How can the Panthers fill their rink?

With single game tickets going on sale early Friday morning, I spurned a debate on the Twitter by suggesting that ticket sales would be on the rise for the upcoming 2014-2015 season. Aside from the usual scoffs at the notion that the Panthers can get people in the building, there were some good points made about the slow but sure culture change that is going on in Pantherland.

It is no secret that I have professed my belief in the “Hockey is the business” model for the Panthers and from what I have seen, the ownership and front office seem to agree. The Panthers have spent big on free agent day and are poised to ice a line-up that they believe to be a competitive one. The Panthers spent big in 2011 and went into the year with a Frankenstein team that ended up winning the Southeast Division. This year the Panthers spent their money filling out a roster with a young and rising core with key and complementary players that will each contribute in their own way.

This orchestra conducted by Dale Tallon and backed by his ownership team all lead up to two variables that directly correlate to one another: Fans in the stands and wins on the score sheets.

Over the last 5 years you can see a shift in capacity percentage at the BB&T Center

Year Capacity Percentage Record
2008-2009 78.7 32-37-13
2010-2011 81.5 30-40-12
2011-2012 86.4 38-26-18
2012-2013 88.3 15-27-6
2013-2014 75.5 29-45-8

Source: http://www.hockeyattendance.com/team/florida-panthers/

A lot goes in to the attendance of an NHL team but the common denominator is always the on ice product. Fans will watch a team that they think can win games. That’s sports fans 101, nothing new. You can see a steady increase in attendance from 2008-2012 that culminates in the season following the Southeast Division Championship and subsequent first round elimination. Unfortunately that momentum was met with the team’s worst finish in 5 years leading up to their worst attendance in the same span.

If the fans don’t expect wins then the team shouldn’t expect the fans.

So what makes this year different? Is this year even going to be different? I’ll spare you the optimistic rant but Tallon’s rebuild is in full swing. The core is there, the complimentary parts have been acquired and the team is poised to ice the most competitive version of themselves that the league has seen in a long while.

The marketing side has done its job to set the tone for the upcoming season. They have started to build fan pride and unity with their “One Under The Sun” slogan. They have created and upheld the buzz of the youth movement with the “Be Here to Witness” campaign. In addition to the posters and social media efforts, Tallon was also fairly blunt about the acquisition of Roberto Luongo being as much of a marketing move as it was a hockey move. Tallon was right to do it; Luongo’s presence has not only excited the fans but brought a media relevance that the Panthers have lacked in recent years.

These actions appear to have the market ready to go for the 2013-2014 season but it ultimately comes down to the on-ice product. The Panthers on ice play will dictate if the initial surge of season-opening attendance will linger or taper off.

When a fan base is used to a losing team and starving for a winning one, the sheer notion of competitive hockey can be enough to bring fans in. I think that this will be the driving force behind the resurgence of the attendance at the BB&T Center. The fans will slowly realize that this team is V.2 of a rebuilt squad that is slowly coming into its own. They will see the dynamic youth, the scoring veterans, the entertaining goaltending and be drawn in as they have in the past.

The Panthers have a tough task ahead of them, but they are primed to surprise and with that the seats will be filled.

Florida Panthers Re-Sign RFA Dmitry Kulikov

The Florida Panthers announced today the re-signing of D Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year, $13m contract. Kulikov, 23 led all Panthers defensemen in goals last season, scoring a career-high eight goals in 81 games and recorded 19 points (8-11-19) on the year.

The left shot defenseman from Lipetsk, Russia is still young and prone to make mistakes. Kulikov who averaged a minus-5 rating for his first four seasons in the NHL struggled in his fifth. Finishing with a team worst, minus-26 rating, Kulikov struggled during last season defensively and lacked consistency throughout the year.

A young, puck-moving defenseman is a commodity to have on any team, especially the kind of defenseman with the type of potential that Kulikov still possesses. A smooth skater with good hands, a deceptively quick release from the point and the kind of player who isn’t afraid to throw his body around, Kulikov has the tools to be not only an important piece to the Panthers future, but to be a very good NHL-er. Now armed with a new coaching staff, Kulikov has a chance to really turn the page on last season and write a new chapter to his career.

New Assistant Coach, Mark Morris hails from the Los Angeles Kings system as the former Head Coach of the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Morris worked with young defensemen like Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin who are not only NHL mainstays now, but are difference makers on the ice (Martinez scored the Stanley Cup clinching goal and Western Conference clinching goal during the 2014 playoffs) . Morris also coached new Panthers d-man, Willie Mitchell during his years at Clarkson University. A coach who has worked well with young defensemen and helped develop them into solid professionals is exactly what Kulikov needs to reach his potential and bounce back.

