Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The Florida Panthers from A to Z
(Ed. Note: August is known to be a very quiet month in the hockey world. As we wait for September to arrive and training camps to begin, let’s learn a little history about all 30 teams. Behold, our summer A-Z series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to drop some knowledge on us! Add your own choices in the comments!)
A. Aleksander Barkov
When the season starts still he won’t be legal drinking age here in Florida.
In 2013-14, his rookie season in the NHL, he became the youngest player to score a goal. He is a strong silent type as a center; 45 to 46-percent face-off wins. And he does things like this:
Hello! Sasha, as he's lovingly known, is still a teenager and lives with his parents!! Wait a minute doesn’t Ovi still live with his mom...?
I'm pretty sure his superpower is giving youthful energy to linemate Jaromir Jagr. Jagr describes the two kids on his line (Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau) as young and confident. He told Sasha he would scream, “Give me the puck”. In totally Barky fashion he replied, “You don’t have to scream. I see you.” 100% certain it was said in this manner:
B. Bure, Pavel… NOT! BRANDON PIRRI!
Bure was dead to me the minute he said “I always wanted to be a Ranger."
Acquired from the Blackhawks, a common theme these last four seasons, Pirri was a steal! After a mix of injuries and healthy scratches, Pirri was forced to carve his niche on the team.
22 goals with two assists is impressive, but in less than 50 games? Sniper.
The last time that happened, Jagr was filling diapers in 1928. Pirri brings the excitement, Bure-style. You see him with the puck and feel like he will bury it, like Patrick Sharp burying mystery panties before Patrick Kane stops by for drinks.
C. Community, County, Canada, Commitment, or maybe just Cookies
Call me crazy, but the Cats have continued County chats to completion. Our committed fan community, extracted the commitment to cease considering co-locating to Canada or anywhere else. Or else. Capisce?!?
D. Decade of Detrimental Dealings: 1999-2009
After making the playoffs (and quickly leaving in the first round), the Panthers started their decade long playoff draft following the 2000-01 season. In that long off-season, original owner Wayne Huizenga sold the team’s soul to a group led by Alan Cohen for $101-million.
GMs Rick Dudley, Mike Keenan and Jacques Martin routinely traded gold for fool’s gold. The Panthers lost Roberto Luongo. Martin forced Jay Bouwmeester to stay and he pouted in circles while the team gave up goal after goal. Coaches and fans dizzily staggered through the revolving door, and it was no surprise players wanted out.
In September of 2003, Cohen brilliantly decided to hire Michael Yormark as the franchise's chief operating officer; he'd eventually ascend as to CEO and president.
Yormark turned Panthers Hockey into the world's oldest profession for seven seasons for any sponsor with a check. Don’t quote me on this, but I have it on good authority he even sold the visiting team’s goal at BB&T Center because the Cats weren’t using it anyway. Yormark won't outright admit it was a firing, but seriously, he fired television analyst Denis Potvin - who had been with the team since day one - in 2009.
Cohen sold what was left to Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel in 2009. They were true fans; however, they kept Yormark on the payroll, but balanced him out (barely) by hiring Dale Tallon. Officially that was 2010 but you all know Panther Fans suffered longer than a decade!
FINALLY! I can see daylight ahead and it's not a freight train! #NoPowderBlueJerseysEver!!!!!!
E. Ekblad, Aaron
No debate here: Easiest No. 1 draft pick to select. He made the NHL roster at only eighteen. At every fan signing attended, every person gets to meet him, no question. For a teenager, he's even keeled, calm and poised and even bakes cookies.
Because every 18 year old makes cookies at 10am to pack on a road trip @Ekblad5FLA #mentorshipproblems pic.twitter.com/tge2h8EA17
— Willie Mitchell (@Willie_Mitch33) January 30, 2015
He does a whole lot of this (not that):
Invited to the All Star Game, and ended the year like this:
That, my friends, is a “Stanley Cup Worthy Beard." Wow. (HE'S 19! Sidney Crosby can only grow a creepy mustache at 28.)
I think Ripley’s is keeping an eye on this club for its own use one day. So much weird crap has happened to this team over the years. Here's the highlights.
