Opening Day Thoughts

The Florida Panthers open their season tonight against the New Jersey Devils. I’ve got a few things on my mind, with the season upon us.

How Fares Keith Yandle?

The Panthers made a big splash this summer in acquiring the high scoring defenseman. Only Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith have more points than Yandle among defensemen since 2009-10. Karlsson is also the lone defenseman with more power play points than Yandle. The only question is can he keep doing this?

It is not silly question. Yandle is now 30, and it is a fact of nature that he will age. It is just a matter of how quickly and how strong the effects will be. We saw this happen with Brian Campbell, who had had 53 points (31 on the power play) at age 32 in 2011-12, and 31 points (8 on the power play) at age 36 in 2015-16.

However, Campbell had something to fall back on: shot suppression. The opposition still had fewer chances to score than average, even as his production faded. Yandle does not have the same safety net. He needs to keep scoring in order to remain as useful as he is. I say we cast some Dorian Gray magic. Let’s go get that portrait!

How Fares Roberto Luongo?

The Panthers starting goaltender is ready for the season following off-season hip surgery. It did seem that something was affecting his play last season. His performance was noticeably limited when on short rest.

I’m not sure that is because of the hip issue, or because he is 37 years old. In any case, I do think it would be wise to limit his action in short rest situations. James Reimer’s presence in the lineup should indicate that Luongo will not be leaned on as heavily this season. Reimer can legitimately handle 30+ games. I hope this will help prevent wear on Luongo during the season.

We’ll Miss You

The Panthers will start this season without a significant number of faces from last season. Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, Brian Campbell, and Willie Mitchell are the biggest names to leave the organization. That is more than half of last year’s regular defense. It is a seismic shift that does not happen often. Many of these players will be missed in some way.

The real damage though are in the losses of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad. Each will miss significant time, especially Huberdeau as he recovers from his Achilles tendon injury. The transactional losses on defense we’re built against. These injuries, on the other hand, will provide an immediate challenge to the Panthers forward depth.

It will be key to avoid any more injuries up front. If more forwards do drop, that could be trouble.

Look At All The Fresh Faces

I am eager to see what the new Panthers look like. There is no Mitchell-Gudbranson pairing bleeding shots against. The Panthers have added a dynamic power play weapon to the backend. The team is a little smaller and a little faster.

The new front office put a lot of work into constructing this edition of the Panthers. A lot of hype is being thrown out there. Now it is time to stop talking and see how it works.

Stick Flip For Jose

The Panthers announced this morning that they will be honoring late Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez at tonight’s game. I don’t need to describe how sad this all is. We know it. Instead, I point you to my initial reaction.

This. Needs. To. HAPPEN! Jose Fernandez was the embodiment of what it means to enjoy a game. Let’s be honest, we all take ourselves a little too seriously when discussing sports. We need a reminder every now and then that this is just a game. It is supposed to be fun.

A stick flip would be the perfect way to honor Jose’s legacy. Aside from what the Panthers are already doing tonight, of course.

Epilogue

Don’t expect to see one of these every game. I am taking a more casual approach to The Sunshine Skate this season. I will share thoughts when I feel it is appropriate.

Enjoy the season everyone!

AJ Bruhn

About AJ Bruhn

AJ is the Managing Editor of The Sunshine Skate, and can be reached on Twitter below.

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