Will Goaltending Sink the Panthers?

After reacquiring Roberto Luongo, it appears the last thing the Florida Panthers need to worry about is goaltending. But Luongo won’t be the netminder for all 82 games. The Panthers will be lucky to squeeze 70+ games out of him in  the 2014/15 season. The 35 year old star netminder will have to shoulder some of the goaltending responsibility with the Panthers new backup goaltender, Dan Ellis. Ellis registered a worrisome, career-low .836 save % with the Panthers last season. If the Panthers don’t want goaltending to sink the Panthers, or finish towards the bottom of the standings for their third consecutive season in a row, it would be wise for them to invest in a backup goaltender – in either free agency or a trade – who can not only play between 20-25 games next season, but can actually steal enough games to give the dismal Panthers a fighting chance to win most nights when their defense or offense isn’t scoring or defending well enough to win.

Although Dan Ellis should get the benefit of the doubt, because he only played 6 games with the Panthers last year, his 4.8 GAA is a cause for alarm no matter how you look at it. Those numbers are worse than that of the disappointing, Jacob Markstrom. On a team with a lack of offensive and defensive firepower like that of the Panthers, the backup goaltender can’t afford to be less than mediocre, because those 20-25 games where they are in net can be the difference in either winning or losing 40-50 pts in the standings. How many times have teams missed the playoffs because of just a handful of games? In the Panthers case, it’s happened enough times to make Dan Ellis a serious liability if the Panthers are serious about making the playoffs next year.  Will it be a regression to the mean for Ellis, or just plain old regression next year? No one can tell. But the Panthers shouldn’t sit comfortably with this many question marks in net.

Dan Ellis
Dan Ellis (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

The Panthers management could make enough changes through free agency/trades to surround Ellis with better defenders. Perhaps they will address their scoring woes by adding some proven scoring talent and Ellis will have a bigger cushion in net. But should the Panthers risk waiting for Ellis to prove that he can win with an imagined upgraded lineup, or should they bring in someone else who they are certain can carry the burden of the team with the current roster? I think the safest bet would be the latter. And if the Panthers do keep Ellis, how many losses will it take for them to actually do something about it before it’s too late again? It took about 10 losses in a row before the Panthers canned coach Kevin Dineen early in the season last year, and at that point, they were already out of the playoffs in far too deep of a hole to recover from. So in the end, if the Panthers can’t replace Ellis with someone who can steal games for them when Luongo is resting or injured, then their backup plan of a goaltender will sink the Panthers closer to Connor McDavid than it will raise them to the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference for a fighting chance at the Stanley Cup.