Panthers hope new mix changes fortune

The Panthers have undergone a complete overhaul this summer as they try to end the longest current playoff drought in the NHL. They’ve made a coaching change, with Kevin Dineen taking over behind the bench, and they’ve revamped the lineup. Through a series of trades and free-agent signings, 18 new veteran players were added to the organization, plus another 10 selected in this year’s draft. To make room, the Panthers cut ties with 15 players from last year’s roster.

With that much turnover, it will take time for the club to come together, but after another last-place finish in the Southeast Division, Florida had to make some radical moves to try to get things going in the right direction.

2010-11 record: 30-40-12, 72 points (5th Southeast Division; 15th Eastern Conference; did not qualify for the playoffs)

Key additions: D Brian Campbell (trade with Chicago); F Tomas Kopecky (trade with Chicago); F Kris Versteeg (trade with Philadelphia); F Scottie Upshall (free agent); F Tomas Fleischmann (free agent); F Marcel Goc (free agent); D Ed Jovanovski (free agent); D Nolan Yonkman (free agent); G Jose Theodore (free agent); F Sean Bergenheim (free agent); F Matt Bradley (free agent); D Tyson Strachan (free agent); F Angelo Esposito (trade with Winnipeg); F Sergei Shirokov (trade with Vancouver); D Keith Seabrook (trade with Calgary); F Greg Rallo (free agent); D Mike Kostka (free agent); F Bracken Kearns (free agent); F Jonathan Huberdeau (draft)

Key losses: G Tomas Vokoun (signed with Washington); F Rostislav Olesz (traded to Chicago); F Niclas Bergfors (signed with Nashville); F Bryon Bitz (signed with Vancouver); F Darcy Hordichuk (signed with Edmonton); F Kenndal McArdle (traded to Winnipeg); F Mike Duco (traded to Vancouver); F Patrick Rismiller (signed with Colorado); D Jordan Henry (traded to Calgary); F Sergei Samsonov (free agent); F Marty Reasoner (signed with NY Islanders); F Steve Bernier (free agent); F Bill Thomas (free agent); D Clay Wilson (signed with Calgary); D Joe Callahan (free agent)

Burning question: How long will it take the club to come together after so many changes?

The Panthers needed to make moves after back-to-back last-place finishes, but with a new coaching staff and so many new players added to the mix it will take some time for the team to jell. Chemistry is a crucial ingredient to a successful squad, and the Panthers will have to see how the various pieces they’ve assembled this summer fit together. They have upgraded their talent, but getting everyone to work together will be the biggest challenge facing Dineen in his first year behind an NHL bench.

2011-12 outlook: Dineen will have more to work with than his predecessor Peter DeBoer, as the Panthers added Scottie Upshall (22-12-34 last season), Tomas Fleischmann (12-19-31 in 45 games) and Kris Versteeg (21-25-45) to a forward corps that already has Stephen Weiss (21-28-49), Mike Santorelli (20-21-41) and David Booth (23-17-40).

There are some injury concerns with Fleischmann returning from a pulmonary embolism that ended his season and Booth just a year removed from a severe concussion. The newcomers on the blue line also have a checkered medical history. Brian Campbell was the big pickup from Chicago, but he’s missed 31 games over the last two seasons and had his lowest point total since the lockout last year with 5-22-27 totals. Ed Jovanovski has six double-digit goal seasons, but managed just 5-9-14 totals in 50 games last year and has missed 48 games over the last two seasons.

There could be more help on the way with a pair of top prospects, as defenseman Erik Gudbranson (third overall pick in 2010) and center Jonathan Huberdeau (third overall in 2011) could both make the leap to the NHL this season.

Did you know? The Panthers’ playoff drought is now at 10 seasons, with Florida last qualifying for the postseason in 1999-2000. Since joining the NHL in 1993, the Panthers have made the playoffs just three times. They did make a Cinderella run to the Cup Final in their first appearance in 1996, but were swept in the Final by Colorado and have not won a playoff series since. In fact, they’ve only won a single playoff game since beating Pittsburgh in the 1996 conference final. After being swept by the Avalanche, Florida lost 4-1 to the Rangers in the first round in 1997 and was swept 4-0 by New Jersey in the opening round in 2000.