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RW Steve Bernier, LW Chris Higgins, C Marty Reasoner
D Keith Ballard, C Gregory Campbell, RW Nathan Horton
THE PANTHERS could set an NHL record this year, but it's not one to get excited about. Florida failed to reach the playoffs for a record-tying ninth straight season last year, and the franchise should soon have the mark all to itself. Next spring could see dark days in the Sunshine State.
The Panthers finished 2009--10 ranked 28th in the NHL in goals scored (202), 29th in power-play efficiency (14.2%) and last in shots allowed (34.1). The club tried to add some scoring punch by signing forward Chris Higgins, who scored 27 goals with Montreal in 2007--08, but scored just eight last season in stints with the Rangers and Flames. Center Stephen Weiss (60 points) and winger David Booth—who suffered two concussions last year but still scored 16 points in the 28 games in which he played—will spearhead the first line. Florida could use more pop from underachieving forward Rostislav Olesz, who went 21 games without a point last season and is in the middle of a six-year, $18.75 million contract. Perhaps it was a good sign then that Weiss and Olesz traded punches during an energetic practice in mid-September. Olesz promptly scored a pair of goals, leading G.M. Dale Tallon to say, "If we can store some of that away for the season, we'll be all right."
The Panthers are unafraid to take their lumps—they did lead the league in blocked shots last season with 1,403. But even with all that black and blue, Florida will be back in the red.