By: Rossy Pasternak
The Florida Panthers are quietly becoming one of the better teams in the NHL this season. With a record of 5-3-1, good for 11 points, Florida is 3rd in the Atlantic division. The Tampa Bay Lightning are ahead of Florida in second with 12 points. Everyone who followed hockey last year knows that the Lightning lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks. With the Panthers and Lightning’s futures looking bright, hockey is back and here to stay in the state of Florida.
The Panthers, led by GM Dale Tallon, and second-year coach Gerard Gallant, have put together a squad that many teams envy. They created a productive roster that has great chemistry, with a great mix of emerging stars such as Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad, and grizzled veterans Jaromir Jagr, Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell. With smart drafting and trading, this roster is full of great players, all which fill a specific role. Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jagr, and Jonathan Huberdeau are the scorers, while Dave Bolland, Brandon Pirri and the rest of the roster does a great job shutting down the opposing team, and killing penalties. The defense corps is very talented; with 2014 #1 pick Ekblad, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, and the veteran Campbell. The biggest reason for the Panthers success, however, is Roberto Luongo. Luongo, beloved in Florida, is ageing, but his production has still been at an elite level over the past few years. With a goalie to rely on, a sound defensive corps, and an exhilarating offence, the Panthers are finally at a level where they can compete with the best in the East.
The Stanley Cup runner-up Tampa Bay Lightning are once again looking like a force to be reckoned with. The Amalie Arena is rocking each and every night, and the team is kicking ass. The Triplets – Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat – are playing well, and Steven Stamkos has started off the season well with 5 goals and 7 points in 10 games. Coach John Cooper is working wonders with his young roster, and getting the most out of each and every player, even the slowly-devloped Jonathan Drouin. This is one of the best, and biggest, defense-corps in the NHL. Braydon Coburn, Victor Headman, and Andrej Sustr are all more than 6’5”, and use their size to their advantage. And you can’t forget about the skill of the Swedish defensemen Anton Stralman. The Lightning play a fast and physical system that uses their size on the back-end, and quickness on forwards, to their advantage. The Lightning also have great goaltending. Ben Bishop is the known commodity, but Kristers Gudlevskis and Andrei Vasilevskiy are also names to look out for, as both are exciting and interesting prospects on the rise between the pipes.
Florida is finally getting some good hockey teams, and the hope in the Sunshine State is when you build it, they will come. Although the Panthers’ BB&T Center is located in remote Sunshine, Florida, people would make the trip if the experience were worth it, as seen back in the 90’s when they made that magical Stanley Cup run. Imagine a Panthers vs. Lightning playoff series; the cross-Florida rivalry would become something to talk about, and the whole state of Florida would be buzzing with hockey fever. That time will come, maybe even sooner than most think, and Gary Bettman will have a smirk on his face as he is proven right once again.
What do you think of the Florida-based hockey teams, are they both for real? Comment below!
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