2009 preview: Florida Panthers

A few years ago, this looked to be a powerhouse team of the future.

They had Roberto Luongo, Jay Bouwmeester and others. But now they’re all gone to different NHL teams, and the Panthers are still waiting to become a playoff team again. They were close last year, but this should be the year they get over that hump and make the postseason.

Story of the season:Who will replace Jay Bouwmeester on defence? His 42 points are replaceable, but his 27 minutes of ice time a game will be a little trickier. For now, all the defencemen will need to step up their game.

Former Habs:Rory Fitzpatrick, Tomas Vokoun

Blog to follow: Litter Box Cats

TV commercial break

Pool Picks: Nathan Horton. The guy had a down year last year, mostly because of injuries. But he should rebound this year, and have a solid 65-point season. Stay away from:Bryan McCabe. He may get the powerplay time and be the new captain, but his numbers will finish somewhere in the mid-30s.

Award nominees:Michael Repik for the Calder.

Expected Finish: Third in the Southeast, eighth in the East.

Cheerleader: The Panthers have an ice team, more out of necessity, since they count for 30% of the team’s attendance every game.

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