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Peeke's Points

Peeke's Points: Panthers Q&A

Tuesday, 04.15.2008 / 11:13 AM / Blogs
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Peeke\'s Points: Panthers Q&A
Panthers Blogger Cliff Peeke
Cliff Peeke, a Panther season ticket holder since Day One, will blog at FloridaPanthers.com throughout the 2007-08 season from a serious, die-hard fan’s perspective.

A Michigan native who’s played hockey (admittedly average at best) most of his life, Cliff grew up watching Red Wings games at the old Olympia Stadium. His allegiance changed to the Panthers the moment it was announced South Florida would have a team.

Cliff has played in adult leagues at IncredibleIce and his oldest son (age 25) plays there as well. His youngest son (age 9) is a member of the Jr. Panthers ’98 Squirt Travel Team.

Peeke's Points Archive

04.15.08 11:13 am :::: Panthers Q&A

“I’ll keep on trying my best”

That statement was how Alan Cohen ended the Q&A meeting with season seat holders last Thursday at the BankAtlantic Center. And after listening to him fielding a barrage of complaints, suggestions, concerns, and a few questions…I believe he will try his best.

Here’s my take on the evening…

It was so refreshing to have the owner of our beloved Panthers sit in front of 300 passionate Panther fans and share with us his honest, and sincere appraisal of the team. He accomplished this with some interesting insight and delivered it with well-thought responses and often injected some quick-witted humor. He did not shy away from difficult questions, and held his patience on some brutal opinions thrown his way. I felt that Alan was an ally in the frustrations we all share. I couldn’t help but think how much fun it would be to throw down a few brews and talk hockey with him for a couple of hours. He certainly showed himself to be a “true, passionate fan”. The fact that he was willing to do this, and the timing of it, gave me added respect toward this franchise. So…I would personally like to thank Alan Cohen for taking the time to meet with us that night…it was, by far, the best Panther meeting I have attended.

I really found his take on the GM and Coach carousel thing over the last seven years as very interesting, and informative. It was clear that mistakes were made, and Alan had no problem admitting them. He stressed that he is an “owner” and leaves hockey decisions to those he hires…and unfortunately some of those “hires” didn’t work out. On more than one occasion, he referred to the Huselius and Hagman trades as poor front office decisions. That struck a chord with me, because I have often times blamed the organization for abysmal personnel moves, and in several blogs referred to those two specifically. It was kind of neat to hear…hey, we messed up. But those lessons seem to solidify Alan’s intent to now hold onto our youth and not let them flourish elsewhere. And he’s 100% right. The fans in attendance appeared to want the owner to take a more active stance with regards to personnel decisions…why not.

The comment of “we’re built…it’s a question of someone driving the thing” was interesting. If you scroll way down to my pre-season thoughts, I felt we had the horses to make it happen this season, and the most absolute critical way to achieve success (including local and national press coverage as well as filling the seats) was to get off to a strong start. That has been my biggest bone of contention with this franchise. We failed. And yet, we already hear players and coaches say the same thing now as they did after last season. There are reports that Martin may stay as GM but will not coach the upcoming season. Okay, fine, but whoever that new coach is…his success (to me) will be defined by our record at the end of November…so whatever it takes to get the Panthers to play like it’s the playoffs in the early going…it must be done.

If it turns out that Martin is GM, I applaud that. It maintains organizational consistency, and I think he’s done a good job in that role. Aside from the Kilger deal, his moves (though initially subtle) have worked out. We are set at goaltending (Vokoun deal was not in the subtle category) for some time, and the in-season additions of Cullimore, Johannson, and Belak were good. The trade bringing in Skastrins was a positive as it turned out. I have my own ideas as to who we can delete to make room for some interesting free agent possibilities…so feel free to give me a call (doubt that will happen). One thing for sure, true Panther fans are very skittish when it comes to trades, as we have been burned so many times in the past. Trades are ok…as long as equal or greater value is achieved. I really believe GM Martin will handle that well enough.

One other thing…we were not “lucky” that in the years we drafted in the #1 slot, players like Ovechkin, Crosby, and Kovulchuk were not in the mix. While a sure-fire franchise superstar never made it to our roster, we do have some awesome youth that just got a years more experience. That, coupled with some intriguing prospects (Frolik, Matthias, Repik, and Ellerby) has the future looking bright. It still comes down to that early, successful start…it has to happen.

Back to Alan Cohen…thanks again…I felt a lot better about this organization after the meeting.  It’s great to know that you feel the same pain as we do (although in dollars, I’m sure the pain is greater). It’s also great to know that you care so much and your vision of the future is genuinely promising. If I hadn’t already renewed my season seats, I would have after last night. Let me know when you want to get together for some beer and hockey talk…I’d enjoy that.

04.07.08 3:12 pm  :::: Huge Discrepancy

Prompted by Bill Lindsay’s comment in the post-game radio show following the Panthers great win over the Dive Team (and refs) on Friday night, where he brought up the power-play opportunity discrepancy favoring the Dive Team, I had to do a little research.

So I went to nhl.com and looked it up…and sure enough the Dive Team led the league (by a lot) in power-play opportunities. They had 420 of them, 236 of which were at home. Compare that to the 313 power-play opportunities the Panthers had all season. That’s a 107 opportunity differential. How can that be? Well, if Friday night was any indication, the refs called nine penalties on the Panthers and NONE on the Dive Team (based on the radio play-by-play there were some questionable calls and non-calls). In all my years of following hockey, I have never heard of such an inequity. 

There are only two ways I can stomach that gross injustice…one was to see the Dive Team eliminated from the playoffs (unfortunately it took a Panther loss Saturday night), and the other is to fondly remember Eddie Belfour’s diving impersonation late last season (that was worth every second of the misconduct penalty).

The Draft Lottery is Monday night, and my recent worries as to us giving Nashville the #1 pick have been removed as we finished #22 out of 30 teams. If we get picked, I believe we can only move up four slots, so the best Nashville can get would be the #5 overall pick from the Vokoun trade…though I’m hoping it remains the #9 pick.

I need a few days to digest this season and see the playoff parings before I re-group and condense my feelings on this past season. So, I look forward to writing the season ending blog sometime later this week. Early predictions…Montreal from the East and San Jose from the West.

04.02.08 1:55 pm :::: The Spoilers

Another incentive to win the remaining two games, beyond decreasing Nashville’s odds of getting a top three pick in the entry draft (reminder…we traded our #1 pick for Vokoun), is the now annual opportunity to be a spoiler.

First up are the Dive Team on Friday…and a victory there would be sweet. But prior to that, Tampa Bay plays them tonight and Washington on Thursday. If both teams defeat the Lightning (a very real possibility), then our Panthers would first have to beat the Dive Team on Friday and lose to Washington on Saturday for the Capitals to win the division and for the Dive Team to be eliminated from the playoffs. A real dilemma. Let’s see how that plays out. More than wanting to see the Capitals in the playoffs, I’d rather not see Nashville score a higher pick in the draft…so…Panthers need to win both.

