The Panthers' offseason game plan: Adding a top-six winger is key

The Panthers' season ended a little sooner than they'd hoped, but there are signs of a bright future in Sunrise, Florida. AP Photo/Joe Skipper

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 2017-18, along with three keys to its offseason and a way-too-early prediction on what 2018-19 will hold.

What went wrong

It's a case of too little, too early.

The Florida Panthers started the season 7-11-2. By Jan. 30, they were 10 points out of the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with a 20-22-6 record. Since then, Florida has gone 22-8-2 to make a real run at a playoff spot, buoyed by a dominant performance by the line of Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov and Nick Bjugstad, as well as strong goaltending from both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer.

But the early stumble under first-year coach Bob Boughner dug too deep a hole, and the teams they were chasing for the wild card closed the deal.

What went wrong? Defensively, they just weren't good enough for most of the season, with a team goals-against average of 3.01 (compared to 2.97 goals scored per game); they gave up the third-highest shots on goal per game (34.4) in the NHL. They were a negative possession team, and were in the bottom half of the league in even-strength goal differential.