Now that the 2009-10 schedule has been released, it’s as clear as cellophane the Panthers have some pivotal weeks and months staring at them come the new season. And it starts right from the top.
Not only will the Panthers open the season in Helsinki with games on consecutive nights against Western Conference finalists the Blackhawks, but after a five day respite they’re looking at a tough seven weeks upon their return.
Between Oct. 9 and Nov. 25, the Panthers will play 21 games. Of those 21 games, 14 will be against teams who made the playoffs. It includes two games each against the Rangers, Flyers, Hurricanes and Capitals, and one each against the last two Stanley Cup winners; the Penguins and Red Wings.
The Panthers next tough stretch will come between Dec. 18 through Jan. 16. Starting with a home-away series against the Hurricanes, the Panthers travel to the Flyers and Rangers before hosting Boston, Montreal and Pittsburgh. They then travel to Canada for games against the much-improved Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Senators before returning for a game against the Capitals. The stretch ends with an home-away series against the Lightning.
For the Panthers, those first seven weeks and the month stretching from December into January will go a long way in determining whether they come down the homestretch with a shot of making the playoffs.
SEXTON: WE’RE NEVER GOING TO STOP
When quizzed by local media Wednesday if the Panthers were done signing free agents, assistant GM Randy Sexton made it clear the team he is willing to spend the money for the right player.
“We’re never going to stop trying to improve our team,” he said. “We’re having ongoing discussions with agents and players. We’re being selective to find the right fit to fill the right need at the right price. We the like the chemistry of our team and have to be sensitive to that. I think there’s going to be a fairly good-sized pool of people still around. We also want to provide a spot for some of our younger players.”
And when it comes to money?
“We’ve got dollars,” Sexton said. “We don’t have unlimited dollars. I don’t think anyone does these days…There’s dollars available if we need them.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Kids will be asking to have this as a Christmas present.” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino on the 2010 Bridgestone/NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park between the Bruins and Flyers. EARLY HIGHLIGHTS
Along with the Panthers and Blackhawks opening the season in Helsinki, there’s other highlights early in the 2009-10 schedule. The Maple Leafs play host Oct. 1 to the Canadiens. Martin Brodeur is expected to become only the second goalie to play 1,000 games (Patrick Roy the other) when the Devils open the season Oct. 3 against the Flyers. No. 1 draft pick John Tavares begins his NHL career that same night for the Islanders against the Penguins, who raise their championship banner the night before. Marian Hossa returns to Detroit Oct. 8.
If you’re interested in going to the Winter Classic at Fenway, be prepared to shell out as much as $250 for a seat. That was a “conservative estimate” on pricing in Thursday’s Boston Globe.
Did you know newly-signed Panthers center Jeff Taffe was crowned ‘Mr. Hockey’ in Minnesota?
Former Panther Tom Fitzgerald, who went from the Penguins director of player personnel to assistant coach when Dan Bylsma replaced Michael Therrien, heads back upstairs next season as assistant to general manager Ray Shero.
Due to the Olympics being held in their backyard, the Canucks will go on an NHL-record, 14-game road trip this winter. Sandwiched around the games, held from Feb. 14 to March 1, the Canucks will play eight games on the road before the Olympics and six games after. That’s six weeks without a home game.
The Whooper Swan. It’s the national bird of Finland.
Song of the day: Last Stand in Open Country, by Willie Nelson and Kid Rock