we completed the first half of the season on a high note with a win over the Dive Team. What was amazing though, was that the Panthers did not commit even one penalty. That, in and of itself , was a remarkable feat. Rest assured the next time we play them, they’ll resort to their typical penalty-inducing, in-the-air-and-on-the-ice acrobats that win many on-ice officials applause. But not last night.

The win puts us at 19-16-6 for 44 points. We are 9th in the conference and 16th overall in the league. In the middle of the season, we are in the middle of the pack. Half full…or half empty? Compared to the squad last year, we are but a measly 3 points better…and who really felt good about last year? So where am I at with the ’08-’09 squad? I have to agree with Denis Potvin…I believe we will make the playoffs. Here’s why…

CHEMISTRY (Grade B)… I have to take Potvin’s word on this one as I don’t have access to the players and locker room. But if he says it’s there…then fine. And if it is, then that will be a big factor as the team needs to work together to reach the 94 point mark by season’s end.

GENERAL MANAGER (Grade B)… I would have given GM Martin a higher mark, but the Bouwmeester saga has yet to be decided. And the sooner the better, so it doesn’t affect CHEMISTRY. To a fan, this is unsettling and aggravating. I believe that with the contract signed, it allows negotiation or trade after January 1. It would be nice to know what’s going on there…one way or the other…and all hard core fans feel the same way. That aside, Martin went against public opinion and made what I thought was a good trade in obtaining Ballard, Boynton, and Robak for Jokinen. At the half-way mark, Jokinen’s at 29 points and Ballard/Boynton are also at 29 points. They’ve been solid, and that trade increased our depth, which was huge considering Bryan Allen has been out for the season. Martin was able to secure Cullimore’s services the past two seasons…and he’s as steady as they come. I also thought the trade to bring in Skrastins was a good move…I like his intensity out there. And, no doubt, Stillman and McCabe’s presence have been positive. Martin’s draft class of 2007 looks to be very promising. Ellerby and Repik are playing at the AHL level, both with promise, and Dadonov and Rust were prominent in the World Juniors. Then, with no first round pick in 2008. Martin walks out of there with Jacob Markstrom…a potential franchise goalie who led Sweden to the World Junior championships. We may be set in goal for years to come. But he also grabbed Robak, Comrie, and Jenks, all three projected higher than they were picked. 

COACH  (Grade B)… Don’t you get the sense that the players are pleased with Coach DeBoer, and have taken to his “system”? Think about this…when have you had any negative discussions about this coaching staff…or heard any? Isn’t that a pleasant change from years past? Anyway, while we may not have prolific scorers up front, I have to say I don’t recall us working the boards as hard, nor fore-checking as enthusiastically as this year. He also found unique chemistry between Dvorak, Peltonen, and Campbell and that combination has flourished. My main concern is the lack of consistent play from one game to the next…this is not a team that can take a night off against anyone. In fact, a good test of that comes up Saturday as we host the Thrashers, a team that beat the Devils 4-0 last night. We need to play every shift with consistent intensity.

GOALTENDING  (Grade B)…We may have the best one-two tandem in the league, but there have been inconsistent play requiring DeBoer to pull a goalie a bit too frequent. Still, with Anderson at .933 and Vokoun at .917 save percentage, and both in the top 14 of all goalies, it’s safe to say that we are strong in the net. And again, this is another good argument as to why Martin has fared well as a GM. He found a way to help us fans feel a lot better after the Keenan ‘worst trade in NHL history” debacle. Consistent play by both goalies in the 2nd half will go along way toward gaining a favorable seed in the playoffs.

DEFENSE  (GRADE A-)… This is the best defensive corps the Panthers have ever assembled. It’s amazing that we’ve kept our Goals Against to a little over 2.60 without the services of Allen. There is pressure on this group, knowing we lack high-scoring forwards, and they have risen to the task. I’m a fan of all our core defensemen. I’ve seen a noticeable difference in the quick-decision outlet passes, and there has also been greater offensive output from this group. Before the season I wrote that I thought we had one of the best defenses in the league…that opinion has not changed.

FORWARDS  (GRADE C+)…We’ve scored more goals than 12 other teams (surprisingly even more than Tampa Bay and Ottawa), but let’s face it, I rarely go to the arena thinking we are going to hit the 4+ goal mark in a game. I know the wins will be tight. Still, goals and points have been distributed more evenly this season and the departure of Jokinen’s points have been replaced by others stepping up. Jokinen had 71 points last season. This year, it’s projected that the following forwards will have these increases/decreases in points (if healthy)…Weiss (+12), Booth (+20),  Horton (-12), Stillman (+60, new this season), Peltonen (+14), Dvorak (+17), Campbell (+21), Frolik (+37, new this season). So, most of the forwards have stepped up their contributions and that is exactly what Martin was hoping for. Here’s the big plusses to me…Frolik’s rookie play has been outstanding, Booth is a great north-south, make-things-happen player. Stillman has great vision and passing ability, Weiss is so reliable, and that Peltonen-Dvorak-Campbell line a real joy to watch out there. We need McLean to get going and decrease that +/-, Zednik needs to have a strong 2nd half, and Olesz needs to return and start contributing. Remember the make-up of the forwards in the Year of the Rat? This group has a lot of similarities.

HARD CORE FANS  (Grade A)… We are the ones that have endured a long drought and have remained supportive and passionate. We can, and should be critical, but we stand behind our team. We get incensed when we see other so-called Panther fans who wear the home team jersey on most nights except when their “old team” comes into town (then you see them in their Red Wings or Rangers jerseys). We see greener pastures and are the first to admit that what this team needed most is what’s been achieved…GM and Coaching stability. We don’t understand the Bouwmeester saga, but we have faith it will be handled in a manner that far exceeds the Keenan atrocity with Luongo. We see some long term contracts in place with core players, and trust that upcoming negotiations with Skrastins and Peltonen bode well.

… It’s tempting, after the poor attendance last night to score this category lower. But these fans will come out…guaranteed…when hockey operations presents a winning product and not the annual tease-job fans have been accustomed to in the spring. Martin was right on in a recent quote when he said the next 10 or so games are extremely important. They are…and if this ship is pointed in the right direction and set the goal of securing a favorable playoff seed rather than just chasing a #8 spot…then the average fans will come out in large numbers. Chicago’s building was half empty not so long ago, and Boston had difficulties as well. Make a strong run, and this team will get the respect and support. Prove to the fans that their dollars will invested wisely…fans want winners…and this team is past due on providing that product…do it now!!!!

Ok…so that’s it for my mid-season report card. I tried to condense it to make it readable in a short sitting and I know I missed a few things.  Still, I hope I’ve touched on several things that we may be agreeable on. After working this blog for 1 ½ seasons, I think I tell it like it is and try to deal with the reality of where this team is at. I would welcome comments, so feel free to email me at and let me know if I’ve been on target (or not) over the last eighteen months.

Go Panthers !!!
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