Why the Florida Panthers Are in Trouble

The warm Florida sun may be setting on a once-promising season for Nick Bjugstad and the Panthers.

Regression to the mean can be a cruel thing.

For the Florida Panthers, things appear to be headed toward the mean.

The Panthers are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference with 54 points. Seven points separate them from the Boston Bruins, which would not seem like a lot if not for nERD.

nERD is a head-to-head goal differential formula designed to help predict a Stanley Cup champion. Florida’s nERD currently sits at -0.5, 26th out of 30 teams in the NHL, according to our math. Boston’s nERD is a healthier 0.21, 12th overall.

You see why it may be time to panic?

The Bruins won eight of 12 games in January and crept back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Florida won a meager four games in 12 January contests and has split its first two matchups in February. Not the best way to ring in 2015.

The Panthers have issues scoring, too. Hockey is a team game, sure, but having an elite scoring option (or a couple of very good ones) help. Nick Bjugstad is Florida’s leading scorer with 16 goals and 31 points. His 31 points are tied for third-worst by a team’s leading scorer in the NHL. Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes also has 31 points, Tyler Ennis of the Buffalo Sabres has 30, and Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils has 28.

What do these four scorers and teams have in common? Sub-zero nERD scores and early tee times in April if things do not improve, as none of the four have playoff odds higher than 7.60% according to our power rankings. To be fair, the Panthers are the only team with a prayer of making the postseason, and even their chances are lower than 8.0%.

The February schedule for Florida will make or break their playoff hopes. Only four of their remaining 13 February games are against the East, which does not help them gain much ground within the conference. The nine Western Conference matchups include Los Angeles, Nashville, Anaheim, Minnesota, Dallas, St. Louis and Chicago (twice).

A good Rodney Dangerfield collar pull would be appropriate here.

There is a small beacon of hope for the Florida Panthers, though. They have the second-highest playoff odds (7.80%) of the bottom 10 teams based on nERD and are just one of two teams in that group projected to finish with at least 85 points in the standings (Ottawa is the other). Ottawa and Philadelphia are the only two teams below them in the standings that are considered playoff contenders, and only the Senators have better odds of making the playoffs (8.12%)

Still, the Panthers face a tough stretch in February, and they have an uphill battle to clinch a playoff berth.

There’s always the chance of getting a good slot in the NHL Draft if things go sour, right?