Since Rats Roundup debuted one week ago, the Florida Panthers have played three games, two of which came against last year’s Stanley Cup Finalists. Their record in those games? 3-0-0.
So maybe it’s a good thing that Rats Roundup is here to stay.
But while there was a lot of great action happened on the ice, it was a big week for the Panthers off the ice as well. So, before we fully dive into the All-Star Weekend festivities, let’s take a look back on a very big week in Sunrise.
Six Years for Sasha
The Florida Panthers announced on Tuesday that they had extended forward Aleksander Barkov for six more years. Twitter rejoiced. Barkov joined them – and thanked Kevin Spacey (more on that later).
So, what does Barkov’s extension mean for the Panthers?
"He is a highly-skilled, intelligent and dynamic young center that plays an exceptional game at both ends of the ice,” said Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon on Tuesday.
Beyond that, it means more of this:
Sportnet’s Andrew Berkshire tackled the #FancyStats implications of the Barkov extension, using advanced player tracking and analytics to compare Barkov’s skills to other prominent centers.
The verdict? Barkov’s name belongs in conversations alongside players like Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and the Sedin twins.
Are these the best Panthers ever? Scott Burnside says that they very well may be – and he broke it down this week on ESPN.com.
Burnside, one of the league’s foremost insiders, spoke to a longtime NHL scout at the start of the season, who said that the Panthers were going to make the playoffs. As the story goes, his GM disagreed, saying it was too soon for the young team.
But the Cats opened quite a few eyes during this current 15-3-1 stretch.
"Now, like the scout, the GM is bullish on the Panthers and their potential to be a playoff team to be reckoned with. As of Wednesday morning, the Panthers were second overall in the league in goals allowed per game, eighth on the penalty kill and are 24-3-3 when they score first."
Burnside also talked about the “buzz” within the BB&T Center, with ticket sales up this year and a captivating product on the ice. The building was certainly buzzing this past week – with both of the weekend games selling out.
And for a bit of icing on the cake, back-to-back sellouts meant 100 Monday morning pushups for Panthers Chief Operations Officer Matthew Caldwell.
Honkey Tonk Cats
Throw on your cowboy boots – it’s time for NHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville. The Panthers are well represented, sending Aaron Ekblad, Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and head coach Gerard Gallant.
It’s a new format this year, with each division forming a team for 3-on-3 play, with all four Panthers obviously representing the Atlantic. Jagr is the squad's captain, and Gallant is the coach, so the Cats certainly have a horse in this race.
Ekblad and Luongo are both participating in the All-Star game for the second year in a row. And both are in the headlines due to elite performances at their respective ages.
Last week, Burnside sat down with Luongo for an in-depth piece. They touched on how Luongo met his wife, his journey from Florida to Vancouver and back, and how he’s playing some of the best hockey of his life at the age of 36.
Ekblad, meanwhile, is in the headlines for his youth – having now made two NHL All-Star teams before his 20th birthday.
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun wrote a feature on the 2014 first-overall pick. There’s a lot to digest – comparisons to the legendary Nicklas Lindstrom, testimony from Panthers GM Dale Tallon and teammate Brian Campbell, and from Ekblad himself – but one thing sticks out. The 19-year-old blueliner’s sky-high goals.
“I want to win a Stanley Cup with the Panthers. I want to win a Norris Trophy.”
Panthers tickets weren’t the only thing selling out at the BB&T Center this week. One of the internet’s biggest mysteries came to life – and flew off the shelves – when a load of #SpaceyInSpace hoodies appeared in Pantherland on Tuesday.
By the time the puck dropped, only a few hoodies remained on the shelves – and those were all bought up well before the final horn. All for a great cause – the proceeds are split between the Florida Panthers Foundation and the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
Nobody knows exactly where the #SpaceyInSpace hoodie came from, but it’s taken on a life of its own. And according to ESPN’s Craig Custance, it may just be the Panthers’ secret weapon.
Photo of the week
Looks like Derek MacKenzie made a friend before last Saturday’s game against the Blackhawks. Doesn’t get much better than that, huh?
Tweet of the week
Barkov earned a lot of praise this week for his strong two-way game, but it’s clear that his Twitter game is pretty strong as well after this one.