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Panthers on Destination to Nowhere

FutureGM

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ESPN.com-

SUNRISE, Fla. -- For those with an appetite for NHL history, there are teams that were once linked by their beginnings in the league and always will be.

For starters, there's the Original Six, and never mind that they weren't, in actuality, the NHL's first six clubs.

They were joined in 1967 by six new brethren, four of whom still exist in the cities in which they began.

In 1970, Vancouver and Buffalo were added, and while there hasn't been much shared history since, the Canucks and Sabres always will share birthdays.

Four World Hockey Association teams -- Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec and Winnipeg -- merged with the NHL in 1979. Three of them eventually became Stanley Cup champions (after some significant geographical movement, of course).

In 1992, Tampa Bay and Ottawa were the recipients of arguably the league's most flawed expansion effort, and it remains a modern miracle that both franchises survived.

One year later, as the NHL hurriedly tried to establish a North American "footprint" by recklessly adding too many teams too fast, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Florida Panthers were born.

The Ducks and Panthers were supposed to be different, very different. Disney had been brought into the NHL family with the Anaheim squad, while Blockbuster boss Wayne Huizenga was to elevate hockey in the Sunshine State to a spectacular new level. Fourteen years later, neither Disney nor Huizenga is anywhere to be seen on the NHL landscape, and both the Ducks and Panthers still are struggling for acceptance.

The Ducks have been significantly more successful in recent years. They made it all the way to Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup finals before losing to New Jersey and have been a very strong franchise over the past two seasons after dumping the "Mighty" part of their name last year.

Then, there's the Panthers. They have taken, over the course of their existence, a rather circuitous route that essentially has landed them in the very same place.

Or perhaps even worse.

A 3-2 overtime loss to divisional rival Carolina on Tuesday night before a pathetic audience of 10,317, a game that was the 1,000th in team history but wasn't celebrated in any visible way at the Bank Atlantic Center, dropped the Panthers to 14th place in the Eastern Conference.

A sixth consecutive non-playoff season is apparently in progress.

All the hustle and bustle of the offseason, one that included the departure of the team's signature star, goalie Roberto Luongo, and the acquisition of disgraced forward Todd Bertuzzi from Vancouver, ultimately has amounted to nothing.

This is, arguably, the NHL's weakest link, a team that was once very popular playing out of the bandbox Miami Arena when a hail of plastic rats meant the home team had scored but now lives in virtual seclusion somewhere near, but not too near, Fort Lauderdale.

Consider the plight of Finnish-born center Olli Jokinen, who outshone Sidney Crosby in a recent Panthers victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins with a hat trick.

Jokinen is the team's best and most appealing player, but he won't be in Dallas next week representing the Eastern Conference.

"It's pretty tough to get voted in if you're in South Florida," lamented Jokinen to The Miami Herald. "A lot of guys, if they don't have a satellite dish, they don't see our games."

This wasn't supposed to be the way it would turn out for Huizenga's hockey team, which initially made a meteoric ascent up the standings and looked like it would be far more successful than Tampa's Lightning.

"It's pretty tough to get voted in if you're in South Florida. A lot of guys, if they don't have a satellite dish, they don't see our games."
-- Olli Jokinen on his recent All-Star snub

Within three years of being born, the Panthers were in the Stanley Cup finals under GM Bryan Murray and coach Doug MacLean, losing in four straight to Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche while making a big splash in the hockey world.

What people forget, of course, is that the next season began with the team's going unbeaten in 17 games. Then, it was as though time stopped for the Panthers, who gradually fell into near anonymity in the hypercompetitive world of South Florida professional and college sports.

Pavel Bure was here for a time, scoring 58 and 59 goals in separate seasons without attracting legions of new customers. Celebrated shinny wanderer Mike Keenan, the NHL's answer to Admin Brown, was hired not once but twice.

