(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. We've asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The bloggers and fans who hated them the most. Here is Dan Saraceni of Lighthouse Hockey, an Islanders blog, fondly recalling the 2015-16 Florida Panthers.)
(Again, this was not written by us. Also: This is a roast and you will be offended by it, so don't take it so seriously.)
BY DAN SARACENI
The following story originally appeared in the April 25th, 2016 morning edition of the Yellow Knife Democrat & Pony Rider and is being re-printed here with permission.
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The sudden death of a little-known professional hockey team in Florida has kicked off a bitter international battle over who has the rightful claim to the team’s corpse.
The Florida Panthers hockey team passed away this weekend, and court officials and protest groups from Canada are making a strong charge to have the team’s body buried 1,400 miles from where it has lived since its birth 23 years ago.
Spokespeople from the National Hockey League and Panthers team management say Canada cannot claim custody of the franchise’s corpse, and that they plan to fight any attempt to abscond with the body.
But Canada says it won’t quit until this unappreciated, unwatched, derelict little brother is moved to a better resting place.
A Short Life, Mostly Wasted
The Panthers were a child prodigy, achieving notable success very early in life and earning a minor amount of celebrity beyond its hometown. But quickly the team settled into a routine, reclusive existence, shrinking away from publicity and gaining a dubious reputation for an unusual and illegal concentration of rodents on its property.
For decades, the unsightly, unwanted and irrelevant Panthers lived with threats of eviction, relocation or deportation, playing in an empty arena with thousands of unsold seats and frequently getting swept under the proverbial rug by both local and national media too busy to pay them any attention. While the rest of the hockey world went on about its life, the Panthers remained in seclusion, huddled under dirty rags, eating cold beans from a can and often sleeping under the Daytona Beach boardwalk.
“I thought the Panthers had skipped town years ago,” said Sonny Tubbs, a neighbor who described the team as a “quiet” group that always kept to itself and never bothered anyone. “I just didn’t hear about them for a long while so I figured they left. But I was glad they made it to the Super Bowl this year, even though they lost to the Broncos.”
This season, friends say the Panthers finally sought to get their life in order. The team started hitting the gym and putting on muscle and soon was hobnobbing with the elites of South Florida society, eventually emerging replenished like a Real Housewife straight out of the Botox clinic.
Few expected the team to shed its hermit-like tendencies so suddenly, but encouraged by a confident transplant Svengali from New York and a noted fictional president and serial killer, the Panthers strutted onto the scene and would not be discouraged. Much of the credit goes to their hired Life Coach, Gerard Gallant, a native of Prince Edward Island, Canada, who is also an influential French-Canadian stand-up comedian known better by his stage name, “Rejean Dangerfield.”
Sadly, the transformation of the Panthers was short-lived. The new clothes and new attitude met its match in the New York Islanders, another NHL castaway looking to rewrite its own lamentable history. The Panthers fought back hard but in the end succumbed to Nystrom Syndrome, a rare condition that can cause death in hockey teams facing the Islanders in overtime in the postseason. Thirty-three teams have been felled by it since 1972.
There was some controversy about doctors perhaps missing a vital scan that could have saved the Panthers’ life. But the operating physicians disagree.
“We did what we could, but in the end, we had to pull the plug,” said Dr. Blanche Zbornak, who attended to the team just before its death. “It was time to go. At least it was peaceful.”
Though they are no longer alive, another fight for the Panthers is just beginning.
Move That Corpse?
So why would Canada want the corpse of a mostly forgotten hockey team from Florida?
The Panthers’ unexpected emergence this season combined with the pathetic lack of Canadian franchises in the NHL playoffs caused many eyes from the great white north to pay attention to the franchise for the first time since the late 1990’s. Suddenly, an unexpected love affair began between the plucky, talented, hard-hitting Panthers and the relentlessly needy country always desperate to assimilate more ice hockey teams into its gaping, politely hungry maw.
The abandoned team’s poor win-loss records, never-ending attendance concerns and generally sad solitude helped make it the poster child for failed Sunbelt Hockey teams across the United States. And with a brand new state-of-the-art arena in Quebec City ready to host an NHL team, Canada sees the Panthers as the perfect relocation candidate at the perfect time.
“The Panthers deserve a final resting place where they will be loved unconditionally,” said Toronto Star columnist Bruce Arthur, the country’s foremost scholar on the Canadian sports inferiority complex. “In Florida, the Panthers are ignored. In Canada, we know how to pack hockey arenas game-in game-out no matter how spectacularly unsuccessful a team is. Except in Vancouver. And maybe Ottawa.
“But other than in those places, you’d never see an empty seat at a Quebec Panthers game. I’ll personally stand outside the arena taking attendance with a clipboard to make sure.”
Arthur said he was prepared to offer attendance comparisons for Canada and the southern United States dating back as far as the 1890’s to further prove Canada’s claim to the Panthers’ body.
Despite having no jurisdiction whatsoever over the Panthers franchise and no power to move a single team against the NHL’s wishes no matter how much it cries about it, the Canadian Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on the case sometime after the league’s Draft Lottery on April 30th. The entire Canadian government is scheduled to be shut down that day as all seven of the country’s franchises vie for the No. 1 pick in the upcoming entry draft.
“If a Canadian team gets the first overall pick, we’ll leave Florida alone for another year,” said one Parliament official under condition of anonymity. “But if the Coyotes or Blue Jackets get the pick, we’re taking the Panthers.”
For now, the Panthers’ remains will stay in Florida, and will be laid to rest in a plain pine casket next to the Gothic stone one used by immortal and un-killable right wing Jaromir Jagr.
Eulogy: Remembering the 2015-16 Philadelphia Flyers