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Panthers hoping to get back into the NHL playoff mix

September 27, 2017
FILE - In this April 17, 2016, file photo, Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) looks back at linesman Shane Heyer (55) after scoring a goal during the second period in Game 3 of an NHL hockey first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the New York Islanders in New York. After review, the goal was called off for offsides. The NHL has a clear message to coaches this season: Don’t challenge an offside call unless you’re really, really confident it was wrong. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)
FILE - In this April 17, 2016, file photo, Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) looks back at linesman Shane Heyer (55) after scoring a goal during the second period in Game 3 of an NHL hockey first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the New York Islanders in New York. After review, the goal was called off for offsides. The NHL has a clear message to coaches this season: Don’t challenge an offside call unless you’re really, really confident it was wrong. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)

FLORIDA PANTHERS

LAST SEASON: 35-36-11, 81 points. Finished 13th in Eastern Conference.

COACH: Bob Boughner (first season, first NHL season).

ADDED: RW Evgeny Davydov, RW; RW Radim Vrbata, LW Henrik Haapala.

LOST: RW Jaromir Jagr, RW Reilly Smith, RW Jonathan Marchessault, LW Shawn Thornton, LW Jussi Jokinen, LW Thomas Vanek, G Reto Barra.

PLAYER TO WATCH: D Aaron Ekblad. Going into his fourth season, it’s now the 21-year-old’s locker room. He was a combined plus-30 in his first two seasons, then a minus-23 last season — one of the many stats Florida is trying to forget from a year ago.

OUTLOOK: It seems like an annual rite: the Panthers get a new coach, say they’re starting over and that the playoffs are in sight. But having GM Dale Tallon as the primary voice for the organization again is a step in the right direction. Florida was rising as a franchise before last season’s rapid freefall, and there’s reason to think Tallon will get things right sooner than later.

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