Losing has remained a constant since the team last reached the postseason, in 2000, and has continued this season despite a team that, on paper, now appears to have an attractive mix of talented young players and savvy veterans.

But it clearly has turned out to be less than the sum of its parts. With 17 wins, the Panthers appear to be going nowhere for specific reasons:

They are the NHL's worst road team with only five victories away from home.

In 25 road games, the Panthers have scored only 58 goals, while in 23 home starts, they've potted 79.

Despite being led by Jacques Martin, considered one of the league's more conservative and better defensive coaches, the Panthers rank 24th in team defense.

Here's the real kicker. The overtime loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday meant the Panthers fell to 0-10 this season in games decided either in OT (0-4) or shootouts (0-6), the only squad without a victory in extra time this season.

Eight of those defeats have come at the hands of conference rivals, eight additional points that, if acquired, would have made a big difference to the Panthers' season. In shootouts, Martin's crew has scored only three times on 26 attempts, while goalies Ed Belfour and Alex Auld have been fooled 11 times on 26 shots.

The team's low point this season might have come last week in Raleigh, N.C., where the Hurricanes exploded for six third-period goals to come from behind and beat the Panthers in a humiliating end. Afterward, Jokinen fumed that some of his teammates seemed "afraid to win and quit playing" and "were nervous to go out on the ice," comments with which Martin, oddly enough, concurred.

To be sure, there are circumstances behind the Panthers' season.

Keenan, the team's general manager, abruptly left on Sept. 3 after swinging the Bertuzzi-Luongo deal and a making a variety of other moves, including signing free-agent defenseman Ruslan Salei. As has often been the case with Iron Mike, whether he quit or was fired remains a debating point. Martin added the GM portfolio to his job description despite never having done anything but coach at the NHL level.

Hard-rock left winger Gary Roberts asked for a trade back to Toronto to accommodate family requirements, but ultimately was forced to stay put. His best friend, center Joe Nieuwendyk, likewise was supposed to be one who would help lead younger players Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss. But Nieuwendyk was forced into retirement by chronic back problems on Dec. 6.

Bertuzzi, the player who was supposed to supply goals and brawn in his new hockey life far from the scene of his infamous attack on Colorado's Steve Moore three years ago, had scored only one goal and played in only seven games before undergoing back surgery Nov. 2. He has resumed skating over the past week, and might attempt to resume practicing later this month with an eye toward playing in February.

Still, the Panthers seemingly would have enough talent to remain competitive. But while their expansion twin in Anaheim has soared to the top of the Western Conference, the Panthers seem stuck in neutral, their Miami heyday a lifetime ago.

There is already speculation the Panthers will be dumping bodies before the Feb. 27 trade deadline, and even the name of Bouwmeester, the club's lone All-Star representative, has surfaced.

The Penguins' uncertain future has attracted most of the attention this season in terms of teams on rocky ground, but the Panthers, under owner Alan Cohen, are probably worse off.

The fan base has dwindled, and there is no Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin to serve as a sexy marquee attraction to make anyone want to watch the Panthers. The sport seems to have no roots here despite the efforts of the Panthers' alumni association to provide grants to promising local players. Meanwhile, in Tampa, they are celebrating a local boys team that recently went to Canada and won a prestigious minor hockey tournament.

One wonders how long the Panthers can survive as an athletic afterthought in a state that has celebrated a World Series champion, an NBA champion and is currently home to the reigning NCAA men's basketball and Division I football champions. Oh, yes, and the Lightning won a Stanley Cup in 2004.

South Florida, it's fair to say, once loomed as hockey's new frontier. Now, it seems more like hockey's hinterland.

Damien Cox, a columnist for The Toronto Star, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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fauowls44

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I want to disagree, but I can't. This is what years of awful management does to a team. The organization needs a complete overhaul. If the Panthers hockey people were half as smart as the Marlins baseball people, they would be fine. I just hope they figure it out soon, because it has been far too long since a NHL playoff game took place down here.
 

