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Peeke's Points: We Are Back! And Why Not?

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

I couldn’t wait to get the new season’s first column out…I am pumped.

And why not?

I’m always optimistic going into a new season. But never like this. I can’t wait for the puck to drop on October 8th. 

I have to admit that last season was brutally tough trying to write these things. It was the same repeated story year after year: the same script. At any point, I could have dusted off a blog from a prior season, changed the names, and submitted it. The only difference was that we finally had a General Manager that had earned respect around the league and that there was a “blueprint” in place.

I always say the most important position in hockey is the GM. The game is pretty simple, and while there are some variances in “style” of play, it really comes down to the right “pieces” put together on the ice.  The team needs to have one overwhelming personality and all the players need to buy into it. The GM is the only one who can make that happen. The coach directs and the players implement. But it all starts at the top.

I admit having some doubts last year. As fans, it’s just very difficult to endure yet another season of mediocrity…and a 10th one at that. You wanted to be patient with the “blueprint” but at the same time start seeing results. That’s why I would get so hung up on the Grabner debacle…you wonder how we could make such a blunder. I’m officially over that now.

I am 100% looking forward.

And why not?

Prior to the draft, I was reading Hockey’s Future organizational prospect rankings and learned we were ranked #2 (although I would guess we should be re-ranked #1 now). I loved reading that “the Panthers prospect pool boasts quality, diversity, depth, and is oozing with talent” and “its hard to find anything but strengths”. A few of the prospects mentioned were courtesy of Randy Sexton and Jacques Martin but several included the strong draft of last year. Then, we go out and score high marks with the draft from June 24th and 25th. We get four North American players ranked in the top 42 by Central Scouting (even getting Logan Shaw with the 76th pick) and get a top 10 European Skater in defenseman Rasmus Bengtsson (who could turn into a steal).  I love the pick of Jonathan Huberdeau (Memorial Cup MVP) and who isn’t excited to see Rocco Grimaldi on the ice when he’s ready for the big show. Heck, nothing but good things are written about Vincent Trochek, who was ranked #41 and we got him with the 64th pick. All in all, it’s a strong group of new prospects. The point is…the future is very bright…and when was the last time you could say that and have proof to back it up. Some of the names of our future include Jacob Markstrom, Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad, Colby Robak, Quinton Howden, John McFarland, Alexander Petrovic and A.J. Jenks. I’m sure a lot of other GM’s would love to gather in any of them. I say lets develop them and keep them. Here’s the thing. We can do it now. We can avoid that temptation.

And why not?

Here’s the beauty of it all. We just went on an awesome free agent spree that snagged some real quality players. I am now starting to see how this “blueprint” is shaping up. If you look at who we signed, and the lengths of their contracts, the players signed will allow for a nice transition for our prospects to enter the system. The new players immediately make us a much stronger team and can help us establish an “identity” for the franchise’s future. What just occurred was not a stopgap for one year. It was an overhaul of epic proportions designed to have a lasting effect. I’m starting to see it now. In previous years, we entered the season cautiously optimistic. No longer. We have the personnel now to be a playoff team and our prospect pool can make this a playoff contender for a long time. I have to admit, the future has never been this bright.

And why not?

By now, we’ve all read the bios on the new Panthers, so there’s no need to get into detail. But I have to throw in my two cents, so here goes. I also included their length of contract left at the end.

Brian Campbell (D)…Excellent draft day trade…super talented offensive defenseman…and we were able to get out from under Olesz’ foolish contract. 5 years remaining on contract.

Jose Theodore (G)…I was ready for a change in net and I am fine with the tandem of him and Scott Clemmenson. It’s a perfect fit to carry half the load while we await the arrival of Markstrom. 2 years remaining on contract.

Scottie Upshall (F)…former 1st rounder that will easily produce 20 goals, he’s an awesome team player. 4 years remaining on contract 

Ed Jovanovski (D)…I hated seeing him go in that Pavel Bure trade. I still recall his awesome games against the Flyers in ’96. When he says he has a lot of hockey left, I believe it. It’s best he finishes his career where he started. Only this time, lets win the Cup. 4 years remaining on contract.

Tomas Fleischmann (F)…Fans will love watching this skillful forward. If he stays healthy, we’ll easily see 20-plus goals. 4 years remaining on contract.

Marcel Goc (F)…He was a real nice pick-up. Not a known name, but an excellent depth player who can also kill penalties. Still, with the right talent around him, he could surprise with a breakout offensive season. 3 years remaining on contract.

Sean Bergenheim (F)…How could (Tampa Bay GM) Steve Yzerman let him go after his playoff run. His third-line heroics helped the Lightning big time. With this added confidence, we could be seeing a player ready to take off. 4 years remaining on contract.

Kris Versteeg (F)…I loved this trade. He’s another talented and skilled player with tremendous energy.  He’s in a contract year and that’s a plus. 1 year remaining on contract.

Tomas Kopecky (F)…Imagine a forward willing to stay in the dirty areas in front of the net…Imagine no more as he does that and more. 4 years remaining on contract.

Matt Bradley (F)…Another real nice signing…He was a fan favorite in Washington for his grit. Coming over from a winning program is a huge plus. 2 years remaining on contract.

Wow…that is a real makeover.  Now, lets get the Mike Santorelli deal done.

Adding to the above are players such as Stephen Weiss, David Booth, Evgeny Dadanov, Shawn Matthias, Jack Skille, Michal Repik, Dmitry Kulikov, Mike Weaver, Keaton Ellerby and Jason Garrison. It’s fun tinkering with the line combinations…and we will have four good ones for sure. There is depth, talent, skill and grit. Also, there are so many “heart and soul” type players. This will be fun.

Now. Moving the attention to the goalies. I liked Tomas Vokoun but the problem was that I never liked his performance for the money he was making off us. It’s hard to knock his statistics, but something seemed a little off. I can’t believe he turned down the reported offer we gave him and settled for $1.5 million with Washington. I’m sure he’s spinning it like he wants to go to a playoff contender…but that’s what we are now. I’m guessing the “blueprint” wasn’t getting clear to him. As a result, Clemmenson has an opportunity to take advantage of some serious playing time and it will be interesting to see how he responds. With Theodore taking maybe 50% of the starts, this could work well for both. This is the one position that I will find very interesting to watch in the upcoming season. I think we’ll be alright.

Finally. I am so tired of the Canadian media and fans (and of course many Original 6 team’s fans, etc) slamming this area and our hockey team. Although ten years removed from the playoffs will cast doubts, what they don’t get is that we have a strong hockey market down here. I don’t recall the NBA media slamming the Heat when they shut down the upper level. For that matter, wasn’t it just a few years ago that the Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t even get 10,000 into their 20,000-plus arena. And a few years ago, I recall seeing many empty seats in Boston. If South Florida sees tangible efforts by the Panthers to get things going in the right direction and a future that is very bright, we will support this franchise big time.

And why not?

But here’s the thing…and it’s something that has eluded us for a long time…A STRONG START. We can’t have the excuse that all the new players have to adjust to one another. Somehow, they have to figure it out and get some early points, raise the local enthusiasm barometer, quit looking up in the standings, and quiet the critics that are always there to pounce on this team.

And Why not?

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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