Today is the final day of 2022 and it was a year of excitement, disappointment and everything in between for the Florida Panthers.
The bookends of this year could not have been more stark.
Florida ended 2021 with a resounding 9-3 win against the Lightning, beat the Canadiens to kick off 2022 and went on to go 11-2-1 in January.
The Panthers ended 2022 with an uninspiring 4-0 loss to the host Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.
It was a game in which the Panthers did not appear to have much interest in.
If they sleepwalked through a game say, in February of 2022, no worries. ‘
That team probably would have won, anyway.
When this version of the Panthers do that, well, worry.
That dismantling by the Hurricanes is what you get.
Florida went all-in during the 2021-22 season, buying out the final two years of Keith Yandle’s contract knowing it was going to throw this season’s salary cap askew.
But it gave them much-needed breathing room going into the 2021-22 campaign. The Panthers decided to worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
Well, tomorrow is here.
In 2022, general manager Bill Zito put his trust in interim coach Andrew Brunette and played the trade deadline as if he was in Las Vegas.
He put all his chips into the center of the table, traded two first-round draft picks and a pair of prospects to land Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot.
The excitement around the Panthers had not been that high since 1996. Maybe 1997.
Regardless, the Panthers spent the first few months of 2022 riding high.
Florida set all sorts of franchise records, had the highest-scoring team in 20-something years and won its first Presidents’ Trophy.
The Panthers won a playoff series for the first time since the 1996 Eastern Conference title thanks to Carter Verhaeghe’s heroics against the Capitals but could not figure anything out in a demoralizing sweep to the Lightning.
Things have not been the same in Sunrise since.
With the salary cap limitations, both Giroux and Chiarot moved on as did Mason Marchment and Noel Acciari.
Florida pulled off a blockbuster of a trade weeks after free agency opened, sending fan-favorites Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to Calgary for Matthew Tkachuk in what is the first sign-and-trade in NHL history.
The Panthers moved on from Brunette and replaced him with veteran Paul Maurice.
There have been all sorts of reasons why this team has not performed thus far in the first half of the 2022-23 season from injuries to illness to simply some ill-timed bad luck.
But put it all together, and the start of 2022 is infinitely better than what the Panthers turned out at the end of the calendar year as last season’s powerhouse squad goes into 2023 with losses in seven of their past 10 games.
Nothing the Panthers seem to do works, although getting a number of key players should help moving forward.
But if they come out like they did Friday night in Carolina, the start of 2023 may look a lot like the end of 2022.
And without a first-round pick in this year’s stacked draft, that is not going to do them any good.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
NEW YORK RANGERS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Sunday, 5 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Rangers won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Rangers lead 57-32-8, 6 ties