The Western Conference has an interesting battle for the eighth spot between Nashville (presently there) and Luongo’s Canucks. I’d rather see the Vokoun-less Predators in there. But how did they get this far after trading away some quality players (including Vokoun) and slashing payroll in the past year. And doing it with a tandem of Mason (ex-Panther) and Ellis sharing time in the net. I checked out their roster and stats and without seeing much of them this year can only think that they play the consummate team game. That, plus there is great stability with Coach Trotz. Amazing…I would have pre-season guessed they would finish near the bottom.

But the most amazing team not to make the playoffs this year has to be the Edmonton Oilers.  They’ve made a serious run, coming up short, but nearly making it without the services of injured players Horcoff, Moreau, Souray, and Torres. So much for the injury excuse.

Back to the Panthers. This draft position thing still has me sitting on the edge of my seat as I watched the game last night. And once again, we are frantically holding on to a one-goal lead as time expires. The memorable play last night was seeing Magnus Johannson jump up in the play and perfectly pass the puck to Booth for his 22nd goal. I’ll ask it again…sign Magnus for next season…he’s one of our better passers…and we need that.

In my last blog, I indicated that I would look into recent drafts and see how we fared. I spent a bit of time looking over each year, and was thinking I’d find some problems with our choices.  Problem is, that every team has problems in this inexact science. In fact, there was an article in today’s NHL.com that wrote on this subject and the input from Central Scouting. In short, “it’s so imprecise”. So coupled with our ever-changing GM’s over the last eight years, it’s hard to lay blame. But our draft of 2002 really stood out. After already selecting Bouwmeester, we still had the #9 selection in the first round, and grabbed Petr Taticek. Selected shortly after, were Steve Eminger (12th), ALEXANDER SEMIN (13th), and Chris Higgins (14th). Taticek turns into a bust, and Keenan trades him to Pittsburgh in ’05 for Ric Jackman. Then we later trade Jackman to Anaheim for a conditional pick (so we traded a #1 round player for a conditional pick). Wouldn’t it have been something had we selected Semin and watch him play alongside Jokinen?

03.28.2008 3:42 pm :::: Devastating

Take a quick look at the standings and you will see the #28 and #29 place teams are the two who ruined any chance of the Panthers making it to the playoffs.  Those two recent defeats, with so much at stake, are really hard for fans to comprehend. The “high’ we were feeling from the annual March point build-up, came abruptly to an end as we were treated to a game of missed opportunities, blown chances. Just plain devastating.

I’ll admit that I got “sucked in” again this year (heck, if you scroll down to recent blogs, you will see it). Not only did I actually feel we had a legitimate shot at the playoffs, but I was also trumpeting the bright future of this team. Now I’m left to wonder…can two losses in a row affect my outlook for this franchise? And the answer may be yes. Mainly because of the opponents (basement dwellers) that helped create this collapse, and what with so much on the line.

Year after year, we get off to such poor starts, that we are constantly chasing teams. Then, just when you’re ready to write the year off, they put together a win streak in March and you actually start believing that we may not be too far off. But in a matter of two days…reality sets in. Out of the playoffs again, and no first round selection in the entry draft (traded that selection for Vokoun), a draft that many see as being deep in talent. My next blog/article will look at how we have fared with our top two round selections in the past 6 years. That will be interesting, and disappointing, especially if you give any credence to hockeyfutures.com organizational rankings of team prospects. As of January, we were ranked #25. You would have thought that with all these years of mediocrity, the organization would have amassed and stockpiled enough quality prospects that experts would give a higher ranking to.

Unless we can manufacture a trade that will yield us a first round selection, we will be a bystander for the entry draft, much like we will be during the playoffs. In fact, the only thing we can cheer for now is to win enough of the remaining games so that when we enter the lottery of non-playoff teams the odds of our pick (now Nashville’s) being called is at higher odds. If our place is called, it can move up four slots. A grim reminder when we traded the #1 pick for Viktor Kozlov…it turned into Vincent Lecavalier. As of today, there are nine teams behind us, but many within two points. So I guess you can say that there is still something to cheer for…better (really worse) lottery odds.

Back to the hideous losses…two goals in those two games (I can’t count Dvorak’s meaningless tally with a second left). What’s up with that? And how could our captain go pointless in the two biggest games of the year. The only points he rang up were additions to his +/-, which now sits at -20.

With so little to cheer for…I’m now grateful the last three games are on the road.

03.24.2008 6:20 pm :::: Tampa Bound

Tomorrow night will be the third Panther game I will have seen in Tampa this season.  I’ve got to thank a good buddy of mine over there, who gets us tickets, this time in the Lightning version of our ADT Club section. John (the buddy) is from Pittsburgh, and changes allegiance between the Penguins and Lightning as it suits him. Guess which team has his attention this season.

One thing I’ve noticed at the games there, is that the Lightning start the contest at breakneck speed. Rather than try and neutralize their attack (and end up chasing them), I am hoping we can match or exceed their early intensity. To me, I believe that’s the key to victory…strong early start…grab an early lead. They still get good crowds, thanks to a good season ticket base that resulted from their play the last few years…and they are vocal. With their season over, the Lightning fans would love nothing more that to hurt our playoff chances. So…no doubt…we need to start strong, dominate early, and take the crowd out of it.

And…once again…this game is HUGE. 

So…with plenty to eat and drink…I’ll proudly be cheering hard for a Panthers victory. And with a victory…Thursday’s home game against the Thrashers will be an awesome game to go to.

As we all know, there is very little (if any) room for error. Each game now is great because they mean something. Still, I’d rather have others chase us, than the Panthers doing the chasing year after year. If only we could have avoided a few of those last minute implosions.

Go Panthers…I’ll see you in Tampa.

03.21.08 12:53 pm :::: Low Score / High Excitement

As I left the building after last night’s S.O. loss to the Dive Team, I realized that I wasn’t unhappy about the loss (as I would have been in many previous Panther losses), and I sensed the same from most all fans exiting. The reason? We all witnessed one heck of a hockey game…one that could have gone either way.

First of all, the place was packed… a near sellout…and almost 100% Panther fans. Unlike games against the Rangers or Montreal, where we get invaded by too many visiting fans, it was great to feel true “hometown” excitement from fellow passionate Panther fans. And that excitement was generated by the players on both teams as we were treated to some very good hockey.

With all the efforts the NHL has made to try and increase scoring (and along the way allowing frivolous penalties to become the norm), we all saw how a low-scoring game can be great to watch. Remember the 4th game against Colorado in the Stanley Cup Finals back in ’96 at the Miami Arena? That low scoring game still ranks as one of the best I’ve ever seen.  And last night’s effort proves that 1-1 games can be awesome. Lots of speed, hitting, playmaking, and 79 shots on goal. And some missed opportunities. I thought the refs did a good job not getting in the way and not affect the outcome. In fact, in a real rarity, the Panthers had more power play opportunities than the Dive Team. One such power play opportunity, with about 4 ½ minutes remaining, doomed the Panthers efforts of catching the Dive Team for the division lead. We could not mount an organized attack, and as a result, went scoreless. From that point, including overtime, the momentum changed and it was all we could do to hang on. 

I have to give the Dive Team credit. Without Brind’Amour, Whitney, and Cullen, they still rolled out offensive lines that were a constant threat. And they keep winning. But the play of goalie Cam Ward was something else last night. Definetely the number one star.

So now we have to re-direct our attention to two teams that are presently struggling…the Flyers and Bruins. We have a very good chance at grabbing that number eight spot. And, once again, the Saturday night game against the Lightning is…guess what…HUGE !!!