October 1995: The Cats began the rat tradition in the '95-'96 season by Scott Mellanby killing a rat prior to a game. He then scored two goals in contest. It was John Vanbiesbrouck who dubbed it, "The Rat Trick." (I swear, the following season the two-minute delay of game rule is born as a result of a heavy season of rats raining down in Miami.)
February 2008: Olli Jokinen accidentally slices Richard Zednik throat with his skate nearly killing him during a game.
March 2015: Both Lu and backup Al Montoya get hurt during the game. It's right out of the Abbott and Costello 'Who's on First' sketch. First Scotty Upshall is called to the tunnel, then it is Derek MacKenzie. No! Then we hear goalie coach Rob Tallas is getting dressed to jump in as a third back up. In the end, a hurt Luongo gets out of his suit and back in the net.
Check the hockey history books, kids. Way back in 1963 there was a similar need for an emergency goalie rule creation. 1963 folks, only the Panthers would snap that streak!
Believe it or Not.
The Panthers need more goals. They WANT more goals. There MUST BE more goals. Multiple seasons have slipped away from this team because we couldn’t get enough goals. I don’t want to look up the stat for how many one goal games the team lost - or worse - sent the Cats into a shootout.
The Cats and Capitals earned the record of world's longest shoot-out ever at 20 rounds this past season. At least it was a win.
In case anyone missed this gem, I vote the Panthers adopt it as the goal song:
H. Huberdeau, Jonathan
At the ripe old age of 21, Huby has already been through a lock out, a bombed season, a Calder win, and an 'almost made the playoffs' season.
Touted as a member of Florida's core, most of the team's expectations are put upon him. (No more cement skates for this kid, please.) After off-season hip surgery, he hit a sophomore slump.
Thankfully, he appears to have cleared the hurdles and gained a boost of confidence from linemate, grandpa Jagr.
Jaromir Jagr a signé des vieilles cartes d’hockey à son effigie pour Jonathan Huberdeau → http://t.co/zQFrRXI6tk pic.twitter.com/KCsmzKYWuI
— 25stanley (@25stanley) March 11, 2015
Please get the contract done before this article posts! Bon Jour Dale Tallon, il est temps de signer le contrat!!! Merci!!
I. Inconceivable & Inclusive
The Panther’s organization was the first to end the cheerleaders at hockey games, without a lawsuit pushing that decision. Huzzah! This team was the first in the NHL to have an LGBT/You Can Play night. They even held open goalie tryouts to find the third back up, giving some folks the chance of a lifetime.
Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus.
J. Jaromir Jagr
I will admit I was not one jumping around when made the trade for Jagr. My fondest memories have always been of raining rats down on him in the '96 playoffs.
Even in this video you see the usual referee bias towards the Penguins when it comes to handing out penalties. If you are a Penguin, you get to have the last hit, punch, shove, or word without penalty.
ANYWAY, while it is painful to admit, his work ethic and joy in playing here, has won me over. From my bench in section 134, I can see him chirping at his teammates all game long. How can I not love a man who is willing to lead by example on the ice and off the ice?
They say with age comes wisdom and he is sharing it with these young guys. To the NHL gladiator Jagr! Long may he reign!
Dale Tallon has put together a long list of kids in our farm system for growth for years to come. Some names you will be hearing within the next two seasons: Vincent Trocheck, Corban Knight, Garrett Wilson, Rocco Grimaldi, Lawson Crouse, Quinton Howden, Alex Petrovic, Mike Matheson, Jonathan Racine, Josh Brown, and MacKenzie Weegar. Ending their affiliation with the San Antonio Rampage (AHL), the Cats kids will be getting ready for the big show in Portland, Maine.
One positive about having had so many seasons end in December is collecting many high valued prospects and getting to see their faces in Florida, sooner rather than later. With any luck it won’t happen again for the next decade!!
L. Laus, Paul
4 out of 5 long time Panther fans would say Paul Laus is their all-time favorite player. Ok, I just made that part up. He is absolutely MY favorite Panther.