Drafted in the first round (14th overall) of the 2009 Entry Draft, Kulikov has played in 313 NHL games, recording 99 points (24-75-99).

Follow Mike  on Twitter @MikeLewy11

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Florida Panthers Re-Sign RFA Brandon Pirri

Today the Florida Panthers announced the re-signing of F Brandon Pirri to a two-year contract, worth $925K AAV. Pirri, 23 was a late season acquisition by Florida after trading a 2014 third round pick and a 2016 fifth round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for the young forward.

Playing in 21 games for the Panthers, Pirri posted 14 points (7-7-14) and became one of the team’s most relied on players as the season came to a close. During the 2012-13 season, Pirri spent time playing for the Rockford Icehogs of the AHL, where he led the league in points, scoring 75 points (22-53-75) in 76 games.

A second round (59th overall) draft choice by the Blackhawks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Pirri has a deceivingly powerful and accurate shot for his size (6’0″, 183 lbs). During his short campaign with Florida last season, Pirri posted an impressive 15.2% shooting percentage and also recorded five power play points (2-3-5).

Pirri has played in 56 career NHL games posting 27 points (13-14-27).

 

Follow Mike  on Twitter @MikeLewy11

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Florida Panthers Re-Sign RFAs Garrett Wilson and Ryan Martindale

The Florida Panthers announced today the re-signings of F Garrett Wilson and C Ryan Martindale to one-year, two-way contracts.

Wilson, 23 is coming off of his first full-time AHL season where he played 71 games and posted 30 points (14-16-30). A “crash-and-bang” type forward, Wilson played a prominent role for the San Antonio Rampage this season. His strong season in San Antonio earned him a trip to the NHL where he suited up for the Panthers for 3 games. Wilson’s NHL debut was on Mar. 18 in San Jose, where the Panthers defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-2. The Elmvale, Ontario native was drafted in the fourth round (107th overall) of the 2009 Entry Draft.

Martindale, 22 was a mid-season acquisition from the Edmonton Oilers system and played 37 games for the Rampage, posting 14 points (5-9-14). Combined with his 22 games he spent playing for the Oklahoma City Barons previously, Martindale finished the season with a total 24 points (8-16-24). The left shot, 6’3″, 207 lb center was an Edmonton draft selection in the third round (61st overall) of the 2010 Entry Draft.

 

Follow Mike  on Twitter @MikeLewy11

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Panthers Re-Sign RFA Dylan Olsen

On Monday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced the re-signing of RFA Dylan Olsen to a one-way, 2-year deal.

Olsen, 23, appeared in 44 games with the Panthers last season after being dealt to Florida from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Kris Versteeg. He recorded 12 points (3-9-12) during his first season as a member of the Panthers. Olsen recorded his first NHL goal this past season against Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets.

The 6’2, 223 lb blue-liner is a native of Calgary, Alberta and was drafted by Chicago in the first round of the 2009 entry draft. The rugged defenseman has played 72 career NHL games, registering 13 points (3-10-13), 78 blocked shots, 159 hits and has averaged 14:14 minutes of time on ice.

 

 

We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

 

 

Rocco Grimaldi: “This is my job. I’m going to do whatever I can to do the best at my job”.

The Florida Panthers have wrapped up day 3 of the on-ice portion of this off-season’s development camp. With 34 players invited to the annual event, one individual with very little size has had no issues fitting in with sizable competition . Rocco Grimaldi, taken in the 2nd round of the 2011 NHL Entry draft, has put on a show for Panthers fans this week, showing that size doesn’t always matter.

Grimaldi, 21, signed an entry-level deal with the Panthers last month after spending his last two full-seasons at the University of North Dakota, where he compiled 77 points (31G-46A-77P) in 82 games.

After falling short of the Frozen Four three-seasons ago, North Daktota earned another shot this past year when Grimaldi notched his first NCAA hat trick, beating the University of Wisconsin in the process. Shortly after, Grimaldi and North Dakota downed Ferris State in a gripping double overtime final, which sent North Dakota into the Frozen Four, impressing the collegiate hockey world.

But no one has been more impressed with Grimaldi than Brian Skrudland, the Panthers director of player development.

“When I went to the University of North Dakota, and I sat in the crowd, I felt so proud that Rocco Grimaldi was a Panther because people are talking about him. They’re all talking about him, getting ready for warm-ups saying ‘Hey, watch this little guy! He’s going to light it up’. He never disappoints.”

As any young athlete with the dream of becoming a professional, Grimaldi understands the challenges of the profession he has chosen. With the six free agent signings the Panthers made this off-season, Grimaldi knows that it’s not going to be an easy road ahead, but is hopeful of his future as Panther.

