The Florida Panthers Start The Season Desperately Seeking Respect
This season is the 20th anniversary of South Florida’s hockey club, the Florida Panthers. A franchise that was born the same year this writer moved to the Sunshine State, and has provided the fanbase with thrills and disapppointment just like any other sports team. The negatives may have outweighed the positives during these two decades, however with the announcement of new ownership which came on Friday, the Florida Panthers are about to embark their way back. Back to a team that had the respect of the league and it’s fans when they first joined the NHL. It’s going to take time, but maybe not as long as was originally thought.
Sunrise Sports & Entertainment announced this past Friday that Vincent Viola has become Chairman, Principal Owner & Governor of SSE, the Florida Panthers and the Broward County-owned BB&T Center. In addition to that, Douglass Cifu will take on the role of Vice Chairman, Partner and Alternate Governor, as Michael Yormark has been promoted to President and CEO of the organization. The announcement and video from the Panthers website can be found here.
As you read through the announcment as well as listen to the press conference you hear of course the usual positives that one would expect from a new owner. However, this time it apprears that things will be different. Viola takes over a franchise that has one of the top prospect pools in the NHL, a team that is just two years removed from it’s first playoff appearance in a decade, and with a General Manager under his wing who knows how to build a successful team. In addition, everything I have heard and read points to something that should be “music” to the ears of Panther fans…….the willingness to spend money (smartly) and improve the team.
The proverbial “drinking the kool-aid” seems fitting with this change, yet the anniversary of the teams 20th season seems to be a perfect time to facilitate the change. Cliff Viner the majority owner of the Panthers the past few seasons came along at a time when the organization was on the brink of failure. Viner and his associates kept the team afloat, and now Viola can take the reigns to guide the team to becoming a consistent post season contender.
With the recent additions to the team over the past week, combined with the youth that Dale Tallon has drafted, the Panthers are poised to stop being an NHL pushover. While Tim Thomas is on the tail end of his career, he certainly would like to finish it on a positive note, and this writer fully believes he’ll battle to do that. Recently signed to a one-year deal, right wing Brad Boyes has 407 points in 606 regular season games, and can potentially bring goal scoring and solid playmaking to what has been an anemic offence in the past. A healthy Kris Versteeg who has looked ready for play, especially after his two goal performance on Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, will be a welcome addition as he returns to the lineup. If these two can combine for 40-45 goals this season, the Panthers offensively will surprise more than they will disappoint. Obviously other players such as Jonathan Huberdeau, who must avoid a sophomore jinx, Tomas Fleischmann, and a healthy and productive Scottie Upshall are needed as well. Let’s also not forget about Scott Gomez who has every intention to resurrect his career.
On defence, the maturation of both Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov is not only expected, but also necessary for even mild success this season. Both players are in the final year of contracts, and that should bode well for their consistency as well as their determination to prove they are as good as advertised when drafted. The addition of Tom Gilbert is quietly going to be one of Dale’s smartest moves. Gilbert is a very solid two way defenceman who’ll be effective on the power play, and can easily be slotted in on the first or second pairing. Finally, last night the Panthers added another veteran on the blueline, Ryan Whitney. Whitney is a an eight year veteran, and former first round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Whitney has also played for the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers. He was recently in the St. Louis Blues training camp and became available after they released him. Whitney suffered an ankle injury in 2012 causing him to miss time. Hopefully he’s fully recovered, and if he is, he’ll provide some much needed help on the Cats backend.
All of the recent player moves, the drafting of Aleksander Barkov who is expected to start the season centering Versteeg and Boyes, combined with new ownership bodes will for the Panthers. As for regaining the respect that they had in the 90′s which was lost from 2000 to 2010, the team is on the right track. This year all of a sudden isn’t as gloomy as was predicted by many at the beginning of summer.
If you’re looking for a playoff prediction, or where the Panthers will finish in the division or conference, I suggest you go to the Hockey News, or some other media outlet. I will predict that this year will be a better year than most expect, and with that, respectability will come back to South Florida. An area, a fan base that desperately deserves it.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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