I read an article in this morning’s local paper which stated the Panthers are once again “teasing” their fans. It also went on about the need for a high level goal scorer. I’m not sure I agree with that. Kovulchuk’s got 50, and look where Atlanta is. I like team defense, a strong goalie, and a whole bunch of team “chemistry”. Mix in speed, youth, blend in some veterans, and front office stability, and I think you get a winning combination. And I think the Panthers are on the right track with all of that. Here’s the catch…early season intensity. If the Panthers can bottle up how they play in March and apply that to October and November, I guarantee other teams will be catching us in the drive to the playoffs. 

I like this team (when it plays with intensity).  I certainly don’t see the need for many player changes in the off-season, and there are so many players whose potential will emerge with yet another season of development. Here’s an example…imagine Olesz’ stats next season if he was to play a full year on the top line. And with the Sawgrass Express Line (that’s the name I like) together for a full year…just imagine.

We are not far off. With this team, it’s all about the early going. We still have a legitimate shot at the eight spot. And wasn’t it great to be reminded just how exciting a low-scoring game can be. Yep…I felt alright leaving the arena last night.

03.15.08 3:31 pm :::: Renewed Yet???

In what seems to be an almost bizarre coincidence, on the evening the Early Renewal Option for ’08-’09 season is about to expire, it almost seemed like the Panthers Client Retention and Marketing Department magically whipped up a heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, exciting, and passionate hockey game in front of a full house…as if to say, ‘NOW ARE YOU READY TO RENEW?’.

Thankfully, I already had, otherwise I’d be scrambling to fax in my form after I had gotten home. As it was, it took me hours to get to sleep as I replayed that game in my mind…over and over. That was an awesome experience at the BankAtlantic Center last night, as the Panthers hung on while clinging to a one-goal lead in the waning moments, down two skaters. My son, Andrew, and I must have looked like a human pretzel in our seats, as we clung to one another during the Ranger onslaught as time expired. Panthers win, 3-2.

Who would have known, at the start of this ride (trade deadline), that moves (and non-moves) by GM Martin would have played a major part in all this. He kept the team together and doused the rumor-mill flames by not trading Jokinen. And the additions, which at the time seemed subtle, have paid dividends (forget Kilger in this), especially Skastrins. And we all know the story by now how Coach Martin made a bold move as the Panther ship was perilously close to sinking, by starting backup Craig Anderson over Vokoun for three games. Should this ride continue and result in a playoff spot, that move may rate as one of the better coaching decisions this franchise has had in some time.  Of course, it was Anderson who performed and certainly deserves mountains of credit as he reeled off three super performances.  But Coach Martin didn’t stop there, as he recognized the play of Magnus Johannson and rewarded him with significant ice time. In last night’s huge game, as an example, Johannson had 19+ minutes and was a +2, with an assist. Think closely on these last six games, and you will see some very good coaching decisions. Martin’s distribution of ice time has resulted in different players “stepping up” in different games. Last night, I thought Ville Peltonen and Radek Dvorak played excellent in the 14+ minutes they were on the ice. During this “ride” of six games, the team has allowed only 8 goals. That is a result of TEAM DEFENSE. And unlike games prior to the “ride”, the Panthers have figured out how NOT TO implode while holding slim leads. In reality, every Panther has contributed, and that has been the key to their success.

But the victory last night was doubly sweet as the Panthers huge 19,000+ arena was filled with about 3,000 Rangers fans. Afterwards, as the crowd spilled out of the arena, it was great to see the happy, exuberant, high-fiving Panther fans rewarded…and Ranger fans quietly exiting.  For once in my life, I’d like us to drop off five plane-loads of Panther fans in MSG. And what also made it sweet was how the Panthers overcame some questionable calls by the refs and still got the win. I won’t get into it now, but let me ask this…if it had been Allen driving Shanahan into the boards…do you think he’d have gotten just two minutes? And it surely seemed as though they (refs) were intently watching for an opportunity to chase a Panther to the box with a couple minutes left…an all too often occurrence.

But, anyway, what a great game…and what a showcase for the Panthers Client Retention and Marketing Department to say, “See? This team has a bright future”.  And you know what…I agree.

03.13.08 10:45 am :::: Bring on the Rangers

Talk about a big game, it’s been awhile since I’ve been this fired up for an upcoming game (Friday night vs. Rangers)…and wouldn’t it be great to avenge the 5-0 loss to the Rangers 18 days ago.

A lot of positives for the Panthers since that game against the Rangers on 2/24. Seven games have been played since the trade deadline (2/26) and of a possible 14 points, we have grabbed 11, including the recent five game win streak. Here’s how I see it. I think the Salei for Skaskrins trade is one where it worked out for both teams.  But it really benefited the Panthers. He has strengthened the defense, sets a great example of sacrificing the body, and seems to have quickly earned the respect of his teammates and goaltenders. And then he scores the winning goal last night. I believe he is signed through next year. His arrival also coincides with Magnus Johansson’s increased ice time and he continues to impress with his puck movement capabilities (if I was the GM, I would try signing him for another year…and I would do it now).  His play is similar to Murphy’s, who seems to have stepped it up as a result of a little competition there. We’ll soon have a logjam with defensemen as Welch and Van Ryn are due back soon. The way this group is playing, there will be some very interesting decisions that will be made in the off-season.

Perhaps the biggest difference-maker since the trade deadline is Stephen Weiss’ return from injury. His play is noticeably good, and is a focused two-way center-man.  Along with Horton and Booth, that has become a very productive, and entertaining line.

I’ve also got to think that many fans are taking notice of Kamil Kreps increased confidence on the ice. He’s really becoming a factor when he’s playing, stickhandling more, moving the puck, and generating more opportunities.

No doubt, this team is really getting it together…and it’s exciting to see.

Friday night’s game against the Rangers should create a lot of excitement at the arena. I can’t imagine not being a part of it. GO PANTHERS !!!

03.09.08 10:50 am :::: Season Seats Renewed (past tense)

Yep…renewed the season tickets last night, BEFORE the hard-fought, come from behind thrilling overtime win. That was an absolute riot at the game last night. After a sluggish start, the Panthers began to control the game, took the play to the Thrashers, scored two to tie (could have been more if not for outstanding goaltending by Lehtonen), before catching a break in OT…a rare power play opportunity favoring the Panthers…and then Horton scores to capture two points.

And those two points just kept pace with the Dive Team and Flyers, teams we are after, as they continue winning.

So, this morning we sit 22nd out of 30.  If the season ended like this, it would assure Nashville DOES NOT get the #1 pick (from the Vokoun trade). And that’s a huge relief. Still, to make the playoffs, we have a mountain to climb. But if the four game winning streak, as well as the last two exciting home victories, are any indication…then this team is definitely on the right track. Players are coming back from injuries, and the team seems to be gelling. Last night, the one thing that stood out was how so many players did a lot of the “little things” right. They seemed to click on all aspects of the game. There were way too many stars to single any one out…a great team effort.