JetsMania

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This article was posted in another thread. I came up with a top 5 list of teams with the least impact on a national scale (meaning are and have been terrible).

My list is (this one is different than the last one)

Golden State
Drays
Panthers
Cardinals
Blackhawks

Honorable mention: Browns, Royals, Lions, Clippers
 

JetsMania

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BTW how can I contact that guy?

I was doing some research and the blackhawks are in a worse situation than the panthers. From the 1999-2000 season (when the new arena opened making the hawks and panthers arenas comparable in size) the panthers have out drawn the blackhawks 6 out of the 7 seasons. Both teams have been equally bad, both making the playoffs only once since the 1997-98 season. The panthers have the excuse that hockey is relatively new to the area. The blackhawks are an original six and have been around for 60+ years (not sure how many). Their home games arent on tv. The very same night the panthers drew 10,000 vs carolina, the blackhawks did the same thing.
 

JetsMania

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Edit:

Ok I found his email and sent it. Comments?



Hi Damion,

I recently read your article on espn.com "panthers destination nowhere". I just had a comment for you. I will not disagree that the panthers are a disgrace (this is coming from a panthers fan) I just wanted to point out that I believe the blackhawks are in a worse situation. The panthers attendance hasn't been good this year, yet its still higher than the blackhawks. That night the panthers drew 10,300 vs Carolina... the blackhawks drew 10,600 vs the blue jackets. And this is supposed to be an original six team? Blackhawk home games arent even televised! Also, since the 1999-2000 season the panthers have out drawn the blackhawks 6 out of the last 7 seasons. The teams performance on the ice is also comparable, both teams have made the playoffs once since the 1997-98 season. I have no problem with anyone trashing the panthers, quite frankly they deserve it. I am just curious why it seems like the blackhawks get a free pass?


Mario
 

fauowls44

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Great letter. Please post any response you get from him. Thanks
 

McFly

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Poor Panthers. Nothing has gone right for this franchise ever since that Cinderella season back in '96. Only one playoff appearance since then. On top of that they have very few fans. I feel bad for guys like Jokinen who are stuck in Hockey pergatory. He deserves better and so does the organization which is why I feel they should relocate to a city where they'll be appreciated because they sure as hell aren't down here.
 

FutureGM

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I think the reason that he wrote about the Panthers instead of the Blackhawks was very simple. I have read many articles in the past on ESPN.com and in their magazine about how awful a franchise the Blackhawks are. They were ranked the worst franchise in sports by ESPN a few years ago.

By comparison, the Panthers have received very little press of any kind the last 10 years or so, on a national stage.
 

Beinfest4Prez

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Poor Panthers. Nothing has gone right for this franchise ever since that Cinderella season back in '96. Only one playoff appearance since then. On top of that they have very few fans. I feel bad for guys like Jokinen who are stuck in Hockey pergatory. He deserves better and so does the organization which is why I feel they should relocate to a city where they'll be appreciated because they sure as hell aren't down here.
Two playoff appearances, one in 1997 and one in 2000.

We can blame this ownership group because they haven't stuck with a single system yet. Hopefully they don't do something stupid like fire Martin.


Poor Panthers. Nothing has gone right for this franchise ever since that Cinderella season back in '96. Only one playoff appearance since then. On top of that they have very few fans. I feel bad for guys like Jokinen who are stuck in Hockey pergatory. He deserves better and so does the organization which is why I feel they should relocate to a city where they'll be appreciated because they sure as hell aren't down here.

They aren't? For a sh*tty team in South Florida that is new, I think the fanbase could be much worse. From my experience, Panthers fans are probably the most loyal of the bunch. Just because the sports media down here chooses to ignore their existence doesn't mean their fanbase is horrible. And from my experience having lived in Miami, they're a lot more appreciated in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Most of the bangwagon Miami fans are like "Oooh, yeah, I remember them, I used to like them back in '96 but they got bad". Attendance could be better, but considering how dreadful the Panthers are and where they play, it could be much worse as well.
Panthers fans and Marlins fans who go to the games are the most loyal fans of any team in South Florida.

