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Peeke's Points: Pre-Season Predictions

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Panthers Blogger Cliff Peeke
Cliff Peeke, a Panther season ticket holder since Day One, is back blogging on for a fourth 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 (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 28) plays there as well. His youngest son (age 12) is a member of the Panthers ’98 Panthers Alliance Tier 1 Pee Wee team.

Peeke's Points Archive

The Panthers will make the playoffs. There…I said it again, just like every pre-season. I always find reason to be optimistic and I’m always reminded that there are teams that buck the odds and gain entry (like Phoenix and Colorado’s surprising seasons last year). Why not the Panthers this year? Of course, every supposed expert is counting us out, and The Hockey News even has us at the bottom. Is that because it’s the “easy” thing to do, or are they just not looking close enough?
Let’s take a close look. I have always felt that any organization, business or sports, starts at the top. If ownership can do just one thing right, it would be to find the best GM out there to guide the team. They did, and we got Dale Tallon. I believe the most important position in sports is the GM.  Put together the right players, at the right price, the best “chemistry”, and a DIRECTION. Aside from Dudley’s brief tenure here, we’ve not had a solid GM since Bobby Clarke in year one. Tallon’s got the experience, respect around the league, and a long-term game-plan. I would rather us not set our sights on just making the playoffs and instead set our sights on being a championship contender every year. If it takes two or three years to get there, so be it. Just put us in that direction. Here’s an example of short-sighted thinking - the Bouwmeester debacle. I was insisting we trade him at the deadline (March 2009) for value. He wanted out of here and we could have received some serious long range benefit. Instead, we held on to him in hopes of just making the playoffs. We didn’t, and we let an asset walk away (we did receive Leopold in the summer along with a third round pick, but he was also a pending free agent). Again, lets build a champion, and if it takes a little time, I’m ok with that. Still, we’ll be in the No. 8 spot this year and here’s why…
In goal, we are strong. Vokoun, 34, is in the last year of his contract, an expensive $5.7 million. If he stays beyond the trade deadline, it will only be because we are in the playoff mix and not just sniffing around. Every Panther fan will be anxious to see Jacob Markstom in action, but that may not be until next year. Scott Clemmensen is a very capable back-up and hopefully he shares more starts. He’s under contract through the 2011-12 season. GRADE: A-
The defense will be interesting. How do you replace Seidenberg, Leopold, and Ballard? Let’s see…Bryan McCabe (final year of contract at $4.1 million), Bryan Allen, and Dmitry Kulikov return as full-time players. That means Jason Garrison and newcomers Dennis Wideman, Nathan Paetsch and Mike Weaver will have to contribute. But it’s time now for Keaton Ellerby to prove he’s ready for full time action and show the team and fans he’s a worthy high first round selection. Can Erik Gudbranson pull a Kulikov and make the team? Defense is too important of a position to have question marks…yet I have them. GRADE: C+
No superstar in our forward group, yet I really like the depth this year, but we need to stay healthy. David Booth will be counted on to produce, and needs to stay healthy. Cory Stillman, who is in his final contract year, needs a full season on the ice without injury. His passes are unbelievable, the best on the team. A couple newcomers need to turn it around in Steve Bernier and Christopher Higgins. Much like Ellerby, its time for Shawn Matthias to have a productive season at this level. For that matter, how about Rostislav Olecz? We took him pretty high in the 2004 draft, he is paid extremely well, and he must ratchet it up a few notches. Can Michal Repik and/or Evgeny Dadanov push for a spot? What about Kenndal McArdle? The winger I am interested in seeing play is Michael Grabner. Overall, a lot more depth and a good blend of speed and playmaking ability. Add the reliability of Stephen Weiss, and solid seasons from Steven Reinprecht and Michael Frolik, and just maybe this group, as a unit, can score a lot more than last year’s forwards. GRADE B-
PREDICTIONS (total points)
  1. Capitals…High octane offense entertains and wins loads of games…again.
  2. Devils…Kovalchuk is in, and they added Volchenkov. Now they have to figure out their cap problem.
  3. Flyers…Aside from goalie, this may be the most balanced team
  4. Penguins…Anybody else getting tired of their national exposure? They remain dangerous, even without Gonchar.
  5. Buffalo…Ryan Miller keeps getting better, and he’ll have to…their defense is weakened.
  6. Boston…How long will Horton stay fired-up? Will Gregory Campbell continue to dump the puck?  Will Seidenberg be worth the money they are paying him?  Still, this is a good team.
  7. Canadiens…That was not easy watching Jacques Martin’s team upsetting others on their way to the final.
  8. Panthers…Somehow a no-star team devotes every bit of its energy into unselfish team play and surprises many as their future brightens.
  9. Lightning…This team has enough talent to be in the top 5 in the conference. Looking forward to our games with this cross-state rival.
  10. Ottawa…Bryan Murray strengthens his defense with Gonchar, but is there enough offense?
  11. Thrashers…Rick Dudley will gather the right kind of players to be highly competitive…in fact, he already has.
  12. Hurricanes…Until the Dive Team sheds its name it stole from the “U”, I will never place them in the top 8.
  13. Maple Leafs…If they just could have won a couple more games last season, we would be watching Tyler Seguin score goals for us for a long time. 
  14. Islanders…It just feels good to place them ahead of the Rangers. But they have some good young talent to deserve it as well.
  15. Rangers…Cap or No-Cap, they just can’t make good personnel decisions.  Adding Frolov at a discount was good.  Over-paying Boogaard was not. 
Remember, this are preseason predictions.  I was close with mine last year, but was right-on in my mid-season update.  What do you think? Panthers make the playoffs…or not?  Let me know, I always enjoy the feedback I get.  Email me at
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