Like I mentioned in the previous blog, when the team plays like this…it’s easy to get excited about the prospects for the ’08-’09 season. And while I felt similarly last year at this time, there’s just enough of a mix of new players that make the future even brighter, and that’s not counting the young prospects. Cullimore’s play has been strong. Johannson looks very sharp, Belak adds the toughness that was missing, and Skastrins continues to impress. And these are guys we’ve added a long the way.  Our free agent acquisitions of Dvorak (great hustle and effort) and McLean (collecting points in the 2nd half) have been a positive. So was Zednik’s play prior to the injury.  All of a sudden, you sit down and start working up four solid lines for next season. And the defense (4 goals in the last 4 games) is looking great. Goaltending is solid. 

I just hope we give some serious thought to the importance of management consistency. As I’ve mentioned in the past…too many changes in GM’s and coaches have hurt this team. If we are on the right track (and we’ll see how things play out over the next eleven games), change may not be for the better.

Anyway, it’s definitely fun to be at the arena when the team gives efforts like the past two games. Those efforts, combined with the superb relationship-oriented cast of Panther representatives, and that ‘family-like” atmosphere have made re-upping on the season tickets a “no-brainer”.

That was a lot of fun last night!!!

03/07/08 5:01 pm :::: Defensive Lotto

Since the beginning of the Lotto, I have played the same three sets of numbers and early on had memorized them. I was hooked. I was forced to play for fear that if I hadn’t, and my numbers were chosen, how could I live with myself.

For a few years now, a similar concept existed with regards to my season ticket renewal. What if this was the year I declined to renew…and they make the playoffs. It would be just my luck (or bad luck). Of course that’s a bit of an exaggeration, since I’m a giant hockey fan and an even greater Panther fan. But no doubt, the years of mediocrity do put a little strain on the decision-making.

If you scroll down to my early Blogs, you will see that I had very high hopes for this season. In fact, the prospect of writing about the Panthers was exciting, as I really felt this team would be playoff-bound. We got off to a poor start (as always), and never seemed able to recover. We had opportunities to replace the Dive Team for first, but could never win those games. Throw in the last minute implosions, and it’s made this a tough season. Then, of all times, the renewal packet arrives after two such implosions.

And then, just as I’m contemplating taking advantage of the early renewal opportunity, the Panthers reel off three consecutive wins. While we haven’t made up ground on the Dive Team, we are still in the hunt at seven points out. Without those victories, forget it. But the thing is…they had to…and did. Craig Anderson’s play has really been a spark for this team…and the fans. Why not stay with the hot glove and ride it out…that means Anderson in net against the Thrashers. Last night’s effort against the Penguins was super…that was fun at the arena. There were moments when we went into a defensive shell…but we worked our way out of it in time. Even though the refs were trying to make it tough on us, we overcame it. How do they not call an obstruction hooking/holding as we cross the blue line? The friend I went to the game with last night is a Penguins fan, and even he thought it may have warranted a penalty shot. Anyway,  it was a strong third period and an overall great performance.

I also think the addition of Skastrins has been a huge boost for the defense…very solid. How about Magnus Johansson? His play recently got him rewarded with 21:20 of ice time last night and he was a +2 with an assist. Appears he has good vision, moves the puck well, and passes effectively. He took the puck away from Crosby a couple of times.

So…I’m sitting here now feeling positive about this team. We need to keep winning (we have to reduce those odds that Nashville gets the #1 pick), and make a solid run.  I’m glad we kept the team together at the trade deadline. Which means we go into the 2008-2009 season with most of the team intact and a few young players close to being ready to make the team (Mathias, Repik, Frolik). And, if you consider Jokinen’s stats as a barometer (it took him 7 years in the league to reach high level numbers…89 points in ’05-’06), then we are getting close with Horton, Weiss, and Olesz…and imagine what the next year can be with them really blossoming.

So, I am doing my best to push aside some of the negatives, and think positively about the future of this franchise. And much like my Lotto experience…I don’t want to miss out on a season when they will make the playoffs and go deep into them…2008-2009. So, I will be getting ready to renew again, and take advantage of the early renewal bonuses.

For me, it’s the excitement of hockey and the passion of being a hard-core Panther fan. It’s also like what my friend Joe says…he does it so he can spend the time with his son watching a game they both love. Me too…I have that same opportunity with my sons. But in addition, and very important to me, is that the Panthers really have a unique way of making their season seat holders feel special…like we really are a member of their hockey franchise. I have always received the utmost of respect and kindness from the Panther representatives that have worked with me throughout the years. So unlike Lotto, I renew not out of fear of losing…I renew because the overall experience has been so positive. And that’s a winning feeling. So I’ll start saying this now…GET OFF TO A GREAT START NEXT SEASON !!! Because I’ll be back in my seats once again, hoping for a successful year. GO PANTHERS in ’08-’09 !!!

03/06/08 2:16 pm :::: In Goal Tonight Is…

It’s got to be Craig Anderson.  We are riding a two game winning streak, in large part, due to him.  Andy can say what he wants about the help in front of him and how he’s seeing the puck well, but the bottom line is that he is keeping it out of the net…setting NHL records along the way.

The thing is…this team needs a spark, and Anderson has provided just that.  If those two road wins had not happened, this season would be over as 10 points would be too much to make up with thirteen games remaining.  As it is, we are 7 points removed from the Dive Team and I still think that’s our way into the playoffs…winning the division.  But back to Anderson…the last three games he has played have been terrific.  I noticed on NHL.com that he was awarded the #1 NHL star after his last two outings.  So there should be no doubt…go with the hot glove and see how far he takes us.

Still, something must be said for the defense.  Even though shots on goal are high, they’ve done their job limiting true scoring chances.  I also like Johannson and Murphy logging ice time in the same game…both can move the puck well.  Skrastins has performed very well since wearing a Panther jersey.  Even though Salei is playing well for Colorado (must be…he’s logging the most ice time), I think a new player who’s strong defensively really helps.

Every game is now a must-win situation.  We have to win tonight and set the tone for the long homestand.  Get on a major winning streak.  Look at Chicago…they’ve won 7 of their last 10 and are really back in contention for a playoff spot.  We must get on a roll whereby we win 5 or 6 in a row (I’ll take more).

Quick question…why were there only 14,000 Boston fans in attendance Tuesday night.  They are in 6th place, have played well all season, and baseball hasn’t started up yet.  I constantly hear how Boston is supposedly a great sports town in terms of support, yet their hockey attendance is not great.

A huge game tonight.  Prediction…Panthers 4, Penguins 2.  Go Panthers !!!!!

02/27/08  1:12 pm :::: Separation…

What was once an attainable goal, the Southeast Division title is now further away than the number eight spot.  With the Dive Team idle tonight, the Panthers can get within six points IF WE CAN EARN A VICTORY.  But here we are, same thing as years past, heading into March trying to chase teams down.  The separation is getting larger.

An interesting note about the Dive Team…they have not used injuries as an excuse.  Matter of fact, they’ve earned 15 out of a possible 20 points in their last ten games.  We, on the other hand, have managed just 8 points in that same span.  And I’ll keep repeating myself…if we can figure out a way to get off to strong starts, injuries and mid-season swoons can be overcome.  Look at Philadelphia.  They have earned just 4 out of a possible 20 points in their last ten games.  And yet, they sit in the final playoff spot as of today.  Their great start provided them that cushion.  You would think these lessons, year after year, would sink in.