I don't think anyone can dispute that. I'm not sure but I'd like to see a comparison on attendance in both the new arenas for the Heat and the Panthers during the lean years.
 

Hammerhead

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Poor Panthers. Nothing has gone right for this franchise ever since that Cinderella season back in '96. Only one playoff appearance since then. On top of that they have very few fans. I feel bad for guys like Jokinen who are stuck in Hockey pergatory. He deserves better and so does the organization which is why I feel they should relocate to a city where they'll be appreciated because they sure as hell aren't down here.
Two playoff appearances, one in 1997 and one in 2000.

We can blame this ownership group because they haven't stuck with a single system yet. Hopefully they don't do something stupid like fire Martin.


Poor Panthers. Nothing has gone right for this franchise ever since that Cinderella season back in '96. Only one playoff appearance since then. On top of that they have very few fans. I feel bad for guys like Jokinen who are stuck in Hockey pergatory. He deserves better and so does the organization which is why I feel they should relocate to a city where they'll be appreciated because they sure as hell aren't down here.

They aren't? For a sh*tty team in South Florida that is new, I think the fanbase could be much worse. From my experience, Panthers fans are probably the most loyal of the bunch. Just because the sports media down here chooses to ignore their existence doesn't mean their fanbase is horrible. And from my experience having lived in Miami, they're a lot more appreciated in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Most of the bangwagon Miami fans are like "Oooh, yeah, I remember them, I used to like them back in '96 but they got bad". Attendance could be better, but considering how dreadful the Panthers are and where they play, it could be much worse as well.
Panthers fans and Marlins fans who go to the games are the most loyal fans of any team in South Florida.

I don't think anyone can dispute that. I'm not sure but I'd like to see a comparison on attendance in both the new arenas for the Heat and the Panthers during the lean years.
:thumbup :thumbup :thumbup :thumbup :thumbup :thumbup :thumbup :thumbup
 

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I am going to say something very controversial: I don't blame anyone from Fort Lauderdale one bit. The Garbageman fleeced the county for the Error by the Everglades (I will never EVER call it the Bank Atlantic Center/Office Depot Arena/National Car Rental Center), then took the money and ran. That set the tone for how the Panthers organization has fleeced South Florida the past 7 years. If any team should be moving to KC, it should be the Panthers and not the Penguins. The decrepit Igloo still gets filled to the brim, but it's becoming apparent hockey is dead in South Florida.
 

CTMarlinsfan

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there are many ways to approach this article...so I am going to take one of those and comment on specific parts...some I agree with, some I don't

First, the entire beginning. Tampa, Ottawa, and Anaheim are not miracles. They are great hockey markets. Tampa is somewhat a miracle, but there is so much local talent in Tampa. 2 ECAC Hockey goalies (college)...STARTERS and one female ECAC goalie...all from Tampa...on NATIONALlY ranked teams! Yes, that's a miracle, but really they did not expand a rapidly expanding sport too rapidly at that point.
A 3-2 overtime loss to divisional rival Carolina on Tuesday night before a pathetic audience of 10,317, a game that was the 1,000th in team history but wasn't celebrated in any visible way at the Bank Atlantic Center, dropped the Panthers to 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
hmmm was I sitting right next to the writer here. I swear I said the same thing. The game was exciting, but it was a game vs Carolina...very few people care about Raleigh in SoFLA, the regulars were there but it was a school night, a work night, and not a Canidian team. The 1000th thing is extremely pothetic and that is inexcusable
A sixth consecutive non-playoff season is apparently in progress.
Uh...we're right in the race.

