Today we talked to Litter Box Cats' Donny Rivette about how their season is going:
1. Last year, you guys were the most successful team in the east at "almost beating the devils in the playoffs." Now...things don't seem to be breaking your way as much. Is it mostly a change of luck or are there any major changes between last year and this year?
"Luck" - or a lack of it - could be a factor if one believes in such a concept but the reality is the Panthers have found themselves saddled with an astounding collection of injuries since the abbreviated training camp. The first week of the season alone saw roster regulars Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Mike Weaver, Ed Jovanovski, Stephen Weiss, and rookie D Michael Caruso (while filling in for Jovo) all find spots in a quickly crowded Florida infirmary. Soon after those initial losses, Scottie Upshall was hobbled by ankle issues, followed by Dmitry Kulikov and an admittedly underwhelming Jose Theodore. A few from that first group eventually made it back to the lineup, only to sustain new injuries or re-aggravate old ones. As things stand Thursday morning only Goc is a certainty to play, though Upshall's (second) return may well come tonight, as he's been day-to-day for nearly a week. If that's "bad luck", yeah...they've got plenty of it, aside from the very impressive NHL debuts of Jonathan Huberdeau, Drew Shore, Colby Robak, a reinvigorated Peter Mueller, and veteran Tomas Kopecky playing the finest hockey of his career. Definitely keep an eye open for Jon Rheault, who returns to the Cats this evening as a fill-in for Versteeg.
2. The NHLPA agreed to the realignment plan that has y'all joining the northeast, along with Detroit and Tampa. Are you guys psyched or what?
I personally love the new arrangement, but it has been met with strong opposition from some of the more vocal areas of the fanbase. In a nutshell: see the BB&T Center far nearer to capacity on a regular basis while withstanding the opposition's "invasion" of non-Panther fans. This is especially pronounced when the Canadiens are in town, which - understandably - never fails to stir up local emotions. As I see it, having the likes of Boston, Montreal, Detroit, Toronto, Buffalo, etc. in Sunrise on a semi-regular basis is only good business. As the Panthers organization continues to improve, their local footprint will improve as well, creating demand for the product in the tri-county area. That was a mouthful, but there it is.
3. As a team aiming to contend for the cup, and with holes in our lineup, we're looking over the capgeek UFA list and drooling. Who do you think the Panthers would actually let leave before the trade deadline?
Far easier to list who will most certainly not be leaving: Huberdeau, Shore, Robak, Kulikov Jacob Markstrom and Erik Gudranson are locks to be retained in almost any type of fire sale, and all but Kuli are healthy. That being said, so many players are on the IR or anchored with unmovable contracts that turnover at the trading deadline could be minimal, though names such as Goc, Kopecky, and Tomas Fleischmann have been floated regulary in various rumor mills, though it's difficult to believe Flash isn't part of the future. Anyway, the Panthers will undoubtedly be a fun team to watch at the deadline, the draft, and UFA day.
Be sure to check out Litter Box Cats today, but remember: they don't allow swearing in the comments.