I am starting to think the team to beat in our division is the Capitals.  Grabbing Huet was kind of a surprise, but adding Federov was huge for them.  Imagine their power play with Federov, Ovechkin, and Kozlov out there…scary.

Meanwhile, Atlanta ripped off Pittsburgh in the Hossa trade.  They grabbed some talented youth in that deal.

Our moves?  I was pleased, after listening to the NHL network all day that NO MOVES regarding our core, youth players were made.  I understand the Salei move, and was pleased with what we got in return (Skastrins).  Adding depth with Kilger and strength with Belak made a lot of sense.  I would love to see those guys in the lineup tonight.  But again, most importantly we did not lose any of our core players.  And thankfully, Jokinen stays put.  So…the little tinkering we did was a plus.

So…here we go again…each game is critical as we look up in the standings.  Some of the best games the Panthers play are at this time of the year…right after the trade deadline.  Who knows, maybe this year they put it together and don’t fall short of their goal.  We need to pour it on, and I guess it will have to start with tonight’s game, especially with their performances the past weekend (even though we eked out a win at Philly).

02/21/08 9:42 am :::: Bad Timing???

I returned home yesterday from a couple of days on the road, only to find my Panthers Season Seat Holder Renewal packet on my desk.  Could the timing have been any worse?

After the back-to-back third period implosions (again), I find that I try to ignore anything related to the NHL.  Normally, when I have windshield time, I listen to nothing but XM 204, the NHL station.  I just couldn’t listen to it yesterday at all.  I did not want to hear of other teams successes, and how we get ignored, or talked about in a negative light.  I had no interest in reading the articles in the paper that surely bring up the “fragile” third period mental condition of this team.  And forget about NHL.com or Yahoo’s NHL section.  I just ignore the NHL when the Panthers go into a funk.

I want to read and hear positive things about our team.  But when we are 26th out of 30, what can be said?  Trade rumors regarding Jokinen is about it…and that’s a negative.  Ross McKeon has some good columns in Yahoo Sports (NHL), and one of his weekly features is a Power Ranking.  I can’t recall the last time we have been above 25th.

I know injuries have played a huge part in why we can’t close the gap with playoff contending teams.  But if we had gotten off to the strong start that I spoke about early in the season, we would be in a better position now.  That weak start (as always) will haunt us.  Then, couple in the phantom penalty calls late in the games, leads lost, and horrific endings…it’s just been tough to take as a fan.

But guess what…all is not lost.  Surprisingly, we are still in this thing.  So here I go again, getting revved up for yet another HUGE GAME tonight against the Bruins.  If the Panthers can overcome the last two games, regroup, and earn two points tonight, they will be only three points out of first.  Then, we need a major winning streak.  But how many times do we get our hopes up…only to be let down.  We really need to WIN five of the next six games…got to get on that kind of a roll.  So…another huge home game tonight, and yes, I’m looking forward to being there.  A loss, I think, will be devastating.

And here’s another reason we need to win and move up in the pack.  The NHL Entry Draft order is made after a lottery is held with fourteen non-playoff teams.  The odds are better the lower a team is in the standings, and a team can move up four slots.  We traded our first round pick to Nashville for Vokoun.  Imagine how we will all feel if that ended up being the number one pick overall…that’s a nightmarish thought.

Back to the Season Seat Renewal packet…I’ll write on this topic in a future blog.  But I must say that I was impressed by the fact that PROMISES of greatness were NOT made.  That’s a step in the right direction.

The Panthers must win tonight.

Go Panthers !!!

02.13.08 1:09 pm :::: Like family…

From the moment the skate sliced through the neck of Richard Zednik until it was announced that his condition had been stabilized, my wife and I sat frozen in front of the TV, deep in serious concern.  We were both very worried about his welfare, and the images that were replayed struck us deeply.  I am sure that at that moment, Panther fans (and obviously others around the world) thought not only of Richard, but of his family as well.

So from our family (as I’m sure families of others) to Richard and his family…we are so relieved that the surgery was successful and you are on the road to recovery.

As an avid hockey fan, if this incident had happened to a different team’s player, I would have had very similar reactions.  But because this was one of OUR Panther players, it was like a member of our family had been hurt.

And this is what often times gets lost within sports organizations, how avid and caring fans relate to their teams…like family.  Remember the Panther team during the playoff drive in ’95?  How that team was built from an expansion draft, and grew together.  Fans related to that team, and there was a “bond”.  The closest we have come to duplicating that type of bond with a team is with this group of Panthers.  It appears as though management has set a course that depicts patience and stability, something that has been missing for a while ( no thanks to the philosophy changes made by the revolving door of GM’s).  So…as fans we see our core youth develop TOGETHER (Weiss, Horton, Bouwmeester, Olecz, Booth, to name a few), mixed with the leadership and stability of Jokinen (when will those idiot trade rumors stop), and sprinkled with an array of other hard-working veterans that, combined, make up our present squad.  A team that has stuck together, and for a couple of years now, has not had any major changes.  And hopefully no major changes for a while. 

I believed before the season that this team had the ingredients to make the playoffs.  I expected better results to this point (as of today we are 25th out of 30), but I really feel we have a legitimate shot.  Injuries have hurt us for sure.  But look ahead to next season, and that’s another year that this team will have “grown” together.  And another year that avid fans get to know the players…get to grow with the team.  The Panthers organization does a very good job in making their season seat-holders feel like family…one reason that I re-up each year.  Of course, team performance is now a priority, but so is our ability as fans to relate to the players on the team…the family. 

And that’s why the injury to Zednik was even more frightening…it happened to a player within the “family”, and it touched us deeper.  Once again, I will express our concerns and well-wishes to the Zednik family.

It will be awesome to see his teammates rally around this unfortunate incident, and react with a positive intensity.  The game tonight at home against Montreal is huge (aren’t they all anymore).  As a fan, it would be something special to see us get two points in light of what the “family” has been through.  Go Panthers !!!

02.09.08 10:08 am :::: Weird game…

Watching that game Thursday night…well it just seemed weird. I’ve got to give the Panthers credit for getting back in the game after Ottawa scored three in a row, and appeared ready for a route. But the goals scored against both goaltenders were some that normally would have been stopped…or so it seemed. Especially the winning goal by Heatley…too much of a gimme.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell on TV as to the justification of a penalty. Some that are called appear to be weak…and then there are those that look obvious and are not called. With a minute or so left in the game, it really looked like Weiss was nearly hauled down in the neutral zone, yet play was not interrupted. At that moment, I couldn’t help but think…if that was the Panthers we would have been called. I’ve seen it too many times…then after the goalie gets pulled, we’d be down two men and a goal gets scored. But we couldn’t catch that break.  Again, on TV it looked obvious…but maybe it wasn’t at the view from the bench. Still…

What’s up with Volchenkov high-sticking Booth near the blue line. Only a two minute minor?  We all remember Booth taken off the ice in October on a stretcher thanks to what appeared to be a questionable hit by Volchenkov. What’s going on there? We’ll have to wait until next year to send Tanner Glass out on the ice and meet up with Volchenkov.

Two games remaining on the road trip, and I really feel that we need to get at least three points to keep our momentum going before coming home and playing Montreal. Which, by the way, have the Canadian snowbirds returned home yet?  We need to own the arena that night…not them. So…keep the momentum going and fill the arena with local, Panther fans.