“I like a challenge though”, Grimaldi admits. “I think that’s going to be good for me, and obviously they brought in some good guys. I’m excited for what the future has in store here. I think they’re going to do some good things here in the coming years. Hopefully I’ll be a part of it sooner than later.”

With a near complete roster, and forwards like Vincent Trocheck and Drew Shore fighting for a spot on the NHL lineup as well, Grimaldi knows his journey to the NHL has become more difficult.

“Obviously if playing in the NHL was easy, then everyone would play”, explained Grimaldi. “I knew it was going to be hard, but those are just the sacrifices you’re willing to make. If that means not being able to hang out with your friends for a night and training instead, then so be it. This is a business now. This is my job. I’m going to do whatever I can to do the best at my job”.

Though he continues to face challenges, this positive attitude is what makes Grimaldi an attractive commodity to Panthers faithful.

“He’s got a great attitude”, Skrudland said. “I think he’s matured as a person. He’s become a better teammate in the 3 years that I’ve had the opportunity to work with him. He’s a very attentive individual, smart, and caring individual to his teammates.”

Even with a loaded roster, Skrudland see’s no reason to believe that Rocco and the prospects attending camp don’t have a shot at cracking the line up come October.

“He’s going to fit in here great.” Skrudland said of Grimaldi. “You never know. He might just be that guy who says ‘You know what, Brendan Gallagher did it in Montreal, I’m coming in here, I’m not going to San Antonio (Rampage)’. But it’s for them (prospects) to decide”.

We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Panthers Prospect Profile: Michael Downing

Most freshmen that go to play for the University of Michigan don’t usually make too much of an impact. Head Coach, Red Berenson is notorious for making players earn their ice time and is well-known for pushing his freshmen to do so. Florida Panthers prospect, D Michael Downing did just that during his first season of college hockey in Michigan.

Drafted in the fourth round (97th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Downing is coming off of a solid freshman season for Coach Berenson and the Wolverines. Posting 12 points (2-10-12) in 34 games, Downing finished second in scoring among defensemen on his team. Named to the 2014 All-Freshman team, Downing finished the season with a plus-3 rating and finished third on his team with 53 blocked shots.

“He had a great season at the University of Michigan. For a freshman he stepped in and played top four minutes. (He) exceeded expectations for what they were expecting out of him this year. We feel that we got a steal in getting him in the fourth round.” Said Manager of Player Development, Bryan McCabe

Wearing jersey number 49 for the Panthers at development camp, Downing has shown a lot of promise and plays the kind of game that McCabe likes.

“He hits like a truck, plays mean, knows his role, can skate, can do everything…but he’s mean. Every time I saw him play this year he killed someone. He’ll get penalties for just hitting someone too hard. You can’t teach guys to play like that. He’s got that edge to him that you need on a D core.”

The 6’3″, 192lb Downing has created a very positive start in his college career to build upon. He doesn’t get the attention that some of his fellow Panthers prospects receive, but don’t sleep on Downing. He may fly under the radar on a team that’s looking to break through and move past rivals University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin, but he will make the opposition pay at both ends of the ice. Keep an eye on Downing as he becomes a much bigger part of the team in Michigan as a Sophomore.

 

Follow Mike  on Twitter @MikeLewy11

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Panthers Re-Sign Defenseman Erik Gudbranson

On Thursday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced the re-signing of RFA Erik Gudbranson to a 2-year deal.

From the Panthers press release:

“Erik is an important part of our young core of talented players who we are pleased to have signed,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told the team’s website. “He is a big, strong and physical defenseman who is one of the building blocks for our team. We look forward to his continued development and his contributions to the South Florida community.”

Gudbranson, 22, is a former 3rd overall draft pick in the 2010 draft and kicked off Dale Tallon’s tenure as the general manager of the Panthers. The Orleans, Ontario native is coming off of a career-high 9 points (3G-6A-9P) and 114 penalty minutes.

The 6’5, 216lb Gudbranson, known for his efforts within the South Florida community, was recently awarded the Panthers Community Ambassador of the Year.

 

We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Florida Panthers D-Camp Day Two Spotlight: Defensemen

Although C Aleksander Barkov put on quite the display of individual talent of his own during the shootout drill at today’s development camp, the defense was the talk of the town among those spectating. Armed to the teeth with towering defensemen, the Panthers blueline of the future is intimidating. But don’t let the size fool you, they are quick on their feet as well. With an array of different types of defensemen at their disposal, the possibilities are endless down the road for Florida’s defense.