Laus was the kind of defenseman that you knew would stand up for anyone on his team, crush a guy against the boards, and try to score a goal now and again. Laus was known for being a prankster with his teammates. If you follow him on Twitter you know he hasn’t stopped his smart arse ways. Scroll past some of the pictures he has posted and you will find a few jabs at Jagr.
I apologize in advance for the music choice of this video. (Should've used this.)
M. Michael "Dale" Tallon
Michael? The man with The Blue Print.
When he was hired, he stated that the way to build a winner is through the draft. Adding new koi fish to the pond every season has certainly helped him fulfill that statement. This July no oversized paychecks were written to under deserving free agents. Instead of my bumbling for an assessment of this progress I will direct you to a Blue Print progress report JC Smith wrote up last year for Litter Box Cats. It encompassed many of the nuances that Dale has had to maneuver around since joining Florida. Tallon said so long to free agents Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, and waived Brad Boyes at the end of the year, clearing space for the K in Kids to compete for a spot.
Get the binkies ready, when October rolls around the Cats will be the babies of the league!
N. Nick Bjugstad
Nature loving Nick is the senior citizen of the kids on the team, at a - wait for it - whopping 23. He daringly puts himself into any role the team asks of him! Take a peek at his cross-dressing antics for the smiles of some well deserving kid. I dare you not to like him.
Ant sized he is not. Standing at 6’6” he takes up a bit of space on the ice. And he hits like a freight train, just ask Travis Harmonic.
He led the Panthers in scoring during the '13-'14 season. Nick had to end the following season early for surgery on his lower back. Taking a leap here but if you have to get help lacing up your skates it might be time to get off the ice to fix the issue, but still, he tried to tough it out. He couldn’t bend over and continued to attempt to play every night. We shall see this September if he is back at one hundred percent.
Thank you - again - for this one, Nick! Twenty rounds…
What should you know about the current owners of the Panthers, Mr. Vincent Viola and Mr. Doug Cifu?
First, and most important, in my opinion, is that they are both EX-Ranger fans. The second is that they are hockey enthusiasts that dropkicked the Yormarkian marketing crap to the curb. I don’t think you need a third you just need to understand at least some of the action taken since they arrived.
Mr. V’s keen business practices and tactical military sense are forging a culture of responsibility and winning in the organization. Taking the team to West Point prior to the start of the season solidified the players in a team first mentality and allowed the man who would be Captain to stand out. At the arena Vinnie is hand shakes, smiles and good vibe talks to all who stop and say hello. However, one can Immediately sense this is a man who does not like to lose.
My best guess that an angry Vinnie looks like this behind closed doors, look out players.
Mr. Cifu, known on Twitter as @DougieLarge, has been at the helm with the diehard fans. He is inclusive, a jokester and a huge fan Queen!
The decision to do away with freebie tickets to show loyalty to the SSO’s left a huge bullseye on the team. Pictures of the empty seats and fan count were relentless. When the anti-south media chime in on the Panthers, it is Mr. Cifu setting them straight usually with a force of fans right behind him.
Why is this important? Righting the ship starts at the top, speak up for your crew. As Dee Snyder sang so poetically, "We’re not gonna take it!"
Real live Florida Panthers do exist.
Our namesake is a majestic beast! Currently wildlife advocates say there are between 80-100 Panthers in Florida. Most of whom live here west of the BB&T Center home of the hockey Panthers. The Everglades are right outside the BB&T.
The black dot you see on SR869 it is my placeholder for the BB&T everything on the other side is protected Everglades area. (Anyone notice that Miami, Miami Beach, South Beach none of those names appear on this map snip?? That’s right the Panthers play in the city of Sunrise in Broward County, we moved from Miami over 15 years ago.)
If you are an animal lover you can check out Big Cat Rescue for more information or get involved in saving the endangered species! Hockey Panther fans can go here to help the cause.
Q. Quebec City
As of today Quebec City has made a bid to the NHL for an expansion team. WHEW. Finally those rumors about the Panthers moving to Quebec can be silenced. Hopefully. The entire '14-'15 season was spent hearing repeatedly how the team moving would be the Panthers.