The only goal scored last night in Dallas’ win over Minnesota was Niklas Hagman’s 20th of the season. That ex-Panther that Keenan gave away is having a break-out season…good for him…and another tough one for Panther fans to swallow.

Huge game against Boston…get two points before moving on to Buffalo.

02.04.08 10:50 am :::: Optimistic

OPTIMISTIC…Here we go again…

Two great wins, both come from behind efforts against Vancouver and Tampa Bay, have got me thinking optimistic about this season…again. This roller-coaster season of inconsistencies still leaves me with some doubt, but still, there was something different about these last two victories.

In both games, there was a moment in the game, down by a goal, where I was actually hoping that we could eke out at least a point. And in both…we get wins. Zednik’s winner with a minute left in Tampa felt great…a relief after the numerous implosions that we’ve experienced. So… For us to inflict that pain on another team…yes it felt great. And that was on the heels of beating the Canucks and Luongo in an emotionally charged contest. Like I said, there was something about those two games that may create some positive momentum…at least it did for this fan.

We’ve got four more games on the road…how about a minimum of five points.

It’s really becoming clear that to make the playoffs this year, we are going to have to take advantage of a weak Southeast Division. Three points out of first with a game in hand is within sight…as opposed to the wider margin of six points for the eighth slot (and having played two more games). Once again, we must play with desperation…every shift.

Which brings to mind David Booth. I have to applaud the scout that recommended we draft this player. He has quickly become a fan favorite for all the right reasons…100% effort, speed, great attitude, a scoring touch, and plays with “reckless abandon”. This guy is fun to watch out there…and can be the type of player that sets the tone for this team as it looks for an “identity”.

Back to Saturday’s game against the Lightning…did anyone else notice the play Bouwmeester made as Richards had a couple of steps on him entering our zone. In his effort to catch up to Richards, Jay actually was able to turn around in full stride and keep Richards to the outside and prevent a good angle shot. That was an unbelievable play…and further proof that he is really developing into a great defenseman in this league. Knowledgeable fans want him in a Panther uniform for many, many years.

Also…Vokoun’s play in the net has been stellar, and the team seems to be feeding off his great saves.

Maybe, just maybe, this team has turned the corner…or am I a little too optimistic. We’ll find out after this road trip is over. GO PANTHERS !!!

01.25.08 1:15 pm :::: Speechless

“I’m speechless”

After last night’s horrifying implosion at the hands of the Oilers, a good friend (and season ticket holder) sent me an email that said, “I don’t think I can come up with an adjective or adverb to describe what I witnessed tonight…this is truly how seasons are blown…I’m speechless”.  And so were the masses as they once again exited the arena in that all too familiar zombie-like state.

How many more times can fans endure this type of loss.  Think of how many times this has occurred over the last few years. The problem is that they are such tough losses that it’s hard to forget them. Check this out…this morning at breakfast I am describing the implosion to my nine year old son. I’m telling him how the tying goal was scored…how Vokoun failed to stop the puck behind the net, then a shot from a bad angle ends up going off his pad and into the net. Interestingly, he responds by saying that the goal reminds him of a devastating loss to the Rangers two seasons ago, as a similar bad angle shot went off  Luongo’s back with time running out. That was two seasons ago…and he was only seven…and he still remembers it !!! So…if it had that kind of an affect on a youngster, imagine the affect on die-hard adult Panther fans. Or are we becoming de-sensitized by the numerous implosions.

As I wrote yesterday, this was a game we had to collect two points and enter the break on a high note. One point doesn’t cut it…especially in the manner that it happened. What is it about this organization that these things happen? We can add different players…but get the same results. Cullimore wasn’t here a year ago…but there he is getting a penalty at the worst possible time. Then, Vokoun pulls a Luongo and we get similar results as in the past. I’m tempted to do some research and find out who leads the league in blown leads with two minutes remaining in games over the past five years. My gut tells me it’s our own Panthers. And remember…these implosions are the toughest to forget.

I’m trying hard to stay positive on this inconsistent season…but I have to ask…how much more can we endure?

01.23.2007 8:30 pm :::: Pull within two ???

The Dive Team (Carolina) is already beginning their all-star break. Just four points behind, we can come within two and still have a game at hand if we defeat the Oilers Thursday. So how big is that game? I think it’s a must-win situation.

And if we play like we did Tuesday night against Ottawa…we will win. That was a fun game to be at…I enjoyed every minute (except the ‘too many men on the ice penalty’). Vokoun was all-star material in the first, and kept us in the game until our offense got into action. Horton had a big night, and we had five different goal scorers. But most of all we skated with the Senators, and fought hard throughout the game. That’s the kind of effort (and result) that makes me believe that maybe, just maybe, we can really make a run at the Division title. So, let’s throw some CONSISTENCY in the mix and win two in a row.

Please do not take the Oilers lightly, even though they have a similar record as ours. Take a look at their roster…there’s some serious talent on that team…it’s surprising they’re not doing better. So…play with the same intensity as we did Tuesday. Also, I noticed that we took the offensive when we had the lead, rather than playing “protective”. Continue that style…fans love it…and like Tuesday, we might just add to our lead.

Thursdays’s match-up is a good one, and there’s too much at stake for the Panthers to not give 100% effort. Treat it like it’s a playoff game…win it…then take some time off. We need to pull within two !!!  WIN THURSDAY !!!

01.22.08 3:30 pm :::: No Trades!!!

I was going to wait until tomorrow to write, since tonight’s match-up against Ottawa is huge, and figured that maybe something positive will happen to put a good spin on things in Pantherland. I’m hoping. Looking forward to going to the game.

But the article in the Sun-Sentinel, as well as rumors throughout the hockey media, with regards to Jokinen being traded has me revved up to where I’ve got to get this off my chest. If Jokinen goes…my streak of being a season ticket holder since day one will come to an end.  The thought of Ollie lighting it up for another team is out of the question. 

Besides, even if I thought that would be a good idea (which it isn’t), I have very little faith that we would get even close to equal value in return. Our track record in trade value received is abysmal. Forget the Luongo/Bertuzzi fiasco, or the Huselius/Montador craziness, as I’ve written about those deals in the past. But I’m sure many hard core fans will recall a young, hardworking forward named Niklas Hagman when he wore a Panther jersey. Once again, this team gave up on this young player, and now, at 27 and playing for Dallas, he has 18 goals so far. That would put him 2nd on the Panthers ahead of Booth (13) and Horton (12). Anyway, when we made the trade in December of 2005, we received a walloping 7th round draft choice for the 2007 entry draft.  In short, we gave him away. This is just another example in a long line of poor personnel decisions that haunt this franchise. Point is, even if we wanted to trade Jokinen (which we better not), chances of us ending up on the winning side of the deal are very slim.

But let’s not go there. End the rumors now!!!

Also…the Hagman reference above, and Huselius references in past blogs, are clear cut examples of what happens when we cut ties with promising youth. 

Now…go out and win tonight…we need two points badly !!!

01.14.08 3:14 pm :::: Right There For The Taking!!!

