The mirage that is the 2022-23 Florida Panthers was on display the past two games. After beating a strong Lightning team by a score of 4-1, where the Cats looked hungry and dominance, they then lost to a (somewhat) depleted Nashville team, 2-1.
The Panthers are four points behind the New York Islanders for the second Wild Card spot. While a number of other teams were wheeling and dealing at this year’s Trade Deadline, Florida did what we expected them to do: nothing.
With 19 games left, the Cats decided the best course of action would be no action. A large part of this decision is due to being hampered the cap, but I think another (big) part has to do with the front office deciding that this team is what it is…inconsistent. So much so that it wouldn’t be worth it to try to improve right now.
In some ways I agree with Zito’s comments about not wanting to overreact to what other teams are doing and for the sake of making moves to keep pace with others. But I think doing nothing really speaks volumes in terms of how he and his staff view this team. Think about it, even the 48-8-5 Big Bad Bruins — the number one team in the league — traded for Tyler Bertuzzi. If the top dogs that already have a playoff spot locked in are looking to get better, why wouldn’t a team in the hunt for a postseason spot try to 8mprove? Again, I know, it’s the cap, right..?
Standing pat signals your packing it in for the season, without “showing it” by actually selling off pieces. It feels like they’re saying: If we somehow make it to the playoffs, great; if not, oh well, we have the summer to straighten things out.
Regarding the above, here’s an interesting snippet from Jameson Olive’s latest piece:
“Zito said the Panthers received offers throughout the weeks leading up to the deadline, but at no point did the benefits of the proposed deals merit the sting of giving up on the playoff push.
With the majority of their players already locked into multi-year contracts, the Panthers also entered the deadline with only a few pending free agents that could've been viewed as trade chips
The article talks about the desire to resign Gudas and adds:
"We've spent a lot of time and a lot of effort trying to get our culture moving forward in the right direction," Zito said. "One thing we were mindful of is that we didn't want to quit on the group. We're in a tenuous situation, no question. But the room believes, and I believe in the room. We're not going to quit on the team and we're not going to quit on the fans that believe in us."
Despite not being able to make external additions, Zito believes that internal additions will provide the Panthers with a boost down the home stretch. In addition to forward Anthony Duclair recently making his season debut, the team's top-two centers, Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett, are expected to return from injuries and be back in action as early as Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I can tell you the truth that I'm confident they can do it," Zito said of the playoff push. "If you tell me intellectually, 'Oh well, the odds are this.' OK, they are. People have overcome far greater odds than what we're facing. One thing I do know is that we don't quit."
Matthew Tkachuk shared that same sentiment following Friday's practice.
"Our deadline acquisitions could be Benny and Barky coming up soon," the Panthers All-Star forward said. "That excites me and the rest of the group. … I'm very confident in this group."
I know we can’t expect brutal honesty, but a bit of reality regarding this team’s issues and why they’re in the position they are in would have been refreshing; versus the standard babyface optimism that we have been fed all year — because anyone who has watched knows better.
This whole idea that the “deadline acquisitions” will be when Barkov and Bennett return is very odd considering these two guys have played the majority of the season and the Panthers are still in the position they’re in. How would coming back from a few games off due to injury — especially this late and banged up in the season — really help?
I like Zito and believe in him. Is he perfect? Obviously not, but no one is. He’s had some blunders and he’s had some successes. As a new GM, he’s finding his way and I’m curious how/what he does this off-season. I just wish there was a little more transparency and accountability from him and the players in regards to this very “meh” and disappointing season.
We shall see who shows up tonight against the 31-21-10 Penguins. Will it be the hungry Panthers in search of a playoff spot? Or will the disjointed kittens, destined to stay in the middle-to-bottom of the Atlantic Division, take the ice?
Let’s get it going here, guys…Go Panthers!