Let’s look at the numbers for a minute. It is in the NHL and owner's interest to have expansion instead of a relocation? Did the NHL just get $4-million nonrefundable dollars for two possible expansion teams? Yes it did. If two more teams are added to the league how much money will the NHL earn? Pockets get filled faster at the top if the league pushes for expansion vs. the cost involved for one team to relocate.
Plus I don’t really enjoy the winter unless it is warm, sunny and filled with horrible driving Canadian snowbirds.
R. Rocco Grimaldi
Now that the great back stabber Tampa Bay fans has retired from hockey - Marty, I am looking at you - it is time for a much younger man of similar skills and stature to step into the NHL.
Grimadli comes prepared for camp each season, and this woman thinks he will be on the roster in October.
Watching him on the ice he just reminds me of all that was great about St. Louis. Smart and concise with his position, slick and cunning with his moves. True story. At a Panther fan meet and greet this picture happened. Photographer, Rocco Grimaldi.
My friend Spencer, ever the joker, asked Rocco if he could take a picture. Of course Rocco said yes, with that Spencer handed him his phone, grabbed me and said thanks! The look on Rocco’s face was priceless.
We chatted with a few other players and came back to Rocco to thank him for being a great sport. Spencer told him I stated he would be the next Marty St. Louis with the way he plays. Rocco seemed pleased with the comparison. Bonus! We all laughed about the picture. Turns out another player had recently had a similar incident and Rocco was more worried about being caught taking the picture than actually taking the picture. Jesus would approve this story.
We could not be luckier to have Roberto Luongo as our number one goaltender. The trade that sent him away went down in the hockey archives as possibly "The Most Lopsided Trade EVER."
I remember distinctly being at one of the handful of games that Todd Bertuzzi played as a Panther and thinking, "Where is the bean stalk?" His return was one of the happiest days in Panthers history. Lu wanted to come back. We wanted Lu back. Bonus, it helped move Tim Thomas off my team as quick as humanly possible, it was sunshine and flowers blooming everywhere.
Let’s be honest, he isn’t just a Gold Medalist, NHL All Star, former team Captain, Mark Messier Leadership Award-winning goaltender. He is the funniest hockey player on Twitter. Period.
Once more the Panthers will be the team in the East with the most miles to travel in the 2015-2016 season. The realignment of the conferences did not help the Panthers in improving that stat anytime in the near future. I am also no fan of the number of times we play teams within the Canadian South division.
Screwing with the number of miles travelled, I would rather see a better mix of East vs West games. Can we get a few more games with the Ducks? The trend in the last three or four years is that the West is improving at a faster rate than the East. Anyone in the East want to win a Cup, I do!!!! Be quiet Boston fans, you aren’t winning a Cup this season.
Can anyone on my team spare some travel miles, I’d like to visit Fiji!
Every bandwagon jumper loves a superstar. Can’t wait to see how many more Hawk fans there suddenly are this year. It is the passionate fan, the die hard, the face painting loyalists who loves the grunts on their team. In the speck of history that the Panthers occupy there have been many grunts to embrace, Robert Svehla, Mike Hough, Mark Parrish, Trevor Kidd and Steve Montador. Defenseman Steve Montador was a Panther for only a few years. He participated in Right To Play.
Suffering for the last few years of his career with concussions and the side effects that come with it took its toll on his spirit. With a heavy heart Steve left us all far too soon.
I was fortunate enough to win the jersey off his back at our end of season fundraiser.
Death is a permanent solution for a temporary situation. Please, please if you are struggling with any dark thoughts, say it to someone and seek help.
V. Versteeg, Kris
Steeger was one of the fan favorites in his short time as a Panther. Playing with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann garnished Kris with his career best stats. That season would also take the Cats to the playoffs. It would end painfully in the first round against the NJ Devils for the second time in Cat history.
That unexpected jolt of playoff hockey prodded fans off the couch and into the arena. I credit him with the spark of life the fan base desperately needed. Steeger’s personality sparkled as he serenaded us:
Knee surgery, compliments of Radko Gudas, ended Versteeg for the season. Tight budgets make for creative job descriptions, Kris was put to work in the front office selling renewal packages.
