Every team in the NHL is familiar with the injury bug and the Florida Panthers are no different. This season has started like many others have over the last decade for the Cats, with a rash of injuries ranging from the typical “lower body” issue to the standard flu affliction. The difference this season is that the team has prepared themselves for this over the last few years. The depth the Panthers have displayed this year is something that hasn’t been present for the team, well, possibly ever. Call-ups from the AHL have stepped in and done a formidable job temporarily replacing their NHL counterparts throughout the Cats’ roster. I use the word “temporarily” very loosely, because the youth movement appears to be in full swing at the BB&T Center.
A common theme around the NHL is that injuries breed opportunity. Fortunately for the Panthers they haven’t suffered a long-term injury this season. Most of the ailments have been relatively minor, such as the flu bug that kept winger Jonathan Huberdeau out of the lineup for a week. Up to this point, the player that has missed the most time is newly signed $5.5 Million man Dave Bolland, who has missed the last 10 games with an apparent groin-injury. Vinny Trocheck was called up from San Antonio after only 8 games alongside newly turned-pro Rocco Grimaldi. On top of this, the Panthers have a revolving door of Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri and others taking turns sitting in the press box. With players going down over the last few weeks, the likes of Hayes and Trocheck have gotten the chance to prove that they belong in the lineup each night, leaving the Panthers with a problem that most teams hope to have.
Preparing For the Worst
Injuries happen. They’re one of many common occurrences in the NHL. They can’t be avoided, but teams can definitely prepare
themselves for it. The aforementioned Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri were acquired in separate deals from the Chicago Blackhawks last season. The addition of these two was a move to not only infuse a bit of offense into the lineup, but to support the cast of forwards if (when) injuries occurred. Although Pirri is currently out with a concussion after taking a hard hit from Arizona’s Keith Yandle, he still managed to score 3 goals in just 4 games played before going down. With both Pirri and Bolland out, the Cats had a hole at the third-line center spot. Insert Vinny Trocheck. The former 3rd rounder has picked up right where he left off last season, notching 4 assists in just 6 games. Jimmy Hayes had been a healthy scratch early in the year, but in six games this season he has 6 points in 8 games and is currently on a three-game goal scoring streak. Even defenseman Colby Robak filled in as a fourth-line forward for a couple of games and didn’t look completely out of place. With all of these young players proving themselves out on the ice, who will fall victim to the numbers game when the likes of Bolland and Pirri return?
A Problem You Want
The problem of “too much depth” is something that all NHL teams strive for. With years of picking high in the draft and acquiring picks for expiring contracts come trade deadline, the Panthers have stocked their cupboard with capable players. Sean Bergenheim, who is seen as a regular in the Panthers lineup, was a healthy scratch on Friday night when the Cats hosted the Islanders. Instead, head coach Gerard Gallant chose to stick with the hot hand and leave winger Jimmy Hayes in the lineup, a move which paid off when Hayes scored the game’s first goal and assisted on the tying goal late in the 3rd period.
It will be a tough decision for General Manager Dale Tallon when Dave Bolland returns. Vinny Trocheck has more than proven he belongs with the big club, and with an influx of wingers already, there isn’t really a place for him among the group of Panthers forwards. Can you really justify sending down a player with better stats than most of your young “core” forwards and your shiny new off-season signings, especially when your team has been starved for offense almost every game? It will be a difficult decision for Tallon, one that I’m sure he’s prepared to make.