GDB 75.0: HE’S A WHALER, WE SHOULDN’T BE SURPRISED

Kevin Dineen is in his first season behind an NHL bench, and barring a major collapse in their final nine games he’ll have the Florida Panthers back in the playoffs for the first time since 2000 – some rebuilds take a long time. Dineen was a scrappy player during his 18-year career. He had some skill, two 40 and two 30-goal seasons, but mostly he got by on guts.

The Panthers’ play mirrors the style of their coach.

Of the Panthers 23 players who have played 40 games, only five of them were Panther draft picks. Stephen Weiss, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Keaton Ellerby and Ed Jovanovski. Weiss is the forward. The rest of their team is made up of guys who have bounced around the league; free agents that pundits felt got overpaid or expensive contracts.

Dale Tallon was named GM of the Panthers in May of 2010. Since then he’s made numerous trades, stock-piled lots of draft picks and signed veterans who were considered cast offs.

In the past two drafts he’s had four first-rounders: 2010, Gudbranson 3rd, Nick Bjugstad 19th, Quinton Howden 25th and 2011, Jonathon Huberdeau 3rd as well as five 2nd rounders. While waiting for them to mature he went out and signed or traded for a host of veteran players.

He’s traded for Brian Campbell, and his $7 million cap hit, Kris Versteeg, Mikael Samuelsson, Jack Skille, Krys Barch and Marco Sturm. He’s signed UFAs like Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc and Jose Theodore.

Not great players, but serviceable guys who have helped the Panthers sit in 3rd place in the Eastern conference.

He then added a rookie NHL head coach in Dineen, and Dineen has done a masterful job uniting a group that hadn’t played many games together.

The Panthers don’t score a lot, but they don’t give up many goals either.

They are 26th in goals, 178, while sitting 13th in goals against at 193. When you look closer you realizedthat they’ve scored 78 of them in only 16 games. In the other 57 games they’ve only managed 100. So in 16 of their games (four goals or more) they average 4.8 goals, but for the majority of their games their offence is woeful averaging 1.75 goals/game.

The Oilers have scored in bunches as well. They sit 15th in goals scored, 194, but they’ve scored 75 of them in 14 games for 5.3 goals/game, and in the other 59 the Oilers have tallied 121 for a 2.05 goals/game clip. Many other teams are in a similar situation, but most, like the Oilers, average at least two goals/game in the majority of their games.

Early in the year the Panthers were winning with essentially one scoring line. Weiss, Fleischmann and Versteeg were on fire. They’ve slowed down, but the Panthers PP is still 8th best. Those three combined with Samuelsson and Jason Garrison’s bomb from the point have kept them in games.

Garrison, a pending UFA, leads all NHL D-men with nine PP goals. He wasn’t drafted and after playing college at University of Minnesota Duluth the Panthers signed him in 2008. He’s usually been just a steady defensive D-man, however, this year he’s been a major offensive surprise with 15 goals. In his previous 226 pro games split between the NHL and AHL he had a total of 18 goals. He will likely cash in big this off-season.

He’s just another one on the list of unheralded Panthers. Dineen has convinced them all to buy into his system, and the Panthers are winning. Many of us, me included, have been waiting for months for the Panthers to drop down the standings, but it hasn’t happened and it doesn’t look like it will.

The Oilers will need to be very disciplined tonight if they want to win. The Panthers have taken the 5th fewest penalties this year, and are +40 in PP chances (258) to PK (218). The Oilers are -15 having faced 259 PK situations to 244 PP chances.

TRADE WINDS

We are already starting to hear the rumblings that the Oilers would be "open" to trading their first round pick. Of course every team is open to it, but usually it never happens because the return isn’t good enough. I’ve heard some people think the Oilers could trade down a few spots and get a proven D-man along with a top-ten pick.

Not going to happen.

There is no Sidney Crosby in this draft, so no team is going to overpay that much to move up a few spots.

In the last ten years we haven’t seen many deals where the team that traded down, or moved the pick, really benefitted from making that move.

The Florida Panthers shockingly traded away the first overall pick two years in a row, and ended up losing both of those trades.

