This terrifies me and yet at the same time, gives me hope for hockey in Sunrise. And the Bedazzler industry.
Those of you who read my stuff over at Thrashing the Blues or follow me on Twitter know that I’m one of the surprising numvber of people who lost a hockey team this summer and are still fairly unhappy about it. I’ve accepted the fact that they’re gone, have struck up dialogue with very nice people from Winnipeg, and have come to view the Jets as eventual fodder for the current Central Division bloodbath. I’ve adjusted.
Something that the move did leave with me (aside from an irrational hatred of Widespread Panic and the phrase “deal with it”) is a sense of protectiveness of nontraditional/small/struggling market teams. I don’t want fans in Phoenix to go through what fans here did. I don’t want it to happen to the Islanders. I don’t want the Blue Jackets to get shipped to Quebec City. And honestly – to the derision of several of my former Thrasher fan friends – I really don’t want it to happen to the Florida Panthers.
For whatever reason, some people seem to think that the Panthers “deserve to” or “need to” move. It ain’t happening, people – for sure not with the long term lease (until eternity, I believe) agreement. But that’s not a bad thing – instead of a handcuff for a failing franchise, the fact that they’re not able to relocate is a foundation for a finally resurgent team. The Panthers lost their fanbase save for the die-hards like the couple pictured above because of missing the playoffs every year since the 1999-200 season. They’ve floundered without direction, they’ve had coaching that couldn’t get water out of a sponge let alone blood from a stone, they’ve had GM’s that’ve put together teams who were good enough to almost make the playoffs and not bad enough to suck. I absolutely cannot understand why revenue was down as was attendance.
And then all of a sudden they hire Dale Tallon. Tallon, best known as the guy who can’t mail contracts on time, was the former GM of the Chicago Blackhawks. He had a season to see how it went with his roster, didn’t like what he saw, and blew it up. They sent Chris Higgins to Vancouver, Bryan Allen to the Canes (for the surprising return of Sergei Samsonov) as well as Cory Stillman, Dennis Wideman to the Caps, and Bryan McCabe to the Rangers. It was a fire sale! A sign of a floundering franchise who will rebuild badly and rely on youth for a season or two. The League’s fans chuckled and continued to ignore Florida.
Then comes the 2011 off-season. Kevin Dineen gets added as coach. Dale Tallon has the US Mint loan him a money press, and he signs an absolutely absurd amount of salary. They go from near last in the league to the middle, and they jettisoned so much dead weight that hitting the middle in the league meant absorbing Brian Campbell’s absurd salary, signing Ed Jovanovski to a contract that no one his age should get, and generally getting every “good but not a superstar” player available. Again, the League’s fans treated them like Tallon was the subject of an episode of Hoarders: Huge Contracts, laughed, and went on to “more important” teams.
All of this has paid dividends for the Panthers. Buzz, new jerseys, new marketing, and a new look team has actually generated excitement. The best part of it is that after the pre-season excitement started, this team made up of seemingly spare parts started to play really well. And then, for the most part, has continued to do so. They’re pretty fun to watch, attendance is picking up, and the team’s bringing in more money. All of this for a team that everyone wrote off because of their past and their geographic location.
I have a soft spot for teams that once tasted glory and then shifted to constantly getting their butts kicked. It gets tiring to see the same old teams in the top eight every year, and that’s why I’m rooting for the Panthers in the Eastern Conference this year. Sure, they lead the worst division in the NHL, and sure, their 53 points is only good for 11th in the league, but unless they implode they’re back to the big time in April. Back to the days of Mellanby and Beezer, or at least the atmosphere of that. They’re the perfect example of why you never write a team off, regardless of who they are.