Take 2014 First Overall selection Aaron Ekblad  for example. Ekblad has been the must see defenseman at camp so far, due to the hype that surrounds him and his likeliness of making the Florida Panthers roster at the start of the 2014-15 season. His 6’4″, 220 lbs frame make him a physical specimen at just 18-years of age. Despite his size, he moves the puck quite well and has a heavy shot, which will come in handy for Florida’s struggling power play.

Brian Skrudland, last season’s Assistant Coach of the Panthers has returned to his former Player Development role and has been very impressed by Ekblad after only day two. “I’m impressed at the individual, first and foremost as a human being. The way he treats everybody, the way he carries himself. I’m also impressed at the way the guy can skate and shoot and play the game of hockey. He’s a very heads up individual.”

Although Ekblad may be the prospect most fans will see first in a Panthers uniform, he is followed by an incredibly talented defensive core, who will make their way up to the pro ranks shortly. Both Michael Matheson (2012, 23rd overall) and Ian McCoshen (2013, 31st overall) play together for Boston College and are two of the team’s top defensemen. Matheson, who is entering his junior year of college, will be serving as captain for the BC Eagles this season and has off the charts skating ability. He’s a puck mover comparable to current Panthers blueliner Brian Campbell and stands at 6’2″, 180 lbs, giving him the ability to not only emulate Campbell, but has a few inches on him as well.

Choosing to go the college route instead of joining the Canadian Major Juniors, Matheson felt he could work more on his game at the college level despite having more of a fast track to the NHL through a league like the CHL. The 20-year old defenseman knows that he may be getting closer to being NHL ready but is focused on the task at hand.

“I still have work to do”, says Matheson. “I’m not quite at this (NHL) level. I need to work on my decision-making, simplifying my game and just staying more consistent all-around”.

Manager of Player Development, Bryan McCabe, gave Matheson a glowing review, “He’s strong. He blew all the tests in the gym away, as usual.”

“He can skate like the wind. He’s always in great shape, he’s a true professional,” says McCabe.

Matheson’s BC teammate McCoshen stands at 6’3″, 215 lbs and brings more size to lineup. The Faribault, Minnesota native is coming off an impressive Freshman season posting 13 points (5-8-13) in 35 games, showing he can develop some more offensive skill to go along with the shutdown frame he possesses thus far. McCoshen also represented Team USA at the World Junior Championship last season.

Another defenseman that has come up in conversation from General Manger Dale Tallon is 2013 seventh round draft gem, MacKenzie Weegar. The smallest defenseman of the group, Weegar is 5’11″, 183 lbs, and describes his game as, “Defensively sound” and “poised with the puck.”

“(I) control my own game,” says, Weegar. “I like to play the body as well, I’m a pretty solid guy, pretty thick, I may not have the size but if I play smart back there, then there’s a lot of offensive chances and that’s what I like to create.”

Playing alongside premiere players with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL for the last two seasons like 2014 Calder Trophy Winner, Nathan MacKinnon and Tampa Bay Lightning 2013 First Rounder (Third Overall), Jonathan Drouin, Weegar claims he learned a lot by playing with them as well as playing alongside San Jose Sharks prospect Konrad Abelthauser.

Rounding out the development camp group is Josh Brown (6’5″ 213 lbs), Jonathan Racine (6’2″, 194 lbs), Michael Downing (6’3″, 192 lbs), Ed Wittchow (6’4″, 205 lbs) and Shayne Taker (6’4″, 210 lbs). The staggering amount of size on the blueline that’s listed here is still omitting some who are still young, but have seen a fair share of NHL action like Erik Gudbranson (6’5″. 215 lbs), Dylan Olsen (6’2″, 223 lbs) and Alex Petrovic (6’4″, 206 lbs).

“It’s not only the size,” says Skrudland. “It’s the mobility of these guys today. I’m in awe when I get out on the ice and see how fast they are and how mobile. Even off the ice,these guys are wonderful athletes. We feel very fortunate and there’s a good chance that some of them will have an opportunity here, very shortly, if not this year.”

Wednesday will be a day off for the prospects as development camp continues on Thursday, July 10th from 8:45am-12:00pm at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.

 

Follow Mike  on Twitter @MikeLewy11

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Aleksander Barkov puts on a show at Development Camp

After Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning was seen showing off his sweet moves during the Bolts prospect camp this past week, cross-state counterpart Aleksander Barkov, who went one pick ahead of Drouin in the 2013 NHL draft, gave fans a show of his own.

At the end of day 2 of Panthers development camp, the prospects had a little fun with shootout drills. Barkov was instructed to shoot twice, and boy he did not disappoint.

One-handed? No problem. I’d say he has pretty strong wrists.

Yeah. He’s good.

 

We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

 

 

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,348 other followers

%d bloggers like this: