Eastern Conference Echoes: Time For The Panthers To Step Up


I don’t know why, but I have a soft spot for the Florida Panthers. Part of it is nostalgic because I can vividly remember my friend who was a resident of Florida coming to visit me in Buffalo with his sharp new Florida Panthers jacket in the mid-90s and desperately wanting one, but the other part is because they are a bunch of lovable losers.

Believe it or not I’ve actually attended a Panthers game a few years back in Sunrise, Florida. I was visiting the same friend years later in Miami and we had the idea of going to see the “rivalry” game– Panthers vs Lighting. I put rivalry in quotes because there is no true animosity between teams, the stadium didn’t sell out nor was there any true promotion for the event. This was quite the change because only a month earlier I got to go see a Sabres vs Leafs game that had a much different vibe.  Too be honest, I don’t quite remember who won the game, but I do remember rooting for the Panthers.

The Panthers have had a weird existence. Only 2 years after their inception, the Panthers miraculously made it to the Stanley Cup finals with a rag-tag group of players in 95-96 against the Avalanche. The Panthers had a blue-collar work ethic and that could be seen in their “talent”. I use talent loosely seeing that their offensive leaders were Scott Mellanby and Rob Niedermayer that year; however, they did have an x-factor in net– John Vanbiesbrouck. Despite losing to the Avalanche, the Florida Panthers surprised everyone and showed that work ethic can get you into the playoffs and even the finals and that is something to be admired.

In recent years, the Florida Panthers have reinstated the formula that got them into the Stanley Cup Finals; however, it has given them little success. Despite having winning records in 4 of the last 5 years, the Florida Panthers have not been able to find a way to get into the playoffs.  The Panthers rely on stellar goalies like Roberto Luongo and Tomas Vokoun and a majority of role-players in hopes to recreate the miracle that happened in the 95-96 season; however, they find themselves swimming in a pool of mediocrity.

Unfortunately this season is no different.

The Panthers are an unimpressive 10 and 12 thus far and have been playing .500 hockey in the last 10 games. Also, the Panthers have no star power on their team other than their goalie Tomas Vokoun. On top of that, Stephen Weiss looks to have taken a step back in his progression. Weiss began looking like he would develop into a threat on offense, but in 21 games this season Weiss has an unimpressive 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists).  Again they are relying on goaltending and role-players to achieve success, but are consistently mediocre. It is hard to make a team successful when your leading scorer (Michael Frolik) only has 13 points.

The consistent mediocrity makes you wonder what the organization is doing. Do they really care about putting a good product on the ice? Or are they just hoping that a miracle will happen again like it did in the 95-96 season?

Again, I admire the blue-collar aspect of the Florida Panthers hockey team. There is no doubt that it is always fun to root for a team with minimal talent that overachieves, but after awhile mediocrity and just missing the playoffs means a stale organization. I’m sure when it comes play-off time the Florida Panthers will be on the outside looking in, but not for lack of trying. They may be in talks of making the play-offs, but redundancy will strike again.

Unfortunately I think it is time for the Panthers to have a fire sale and take some lumps the next few years. They’re not going to go out and sign a high profile free agent so that only leaves the draft to build their team. Unless the Florida Panthers find a superstar in their lineup, expect more of the same from the Florida Panthers.

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