This is, arguably, the NHL's weakest link, a team that was once very popular playing out of the bandbox Miami Arena when a hail of plastic rats meant the home team had scored but now lives in virtual seclusion somewhere near, but not too near, Fort Lauderdale.
I really don't know what to say to this

Jokinen is the team's best and most appealing player, but he won't be in Dallas next week representing the Eastern Conference.

"It's pretty tough to get voted in if you're in South Florida," lamented Jokinen to The Miami Herald. "A lot of guys, if they don't have a satellite dish, they don't see our games."
and other players weren't voted in in larger markets because of two guys: Sydney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin...plus, Bouwmeester was picked to be a reserve...Jokinen wasn't. That's as fair as fair can get.

The fan base has dwindled
yes, the casual fans have gone to the Heat. But this city has not forgotten its team. They try to be gimicy at the BAC, but the true fans (90% of Panthers fans at these games imo) don't bite. They know their hockey and are some of the most loyal in the game IMHO. This team is hardly forgotten in South Florida. And remember, the building is larger.

While I do agree, support is lacking, it is nowhere near as badd as he makes it out to seem. This seems like an uniformed member of the media. He doesn't seem to know the game and the fans of hockey and that is evident by his lack of mention of the Blackhawks. We all know that we are obviously not in as dire straits as this says.
 

BobbyBowden

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Tear down the Panthers stadium, whatever the hell its called now, and build the Marlins stadium there. Kill two birds with one stone, get hockey out of South Florida and give the Marlins a home in Broward.
 

JetsMania

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I am going to say something very controversial: I don't blame anyone from Fort Lauderdale one bit. The Garbageman fleeced the county for the Error by the Everglades (I will never EVER call it the Bank Atlantic Center/Office Depot Arena/National Car Rental Center), then took the money and ran. That set the tone for how the Panthers organization has fleeced South Florida the past 7 years. If any team should be moving to KC, it should be the Panthers and not the Penguins. The decrepit Igloo still gets filled to the brim, but it's becoming apparent hockey is dead in South Florida.

The igloo was never filled before they got crosby. If they move them so what? Panthers got a new arena and are locked in until 2030 I believe.

Tear down the Panthers stadium, whatever the hell its called now, and build the Marlins stadium there. Kill two birds with one stone, get hockey out of South Florida and give the Marlins a home in Broward.

Is the death penalty allowed online?
 

Baldeagle037

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Bring them back to Miami. I don't remember a bad night when they were playing there...even when they were losing it felt more like a rock concert when I saw them playing. When I go to the multiple name center it feels like I am in Disney world. I wouldn't be upset over the article it's some journalist just trying to spark some anger.
 

CapeFish

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The NHL did this to the Panthers. Killing the rat throwing and then making it so difficult for the Panthers to compete all these years by hvaing the big market teams allowed to make those huge signings.

BTW, Olli better look at the boards around his home arena. Comcast carries FSN Florida and it is widely seen in South Florida carrying Panthers games on Charter, Atlantic Broadband, and Advanced Cable. Dish and DirecTV are by no means the only providers. How would the Marlins fans look at those games then?

This article is not very accurate and is just to hate on the new SunBelt teams. They aimed at the Panthers because the Lightning, in a similar boat, recently won the cup. It wasn't until middle of last that these articles were about the Carolina Hurricanes, then poof they win the cup and now they come after the Panthers.

WAKE UP HOCKEYLAND, THE SUNBELT IS THE FUTURE OF THIS LEAGUE! WHO HAS GIVEN ALL OF THEIR TEAMS ARENAS, DIE HARD FANS, EXCELLENT TELEVISION DEALS, AND A TON OF EFFORT TRYING TO LEARN AN ALIEN GAME?

How about they deal with their own problems in Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis or on Long Island before bothering us?
 

Hammerhead

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Tear down the Panthers stadium, whatever the hell its called now, and build the Marlins stadium there. Kill two birds with one stone, get hockey out of South Florida and give the Marlins a home in Broward.

:ban
 

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