The Panthers start the 2013/2014 HFNHL Season as the defending Stanley Cup Champions. In the history of the league, no team has repeated as champion, which suggests that the Panthers have their work cut out for them.
In all truthfulness, this appears to be a bit of a re-tooling year for Florida. While the team should still be very competitive, their more likely to fit into the middle of the Eastern Conference, as opposed to the top where they've been the last several years.
Here's a look at the team's projected line-up for opening day:
First Line: James Neal - Mike Richards - Joffrey Lupul
A very hard nosed, but skilled first line which can put the puck in the net, but also play hard along the wall and in their own end.
Second Line: Matt Moulson - Saku Koivu - Patric Hornqvist
A solid second line scoring unit which can bury the puck and is lead by the experienced center Koivu.
Third Line: Steve Sullivan - Kyle Wellwood - Andrew Shaw
A very interesting third line which has a cool dynamic. Shaw bangs bodies, while Wellwood and Sullivan look to put some points up.
Fourth Line: Raffi Torres - Scott Gomez - Dustin Penner
Likely to split time with the third line (so they will be 3rd line B), this line is designed similar to the other checking line, with physicality and scoring options.
EXTRA: Matt Hendricks
1st Pairing: Paul Martin - Filip Kuba
A veteran first pairing which can move the puck but also defend their own end.
2nd Pairing: Sami Salo - Adam McQuaid
Perhaps they can form a solid shutdown pairing which will be difficult to play against.
3rd Pairing: Two of Scott Hannan/Tomas Kaberle/Brian Lashoff/Steve Oleksy
If Kaberle doesn't leave for the KHL (as rumoured), he's easily on this unit for his ability to move the puck. The other would form a more defensive first partner for him.
Goaltending: Jonathan Quick - Martin Biron
Easily the strength of this squad as Quick is a good bet to be one of the league's top netminders. And for the first time, really, he has a solid back up in Martin Biron, who can spell him when he needs it.
As mentioned, I don't see the Panthers winning the Atlantic Division, but I do think that they're a playoff team and should slot somewhere in the 5-8 range of the East.
In all truthfulness, this appears to be a bit of a re-tooling year for Florida. While the team should still be very competitive, their more likely to fit into the middle of the Eastern Conference, as opposed to the top where they've been the last few years.
I imagine the division shuffle has impacted you more directly than almost any other team that didn't themselves move conferences.
You proved last year that you were more than an opportunist in a weak division. But it will be interesting indeed to see how you fare with a full regular season against competitive divisional opponents. I suspect you're looking forward to the challenge!