Barkov fires dart at Panthers' fans during Lady Byng acceptance speech

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Aleksander Barkov opened his Lady Byng acceptance speech with a joke about the poor attendance numbers his squad draws in the Sunshine State. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Aleksander Barkov opened his Lady Byng acceptance speech with a joke about the poor attendance numbers his squad draws in the Sunshine State. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

While the gut punch Kenan Thompson — the host of the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas — delivered to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night was rough, the best joke of the night may have come from the most unlikely of sources.

After winning the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for his sportsmanlike conduct and high standard of playing ability during the 2018-19 campaign, Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers began his acceptance speech with a spicy line.

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“We have more fans from Finland than from Florida here,” the 23-year-old from Tampere, Finland said after an audience member yelled something at him as he approached the microphone.

That’s a pretty bold statement to make about your employer (what I would do to be a fly on the wall the next time he sees the team’s owner, Vincent Viola) and fanbase; however, the joke landed because, well, it’s a pretty accurate statement.

According to Hockey Reference, the Panthers averaged 13,262 fans per game at the BB&T Center during the 2018-19 regular season. Considering that rink can hold up to 19,106 people, Florida’s 69.4% capacity placed them last in the NHL. Meanwhile, the only team to draw fewer fans per game was the New York Islanders.

According to ESPN, Florida has been in the bottom five of the league in average attendance for the last three seasons.

Barkov’s given those that do show up plenty of reasons to keep their eyes on the ice, though. In his sixth season with the Panthers after going second overall in the 2013 NHL draft, Barkov posted career highs of 35 goals, 61 assists and 96 points. Simultaneously, his eight penalty minutes over his 82 games played tied the career-low he set in 2015-16.

There’s no reason to believe that Wednesday night’s Lady Byng victory, the first major award of his NHL career, will be his last.

Well, it might be if he decides to give up hockey to pursue a budding career in stand-up comedy.

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