Kris thought we would be together forever. Forever ended up being less than his four year contract. In 2013, he was traded back to the 'Hawks with the Panthers continuing to pay his contract for the next two years. We will never know what went down exactly but to my memory Versteeg is the only player the Panthers paid another team to take off our hands.
W. Willie Mitchell
Oh Captain! My captain!
To be fair, I did not know who Willie Mitchell was prior to joining the team. Need more East vs West games to enlighten fans who don’t spend time writing about the NHL, Gary. Mitchell is a seasoned defenseman and apparently a friend of Lu.
Oh how I've missed your LONG stick bud! Great to be your teammate again @Willie_Mitch33 #Panthers
— Strombone (@strombone1) July 1, 2014
Specifically brought in to mentor his future adopted son Aaron, Willie has been a leader since arriving with the team.
I travelled to LA with my friends to see the Panthers play the Kings. The reception that Mitchell received from his former team and their fans was beautiful. It made me feel slightly more honored to have him as a Panther and our Captain.
Willie solidified my good soldier for life status when the trade deadline rolled around this year. Getting trashed by the incessant babble of sportscasters is nothing new for the Panthers. Apparently Captain Mitchell wasn’t aware of this and retorted, via Twitter, his disapproval of some snide remarks Glen Healy made.
Hey #GlenHealy shove it up your ass! @SNHockeyCentral @FlaPanthers are a tad bit "mightier" then your career save percentage. #Catsarecoming
— Willie Mitchell (@Willie_Mitch33) March 2, 2015
Yeah, that’s MY Captain!
Does anyone else feel that the next step in security at their home arena will be those airport style X-Ray Machines?
BB&T, at times, has that TSA airport feeling to entering the building. Everyone goes through metal detectors including the Stanley Cup! There are no backpacks permitted, and ladies, no purses larger than 1’x1’. If you make a sign it can’t be larger than 2’x2’. Flags aren’t welcomed. At times fun was told to stand outside the BB&T. Those are the rules folks, I didn’t make them.
The parameters of this A to Z about my love, my passion, my Panthers, had to be inclusive of all of the history of the team. The easy way would have been to spend time looking back at our playoff run in ’96. Panther fans have lived it, relived it, and no matter how many ways marketing wants to reheat and serve it to us, it needs to go take a time out.
I chose to focus on different players from our history, a few known and some names most casual fans will suffer déjà vu about. The Panthers have the opportunity to be the creators of brand spanking new celebratory moments, let’s have those. I want to look at this article next August and say, "Holy Aqua Net and Bic lighters, Batman the Panthers were on fire."
Hat tricks, shut-outs, bench clearing brawls, wins, TONS of wins, and playoff hockey, THAT is what I want. Adios yesterday’s leftovers!!
Z. Zip It
Every fan will say the zebra’s aka referees are biased against their team, I know it and you know it. If you doubt it, just follow Twitter during hockey season as read it for yourself. (#Refyousuck.) It isn’t just in the NHL or hockey, it is in every sport that fans take penalties, and lack thereof, personally regarding their team. Do the four men on the ice in the black and white shirts make mistakes? Are they human? Do they make judgements based on certain player’s reputations?
I think that answer is yes. Do they aspire to call the game based strictly on the rules they are to enforce? That answer is yes, too. Try as one might, the game of hockey draws out the emotions in everyone.I tip my autographed cap to all of you who hear the jeers ...
Take the hits ...
... and still love showing up for the game. Call it clean, call it fair, and do not be swayed by Sidney's crying.
Meet the author: Heather is currently the GM and coach for the Panthers from her seat in section 134. While management never calls her directly for instructions you’ve heard her at games yelling orders across the ice. HBO branded her “a hostile crowd” all on her own (lol Red Wings suck). Truckers and sailors aspire to swear like Heather. Follow her on Twitter @lefthookpro.
Previous A to Z Guides: Anaheim | Arizona | Boston | Buffalo | Calgary | Carolina | Chicago | Colorado | Columbus | Dallas | Detroit | Edmonton