In 1993, three new teams joined the NHL’s southern expansion. Two were brand new additions to the NHL: the Florida Panthers and the Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks. One was a team that moved from the north to the south, transforming from the Minnesota North Stars to the Dallas Stars. Since their introduction in 1993, these three teams have had varying degrees of success, but all have been successful expanding the recognition of hockey in the southern states. These three teams have focused on long term fan development that has increased interest in hockey and in these southern teams, both in and out of their home states.
The Florida Panthers had a very successful first four seasons in the NHL. They were only one point away from a playoff spot in both the inaugural and second seasons of 1993-1994 and 1994-1995. In their 3rd season (1995-1996), the Panthers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be swept by the Colorado Avalanche. They again made the playoffs in 1996-1997, but never made it past the first round.
The Panthers had their highest point season in 1999-2000 with 98 points (43-33-6-6). They also made the playoffs again that year, with a strong Pavel Bure leading the way. However, they were swept in the first round by the New Jersey Devils and have never made the playoffs since. The Panthers have gone through 8 coaches since then and 11 since the team inception, but the Panther’s hope that with Kevin Dineen this upcoming season, they can break their 11 year playoff drought.
The Florida Panthers made some huge player changes during the first few days of free agency this year. They signed 10 players in the first two days of free agency, gaining Wingers Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and Matt Bradley and Centers Tomas Fleischmann and Marcel Goc. The Panther’s also gained former Vezina Trophy & Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore in goal along with Defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Nolan Yonkman. The additions are good, but it may take a while for the new team to develop chemistry together. Only time will tell if the Panthers can make progress in the Southeast Division and make a run for the playoffs. Their fans are looking forward to the changes and a chance to break the playoff drought.
The Anaheim Ducks began as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim named after the 1992 movie by its first owners, The Walt Disney Company. During the team’s reign as the Mighty Ducks under Disney ownership, they made three playoff runs in 1996-1997, 1998-1999, and 2002-2003. The team was sold in 2005 and the name was changed to the Anaheim Ducks. Under the new ownership, the team has been economically successful for its owners. The Ducks have also proven successful at finding loyal fans in a California territory not far from where the L.A. Kings have been gaining fans since 1967. The Anaheim Ducks made the playoffs again in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, winning the Stanley Cup in 2007. Since then, the Ducks have made the playoffs every year except in 2009-2010. They’ve had overall high attendance levels throughout.
The strength of their upcoming season is contingent upon the return of their star goalie, Jonas Hiller, who suffered issues of Vertigo during the second half of the 2010-2011 season. Hiller is supposed to be considered healthy and at training camp in September. This is important for the Ducks because back-up goalie, Dan Ellis, can’t sustain the team.
Also important for the Ducks’ roster is the status of RW Teemu Selanne. Selanne was an unrestricted free agent as of July 1, but went home to Finland in June to undergo knee surgery. At age 41 and recovering from surgery, Selanne has been contemplating retirement. He is expected to make his final decision in mid-September as to whether or not he will return. Selanne had a phenomenal season this past season at age 40, scoring 80 points with 31 goals and 49 assists. It would be great for the Ducks and the league if Selanne could return for one more phenomenal year. Without Selanne’s return, the Ducks’ still have strong players in Corey Perry, who led the league with 50 goals last season, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan.
The Dallas Stars made a huge impression in Dallas their first season out of Minnesota. They made the Western Conference semi-finals that 1993-1994 season, with the help of Mike Modano. Although they lost to the Vancouver Canucks in the semi-finals, the recognition of Modano and the Stars spread throughout the state of Texas. The Dallas Stars played 8 seasons in the Reunion Arena in Dallas, which they shared with the Dallas Maverick’s basketball team, selling out every game. Once they moved to the American Airlines Center in 2003, they have managed to fill 96% of available seating. In this non-traditional hockey state, hockey was suddenly popular. It’s popularity was a success to this new expansion team and the NHL.
The Stars have had 12 playoff appearances since they came to Dallas, which is the second highest of any of the Sun Belt teams, with only the San Jose Sharks having more at 14. The Stars’ won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and had consistent playoff appearances until 2008.
The last few years haven’t been as good for Dallas, but they are making changes and rebuilding. The Stars’ have hired a new coach for the 2011-2012 season, Glen Gulutzan and may change ownership soon. If they get strong, stable ownership, the Stars could be on the rise again.
Going forward, every week, this blog will focus on each of the Sun Belt teams, their players, and their fans.
You can follow Jenna on Twitter @jennacbarley