The Florida Panthers‘ 2021-22 campaign came to an end last Monday night, when the Tampa Bay Lightning beat them 2-0 to complete a sweep and move on to the Eastern Conference Final. For this year’s Panthers team, anything short of a Stanley Cup can be considered at least a bit of a disappointment, and the way in which they made their postseason exit — a dominating sweep at the hands of their in-state rivals — definitely doesn’t feel good.
But there are plenty of positives to take from this season. The only real negative is the way in which it ended. So as the Panthers look towards the offseason and prepare for another playoff run in 2022-23, here are a few takeaways, both positive and negative, from the 2021-22 season.
League-Best Offense Leads to Presidents’ Trophy
The Panthers entered the 2021-22 season with high offensive expectations after finishing tied for fourth in the NHL last year with 188 goals in 56 games. They were able to exceed those lofty expectations, scoring 337 goals this season, which was 25 more than the second-highest scoring team (the Toronto Maple Leafs). Florida scored at least four goals in 50 of its 82 regular season games.
Seven Panthers skaters finished the regular season with over 20 goals. Aleksander Barkov led the way with 39, Sam Reinhart had 33, Anthony Duclair had 31, Jonathan Huberdeau had 30, Sam Bennett had 28, Carter Verhaeghe had 24, and trade deadline acquisition Claude Giroux finished with 21. A number of players, including Huberdeau, Reinhart, Duclair, Bennett, Verhaeghe, and defenseman Aaron Ekblad, had career years as well.
Team Doesn’t Miss a Beat Under Andrew Brunette
Florida got off to a hot start to the 2021-22 season under head coach Joel Quenneville. But on Oct. 27, Quenneville resigned following an investigation into how he and others in charge of the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks handled sexual assault allegations by prospect Kyle Beach against video coach Brad Aldrich.
Assistant coach Andrew Brunette immediately took over as interim head coach of the 7-0 Panthers. A team’s head coach abruptly stepping down two weeks into the season is never ideal, but Brunette stepped right in and led the team to a franchise record 122 regular season points and its first Presidents’ Trophy. The Jack Adams Award finalist as the NHL’s top coach more than proved that he deserves to have the interim tag removed.
A Historic & Record-Breaking Season
In addition to putting together the best regular season in team history, the Panthers made a mark on the record books in several other ways. Their 122 points were the seventh-most in NHL history, their 58 wins were tied for the fifth-most, and their 34 home wins were third-most. They also set an NHL record for most wins after trailing by three goals or more, coming back from large deficits to win five times during the regular season.
Plenty of individual records were set as well. Huberdeau smashed his own team record for assists in a season with 85 and broke Barkov’s team record for points in a season with 115. Speaking of Barkov, he became the franchise leader in career goals with 220 (and counting). Barkov and Huberdeau now hold the top two spots in team history in career goals (Barkov, Huberdeau), assists (Huberdeau, Barkov), and points (Huberdeau, Barkov). Veterans Sergei Bobrovsky and Joe Thornton also reached milestone marks in their careers this season.
Playoff Struggles Continue for Panthers
The Panthers, who have been in the NHL since 1993, don’t have a history of postseason success. Prior to this season, they had only made it past the first round of the playoffs once, when they made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, where they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
The good news is that the Panthers won their first playoff series since the 1995-96 season, beating the Washington Capitals in six games. The bad news is the Tampa Bay Lightning ended up sweeping them. Their league-best offense couldn’t find the back of the net against Tampa, as they were outscored by a combined total of 13-3 in the four games against their in-state rivals.
Florida’s Future Is Still Bright
If there is any silver lining that can be taken from the Panthers’ early playoff exit, it’s that the cupboard is still stacked. The core of the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy this year will return next season, and general manager Bill Zito and company will re-sign key players who are free agents and fill holes through free agents and trades.
Young players like Anton Lundell and Spencer Knight, who were rookies this season, will hopefully take a step forward as well. This team will definitely be back in the hunt next season, and although their 2021-22 regular season will be hard to replicate, they should again be one of the strongest teams in the league.
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It’s hard to label the Panthers’ 2021-22 campaign a success after the way it ended, but there are many positives to take from it. The team won some hardware, set some records, and did things that had not been done in a long time (if ever). Although it was an extremely disappointing end to the season, Panthers fans should still have optimism for next year.
Grant is a freelance writer covering the Florida Panthers/Columbus Blue Jackets and contributing to Morning Skate for THW. He started his own sports blog (Head in the Game) in 2013 and worked in the sports information department while at Trine University, from where he graduated in 2019. You can follow Grant on Twitter @G_Tingley.