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NHL.Com: Is This the Panthers Year? ... Changes in Coverage

KoolaidUpon taking a break from writing football preview stories, I noticed a new story on floridapanthers.com regarding the Panthers chances for next season.

It's a story that doesn't break any news or anything, but it does bring up Florida's long postseason drought -- and suggests this might be the year the Panthers finally jump into the playoffs.

This comes just a few days after The Hockey News predicted the Cats would finish last in the Eastern Conference.

My take is this: I think the Panthers are going to be an interesting bunch, but if they make it to the postseason, Pete DeBoer is not only the coach of the year, but perhaps the decade. I just don't see this team scoring many goals and there are way too many question marks throughout the lineup.

The current lineup isn't very imposing, and that's even if it stays healthy. Once guys start getting hurt and DeBoer is forced to start mixing and matching, well, that's not going to be fun.

And does anyone really think the Panthers are better than they were last year? I think Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina are better than they were last year. The Southeast Division has really improved. That's not going to help the Panthers.

I think with Tomas Vokoun, the Panthers have a chance to be in every game. Maybe they steal a few here or there. I could actually see the Panthers finally get off to a good start and create a feel-good buzz. Maybe they sustain that, like some other surprising teams (Colorado, Phoenix) did last year. If the Panthers are in the playoff mix, it's going to be real hard for GM Dale Tallon to wheel off UFAs Vokoun, Bryan McCabe and Cory Stillman at the deadline. 

But that's a whole lot of maybes.

Anyway, training camp is about a month away (rookie camp opens in less than a month in Coral Springs) and players are starting to trickle back to our little corner of the world. I'll be heading to the rink a few times a week to see who I find. Check back here for reports.

-- Also, congrats to my old pal Steve X. who is moving from the Panthers to the Miami Hurricanes beat. We spent the past five seasons fighting, laughing and competing for stories. We traveled countless miles together covering this team and I must say it was a pretty good time. Hopefully when the Panthers make it to the playoffs, he'll come back and help out.

That said, I would like to officially welcome Harvey to the beat. He's helped Steve out the past few years and has even been on a few road trips with me. He's no rookie. I'm sure will have our share of fun as well -- but I will not drive from Washington D.C. to Atlanta ever again.

And for those who hoped I would join Steve down in the Gables, too bad. You're stuck with me.