Seventeen days ago, prior to my vacation, I wrote that we were so close to first in our division, and poised to be in the playoff hunt. Since 12/28, the Panthers are 2-6-1. That’s five out of a possible eighteen points. In my recent blog on 1/7 (see below), I felt that we needed to win 3 of 4 games to really keep pace and generate some serious fan excitement. Instead, we win one and get a shootout loss point.  That’s 3 of a possible 8 points. We had a golden opportunity…and blew it.

We probably have a better opportunity to win the division this year, as the Southeast may be the weakest it’s been in years. Carolina is struggling with injuries and are only 4 points ahead of us, and we have a game in hand. The rest of the teams in our division have yet to make a strong push…so the division IS RIGHT THERE FOR THE TAKING. So why can’t we get there????

Most likely, to make the playoffs, we will need around 94 points. That means we need to win 25 of our next 36 games…that’s about 7 of every 10 games. The Panthers have not shown they can get on any kind of consistent winning streak this season…so that would seem to then be a daunting task. That is why I pegged the previous eight games as a critical juncture for this team to grab some very important points. It didn’t get done. Why? We can’t score enough goals. We are doing fairly well on our “goals against”, but with our lack of scoring, we would need to be a defensive force like the Devils, Wings, Sharks, or Canucks to withstand our lack of production. Our scoring drought and abysmal play at home is what is spelling doom for this team. Yes…I know the importance of injuries, but we still need to find ways to put the puck in the net. Against the Avalanche yesterday, we had golden opportunities to grab two points…and miss-fired.

Our free agent acquisitions (the big first day signings) of Zednik, Dvorak, and McLean have resulted in 17 goals and 19 assists for 36 points COMBINED. That’s not even close to a point a game from all three. I like their speed and hustle, but we also need point productivity. We all expected more of Weiss and Horton, especially after their big contract signings, yet their stats are around “average” compared to the league forwards. And I know everyone expected more offensive contributions from Bouwmeester this year. No doubt…the lack of scoring has been frustrating the hard core fans.

Even though we’ve put ourselves in a tough situation, we still have a legitimate chance to win this division…and I know that the Panthers want to keep reminding us of that fact so we can stay enthused about this season. But real fans know that unless the Panthers players treat each remaining game as “desperate”, the chances are slim. Look ahead during the next week. We go on the road against the Flyers, Devils, and Capitals, only to return home to play the Senators. Good luck!!! I wonder how many of those eight potential points we will be able to grab. Thing is…we have no choice but to win a few of those games…that’s the reality of the situation.

Through all this, many of us are trying to determine the “identity” of this team. Many teams have an identity….”puck possession”, high scoring”, tough defense”, or “physical play” to name a few. We were willing to accept that this team would have the identity of “hard working” (as had been promoted), but based on the season to date…that is just not true. But to make the playoffs, they will have to be, and will need to play 60 minutes as a “hard working” team in desperation mode.

By the way, I like the pick up of Magnus Johansson. He handles the puck and passes well.  Also looks confident out there.

One other thing…are the Ice Dancers outfits and routines getting better or am I noticing them more since our play at home has been sub-par?

01.07.08 2:00 pm :::: More Consistency

WHAT HAPPENED???

The last blog I wrote was prior to leaving for a ski vacation in Breckenridge.  If you scroll down to the 12/28 blog, you will see that I was “fired-up” about the Panthers chance of a tie for first place. Since then (and while on vacation), the Panthers lost four games and won one in overtime. That’s two points out of a possible ten. 

While I can’t comment on the quality of play,  I do see that they scored only 7 goals in the five games…that’s less than 1 ½ goals per game…won’t cut it!!! Meanwhile they were outscored 15-7 in that span. What’s up with the goal scoring???

Our leading scorer, Olli Jokinen, has 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points. Meanwhile, our Keenan cast-off from a couple years ago, Kristian Huselius, has 47 points for Calgary. That’s 6 points more than Jokinen, and Huselius has scored one goal more than Horton and Weiss COMBINED.

That stretch of five games was important for the Panthers to make a statement and gain valuable ground…instead they failed. So, where do we stand now? How about 25th out of 30 teams at the half-way mark. So now this inconsistent team is once again in a desperate situation. Heck, they are ONLY four points better than last year’s record at this time. Here’s what has to happen at a minimum…they must win three of the next four games (three of which are at home), and it must begin with a victory over the Penguins at home on Tuesday.  Somehow or other, this team must play every shift as if playoff hockey…there can not be any let-downs.

I am waiting for “the next step of unprecedented success”. The only way for that to occur is to win CONSISTENTLY, as there is very little room for failure at this point. I’m looking forward to a Panther victory against the Penguins Tuesday night.

12.28.07 11:07 am :::: First Place...

Or at least a tie for first and it can happen later tonight with a Dive Team loss to Boston and a Panther victory over Montreal at the BankAtlantic Center. I really would not have thought this a month ago, but the Panthers have collected 14 points in their last ten games, many of them on the road and have put themselves in a position to make a statement.

Like tonight. Returning home to a sold-out arena after an uncommon win in Atlanta, has the makings of an exciting evening. This crazy Eastern Conference has 10 points separating the 2nd through 15th place teams, with the Panthers right in the mix. This is exactly what hard core fans wanted…playoff-type atmosphere games at this point of the season (four games away from the half-way mark). A strong performance tonight and Sunday against the Flyers will be so huge for this team and its fans. Maybe, just maybe, the local South Florida newspaper will punctuate these accomplishments with front page recognition, rather than burying it on page 14…like this morning.

Last night’s game was similar in ways as to our win over the Blackhawks a couple weeks ago. It was a relief that we got out of there with two points. I’m watching the game and feeling comfortable with the 4-2 lead and a Panther power-play with six minutes remaining. I get quickly un-comfortable as I witness a totally unorganized and defensive-minded man advantage. It kind of looked like nobody wanted the puck…a real weird power-play. Anyway, appearing like the Panthers finally wanted to get offensive, the Thrashers break out and Kovlachuk is sent free to score. From that moment until Bouwmeester scores in the empty net, my heart-rate is soaring, I can’t sit still, and I’m conjuring up every imaginable good-luck scenario (as in…if I sit with one leg propped up like I did when we scored the first goal…just maybe). Thankfully, we win. And, thankfully, every game played right now has so much significance that it makes going to a game a super experience…and that’s exactly what I hoped for in this season.

To the Panthers…your play the past four weeks have helped turned this into a season to get excited about. The arena will be buzzing tonight…it’s a game that really means something…first place can be ours soon. Go Panthers !!!!

12.21.07 11:31 am :::: An Entertaining Game

Now that’s how you sell tickets…

When I go to Panther games, I often wonder what the reaction is from someone who is experiencing this for the first time (going to their first game).  If the Panthers are having an off night, and the crowd can’t get into it… are first time attendees less than enthusiastic about anteing up for more tickets? On the other hand, if the Panthers play a game like last night’s win over the Dive Team…how would a first time attendee react?

Well…I know firsthand. I invited a good friend to go to the game with me last night.  Interestingly, he had never been to a Panther game, and it’s been many years since he had been to a hockey game at all (a few Red Wing game at the old Olympia). He knows sports very well, having played in the NFL, and can appreciate athleticism and effort. I was curious how last night would play out, and his reaction to the contest.

