The Florida Panthers will look a little different when the 2022-23 NHL season kicks off in October.
A couple of franchise stalwarts — most notably Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar — are gone, as are a few players who turned out to be short-timers here such as Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot and Joe Thornton.
Florida also has to replace Mason Marchment, who got his first big NHL contract by signing with the Dallas Stars.
More changes are behind the bench.
Florida not only has a new head coach in Paul Maurice but a couple new assistants with Derek MacKenzie and Ulf Samuelsson being replaced by Jamie Kompon and Sylvain Lefebvre.
There will be plenty of position and roster battles when camp opens up next month and it should be interesting to see which players step up and answer the challenge.
We have talked about potential lineups for the Panthers a couple of times this offseason and will throughout September.
Regardless of how things eventually shake out, the Panthers will start playing games that count on Oct. 13 when they open their season on Long Island against the host New York Islanders.
October will be a big month for the Panthers as they start to put things together and put forth the basis for how this team will look throughout the season.
In all, the Panthers will play nine games in the opening month of the season.
Fortunately for them, it does not appear to be too challenging a slate.
Of the nine games, the Panthers will face just two teams (Boston and Tampa Bay) that were in the playoffs last season.
The Panthers will play the Islanders and Flyers in a home-and-home with other games coming in Buffalo and Chicago as well as a home game against Giroux and the Senators.
The season starts with a three-game road trip against the Islanders (Oct. 13), Sabres (Oct. 15) and Bruins (Oct. 17) before the home opener against Philadelphia on Oct. 19.
The Panthers have a three-game homestand against the Flyers, Lightning and Islanders before a quick trip to Chicago and Philadelphia.
The nine-game run ends at home Oct. 29 against the Sens.
Not too difficult a schedule by any means.
Things get tougher — much tougher — the following month as November starts with a four-game trip to the Pacific coast.
Of the 14 games that month, 10 come against playoff teams from last year.
So, it is almost imperative the Panthers get the season off on a good foot.
Looking throughout the schedule, October is by far Florida’s easiest stretch.
But, with a new coaching staff and a number of new faces throughout the lineup, there is bound to be a few hiccups and a bit of a learning curve.
Based solely on how the seven teams play in October finished last season, Florida should be able to survive and probably go into November atop the Atlantic Division standings.
There will likely be improvements coming from a number of those teams, however.
The Islanders had a disappointing 2021-22 season, the team never recovering from a long road trip to open the season as they waited for their new arena to be built.
The Flyers were dreadful — and may not be much better this year — but with John Tortorella running things, Philadelphia will probably improve at least initially.
Ottawa may be the most improved team in the league but are the Sens ready to make the jump into being a playoff contender?
Buffalo should be better, Chicago will probably be even worse than it was last year.
The Bruins? They have been appearing to be on the downward slope the past few years but keep making the playoffs. Perhaps this is the year that streak ends.
And the Lightning is still the Lightning.
That Friday night game in Sunrise is probably the highlight of the entire month — Opening Nights notwithstanding.
By the time the Panthers open training camp and play the Lightning, they will have had a month of work put in and a handful of real games under their belt.
We should know a lot more about how this team will look by then.