CORAL SPRINGS, FLA. (WSVN) - 7News’ Mike DiPasquale recently sat down with George Richards, a respected National Hockey League insider, to dive into the highly anticipated Florida Panthers’ upcoming season. After a whirlwind summer that saw the Panthers make a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to fall short, fans are eager to know if this season holds the promise of another deep playoff push.
Mike DiPasquale: After a quick summer turnaround for the Florida Panthers, making it to the Stanley Cup Finals, Cass, as we know, came up short. Do you expect them to make a run for the cup this season?
George Richards: That’s going to be tough. The Florida Panthers upset the Boston Bruins as the No. 8 seed last year. Then beat Toronto, beat Carolina and then lost to Vegas. It was an incredible run by the Florida Panthers. I believe the Florida Panthers will be a playoff team. They’re going to be right in contention. I don’t expect them to win the Atlantic. I don’t think it’s going to be easy for Florida, especially with the injuries that they’ve got right now to start off the season. But, Florida will be right in that mix as we saw last year. Good things might just happen.
Mike DiPasquale: Well get to the injuries in a moment, but first this off-season, General Manager Bill Zito was busy. What were his biggest moves?
George Richards: Well he didn’t have a whole lot of money to play with, he had uh — and I thought he spent it well — he went out and got a top-six forward Evan Rodrigues, Sasha Barkov. Evan Rodrigues has shown throughout his NHL career that he’s a pretty capable forward. Florida also went out to address their defensive debt. Bill Zito spent not a lot of money but got a lot of good players defensively. It was a good free agency period for Bill Zito, although, again, not a whole lot of big splashes but he added to the team and this team looks deeper than it did last year.
Mike DiPasquale: On the injury front as we mentioned, Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour went through individual drills away from the team during his training camp. What is their timetable to return?
George Richards: Well Bill Zito told us it’s gonna start on Dec. 15. Now, one player might be before that, one player might be after. I think Brandon Montour probably will be the first player of those two to be back. They both had shoulder injuries but Aaron Ekblad was going through some other stuff, he had a broken foot, he had a groin injury, to go along with the shoulder. So, they’re going to miss all of October and at least most of November. I think we’ll see Brandon Montour back sometime early December and perhaps January for Aaron Ekblad.
Mike DiPasquale: Finally, the Panthers announced that the lower bowl section of the arena is sold out for this season. Fans are clearly jumping on board. How important it continue that momentum this season.
George Richards: Oh! Absolutely huge. You have to continue moving forward. Every time, in the past, that the Florida Panthers have been good, they followed that up with a poor season. Now you’re seeing a consistency that the Panthers always talked about. They’ve been in the playoffs the past three years, they’ve been in the postseason the last four [years]. Last year they went all the way to the Stanely Cup finals. So the Panthers are showing consistency. This is a good program. They’re doing things the right way and fans are buying in.
As George Richards aptly pointed out, the Florida Panthers are riding a wave of consistency and fan enthusiasm that hasn’t been seen in years. With smart moves in the offseason, an eye on returning stars recovering from injuries, and a sold-out lower bowl section in the arena, the Panthers are poised for an exciting season ahead.
The stage is set and there’s no doubt that hockey fans will be keeping a close eye on the Florida Panthers as they aim to make their mark in the NHL once again.
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