Looking ahead for the Florida Panthers: Time to go big in free agency

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

As each NHL team is eliminated from playoff contention -- either mathematically or by losing in the postseason -- we'll take a look at why its quest for the Stanley Cup fell short in 2018-19, along with three keys to its offseason, impact prospects for 2019-20 and a way-too-early prediction for what next season will hold.

What went wrong

Some of us [author coughs loudly and emphatically] saw the Florida Panthers as not only a playoff team that would earn north of 95 points but also a potential contender to win the Eastern Conference ... and boy, were we wrong. The Panthers had a 96-point 2017-18 season that saw them barely miss the playoffs. They followed it with a rancid campaign that lacked consistency and, frequently, any semblance of competent defense or goaltending. Having the worst save percentage in the NHL (.890) is generally not recommended.

When it went wrong? While the rest of us were making New Year's resolutions, the Panthers were embarking on a seven-game winless streak that torpedoed their season.

Despite Aleksander Barkov's 88 points and solid goal-scoring from Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov, this became another lost season for a team that has made the playoffs only twice since 2001. But success could be a few key offseason decisions away ...