In 2002, Florida traded the first overall pick (Rick Nash) to Columbus for the 3rd overall pick (Jay Bouwmeester) and the option to switch first-round picks in 2003. Florida finished last in 2003, so they didn’t swap picks.

What was crazy about this deal is that the Panters then had to trade two picks, 3rd rounder in 2002 and 4th rounder in 2003, to Atlanta so the Thrashers wouldn’t pick Bouwmeester.

Essentially they moved down and gave up two picks and missed out on the better player in Nash. An absolutely awful decision.

In 2003, the Panthers traded the 1st overall pick again. They traded the 1st pick (Marc-Andre Fleury) and 73rd pick (Daniel Carcillo) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third pick (Nathan Horton), the 55th pick (Stefan Meyer) and Mikael Samuelsson.

Horton is a good player, but Fleury is an impact player. I know Florida already had Roberto Luongo, but why not take Eric Staal at #1 rather than trade down?

Another top-five trade involved Tampa and Philly in 2002.

Tampa Bay traded the #4 overall pick to Philadelphia for Ruslan Fedotenko and two 2nd round picks, 34th and 52nd. Tampa then traded the 34th pick for Brad Lukowich and then dealt the 52 overall for Adam Henrich and Gerard Dicaire.

The interesting thing was Tampa GM, Jay Feaster, told reporters later that if he didn’t deal the pick he was going to take Joffrey Lupul 4th overall, but he wanted a more proven player so he went with Fedotenko. Fedotenko played a big role in their 2004 Cup win, scoring 12 goals, so even though they didn’t get the best player in the long run, that trade did help them win a Cup.

In 2008, the Islanders traded the 5th pick (Luke Schenn) to the Leafs for the 7th overall (Colin Wilson) and the 68th pick in 2008 (Shawn Lalonde) and 2nd rounder in 2009 (Mat Clark).

I should note the Islanders traded the 7th pick to the Preds for the 9th pick (Josh Bailey) and the 40th overall pick (Aaron Ness).

None of Schenn, Bailey or Wilson has become great NHL players yet, but the Islanders could have just kept the pick and taken Tyler Myers who was ranked 4th by many going into that draft.

I’m sure we will hear lots about the Oilers trading their pick leading up to the draft, but don’t expect the Oilers to get a proven D-man and stay in the top-ten. That won’t happen.

LINEUP

Devan Dubnyk will be back between the pipes tonight. Nikolai Khabibulin was good, but for the 5th time this season he lost a SO. Khabulin is 0-5 this year in the SO. He’s faced 20 shooters and allowed 12 goals for a brutal .400 SV. Meanwhile Dubnyk is 4-2 in shootouts, and he’s faced 23 shots, allowed 7 goals and has a .696 SV%.

As for the shooters, I’m stunned that Shawn Horcoff didn’t go 5th or 6th yesterday. He’s only 1 for 3 this year, but he’s still 50% in his career. Here’s how the shooters have fared this year.

Gagner 6 of 8, Hemsky 3 of 5, Horcoff 1 of 3, Eberle 3 of 11, Hall and RNH 1 of 4, Smyth, Omark, Belanger and Lander are 0-2 while Hartikainen is 0-1.

Even though Eberle only has three goals, I’d still go with him, but I’d have Horcoff going 4th every time right now.

Theo Peckham will draw back in for Andy Sutton, and the forwards should remain the same. Lennart Petrell likely won’t play due to a sore groin.

PREDICTIONS

GAME DAY PREDICTION: It is Positive Friday so let’s go with both teams finding their offence tonight in an old-fashioned barnburner. The Panthers win, however, 5-4.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Jordan Eberle gets at least one point. Only twice this season has he went three games without a point, Oct 17th, 18th, 20th and again from Nov 8th, 10th and 11th. He’s been incredibly consistent this year and with no points on the first two games of this trip, he’ll avoid a 3rd three-game drought.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ben Eager scores. He loves playing the Panthers. He has four goals in 11 career games. After watching Darcy Hordichuk light the lamp in Nashville, Eager wants to keep the 4th line’s production moving. This will be a monumental task considering they are battling not only the Panther, but also The Belanger Triangle.