1. What are you guys expecting out of Tim Thomas?
At first, Thomas was an insurance policy. The original plan was to field Jacob Markstrom as the starter and Scott Clemmensen as the No. 2. Thomas, however, looked good enough in camp to justify the top slot. Clemmensen is coming off the worst season of his career, statistically speaking, (3-7-2, .874 save percentage, 3.67 GAA). After a 17 month hiatus, a rusty Thomas looks better than a healthy Clemmers, who has since cleared waivers and is currently suiting up for the San Antonio Rampage. Is Thomas good enough to get the Panthers into the playoffs? Probably not, but he brings them a step closer to respectability.
2. The Panthers were the worst team in the NHL last season in both goals for and goals against. Will this change this season, and if so, why?
Florida suffered a lot of injuries last season, contributing to a lot of AHL talent in the lineup. Although that's hardly a good excuse, as everyone has injuries, the Panthers lost forwards Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, Scottie Upshall, and Sean Bergenheim (that's four of the top six at the time), as well as blueliners Mike Weaver, Ed Jovanovski, Erik Gudbranson, and Dmitry Kulikov, all for at least a quarter of the season.
This season, the Panthers boast a stable of fresh young legs, with Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau (19), Calder Trophy hopeful Aleksander Barkov (18) and Drew Shore (23) at the NHL level, and Quinton Howden (21), Nick Bjugstad (21), and Alex Petrovic (21), among others all waiting in the wings. Weiss was traded away, but Versteeg, Upshall, Weaver, Gudbranson and Kulikov all look fresher as well.
Additionally, the Panthers recently signed veteran depth with the aforementioned Thomas, as well as skater Brad Boyes, Krys Barch, Scott Gomez, Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert. Florida stands to benefit from the influx of depth and young talent, and at the very least, shouldn't be the worst in the NHL. (That's aiming high, right?)
3. How do Panthers fans feel about the new realignment, namely being stuck in a division with all the only Northeast teams?
It's a very tough division, and not only is the competition amongst the stiffest in the NHL, but Florida also stands to suffer with all the extra travel. Besides being kind of a geographic raw deal for the Panthers, it has a lot of potential. Most of the teams in the division boast a large South Florida following, guaranteeing better attendance for more games. There's also a lot of fertile ground for budding rivalries with four of the original six amongst the eight teams. To bemoan the extra travel is to be short sighted, as the Panthers can't be bottom feeders indefinitely. With the seeding for possible future blood feuds in place, Panthers hockey can only benefit in the long run.
We answered Kevin's questions about the Flyers over at LBC, so be sure to check that out.