He was EXTREMELY IMPRESSED. The Panthers came from behind with one of the best periods of play (the second) that I’ve seen in some time. Then McLean’s go-ahead goal was preserved with some outstanding defense in the third. Result…a thrilling victory, and two critical points earned as the Panthers find themselves but three points off the division lead.  Anyway, towards the end of the game, my buddy is searching for a schedule in the Growl magazine to check out upcoming weekend games.  He will be taking his family to a game, buying six tickets. What did it? It wasn’t the food, or the music, or any ancillary amenity…it was the excitement of the game and the effort that the Panthers produced. That effort (and the result) is how to sell tickets!!!

That was a fun game last night. Now, I’m thinking there should be a good crowd on hand for Saturday’s contest against the Maple Leafs. The Leafs lost to the Lightning last night, giving up a late goal in the game. They are but a point away from us, and will likely be a desperate team entering our building. We need to come out smokin’ in the first period and neutralize them quickly. Looking forward to Saturday night…it’s fun again at the arena!!!


12.19.07 1:35 pm :::: Fill The House

Game tomorrow against the Dive Team is set up nicely. 

Last night’s victory against Montreal makes Thursday’s game HUGE. A win against the Dive Team will bring us three points closer to them, and we have a game at hand. Obviously, we need to get off to a good lead tomorrow, but will it be good enough? Last night, down by two against Toronto, the Dive Team reels off two goals in the final minutes to tie, and then go on to win in OT. Late last season, we had leads against them, only to falter at the end. I say…play aggressive with the lead…even in the third period…pinch in the defensemen…keep them bottled up in their zone.

Like last night.

The game against Montreal was a thing of beauty. The first period was a stark contrast from what occurred in Chicago just two nights earlier. The Panthers owned the period, out-hustling, out-shooting, and out-scoring their opponent. The energy level appeared sky-high…it was fun to watch. The Panthers seemed to maintain their energy throughout the game, and the Canadiens appeared frustrated as they had difficulties mounting any threats. Even though it got a bit dramatic at the end…that was two huge points that the Panthers EARNED.

Some quick observations….(1) Nice to see Stumpel’s play coming around as he’s back on the first line, (2) While not gathering points, Dvorak’s speed and hustle is very evident as he seems to be in the play most of the time, (3) Gregory Campbell seems more confident out there and has stepped up his game, and (4) Vokoun is the “real deal” as he’s showing why he’s one of the top five net-minders in this league.

Now…just duplicate last night’s first period into sixty minutes of hockey tomorrow night against the Dive Team and we’ll be alright. I can’t wait for the puck to drop. My recommendation to the “casual fan” is this…Thursday night’s game will be worth the price of admission…buy some tickets…let’s fill the house…get it loud.

Go Panthers !!!

12.17.07 1:45 pm :::: Huselius:  Part Two

While enjoying breakfast with my nine year old son this morning, he points out after reading the box-scores, that Huselius collected five points for the Flames last night. This Panther/Keenan cast-off has had two five-point nights in his last three games (since scoring the shoot-out winner against us) and has collected 11 points in that span.  For the season, he has 33 points and that is TIED with our offensive leader, Ollie Jokinen.  Also, while checking those stats, I couldn’t help but notice that another Panther cast-off Matt Cullen, has 34 points…one more than Jokinen.  These things anger me as much as watching an opponent attack Vokoun with 22 shots in one period.  It’s not like I am sitting back after the fact and watching how these trades play out…instead, I was vehemently against them when they occurred.  I don’t mind trades…but get value in return (e.g., Viktor Kozlov for Christian Berglund…what’s that all about?).  Panther ownership and management can easily say that poor trades were made from GM’s that are no longer here so there is nothing we can do about it now.  NONSENSE!!!  Ownership should now realize that trusting Panther GM’s to make moves on their own may be a risky venture.  So…why not create a multi-person trade advisory board to approve or veto a pending move.  I volunteer to be on that board, because if that had already been in place, Huselius, Cullen, and Hagman would be collecting points for the Panthers…not opposing teams.

It’s nice to see the Panthers in second place in their division, but did you notice that our division (except Carolina) makes up the final four spots in the Eastern Conference?

Last night…as I saw Vokoun skate off shaking his head after being barraged with 22 shots in the first period, I had to wonder how his teammates could look him in the eye during the intermission.  Anyway, something clicked, and the Panthers were able to outshoot and outscore the Blackhawks in the critical second period.  If not for Vokoun’s great first period, the Panthers would have lost.  Vokoun is definitely one of the top five goalies in the league (I did approve of that trade).

Last night…the Panthers first goal is proof that Bouwmeester must go end to end more often.  He needs to utilize the talent he has.  He skated into Chicago’s zone, goes around behind the net, skates back toward the point, all the while confounding Blackhawk skaters, and lets go a shot that’s blocked.  Olesz pounces on the loose puck and rips a slap shot (try them more often) for the goal.  Bouwmeester’s skating and puck handling seemed to leave the Blackhawks flat-footed, and good things happen when that occurs.

Last night…Zednik really got an assist on his own goal.  He worked hard at his own blue line pushing the puck up to Dvorak, who then goes streaking down the right side and finds Zednik in the slot for a pretty goal…great work Zednik.

Hard to believe that the Panthers are only eight games away from the half-way mark of the season.  I’ve got a few notes in place for my mid-term report card.

Huge road game against Montreal.  We win that and go .500.  Then…a showdown with the Dive Team on Thursday.  This could be a great week of hockey. 

Go Panthers !!!

12.12.07 5:00 pm :::: Huselius and the Zombies…

Shortly after the lone shootout tally by Kristian Huselius, thousands of fans exited the BankAtlantic Center in an all too familiar march…zombie-like.  How can this happen again…a tying goal with seconds remaining, then a shootout goal by one of our ex-Panthers. 

When Huselius’ name was announced as the shooter, a chorus of boos were heard.  I was not one of them.  I always liked him as a Panther, and thought it was an abysmal mistake by Keenan in trying to waive him then trading him for Montador.  I recall reading an issue of Hockey News in 2000 and the article that I found interesting was that a Panther prospect, Huselius, was considered the most talented player NOT in the NHL.  Soon after, he made the team, and I believe he scored on his first shift against Philadelphia in the season opener.  I, along with many Panther fans, believed he would have a long and prosperous career in S. FL.  Then along came Keenan.  Now you may recall that Keenan had tired of Dan Boyle and sent him packing to Tampa for a 5th or 6th round pick.  Of course, Boyle goes on to have a stellar career with our cross state rivals and similarly so does Huselius with Calgary.  I should also add that Keenan shipped Niklas Hagman to Dallas for virtually nothing around the same time as the Huselius blunder.  Check out Hagman’s stats…pretty good.  Then the biggest mistake of all…Luongo and Krajicek for Bryan Allen and Shawn Matthias (as it ended up).  It’s safe to say that Murray and Keenan are at least tied for the honor of “Worst Moves By Panther Exec’s”.

So…how does Keenan (who has been reunited with Huselius in Calgary) feel when Huselius scores the winner against his former teammates?  Sure he’s got to be happy for the two points, but to me it seems like it should blatantly highlight his past mistake(s).  In fact, when he puts Huselius on the top line with Iginla and Langkow, doesn’t that really show the poor judgement of talent he had as a GM here?  What I’m trying to get at is this…if the Panthers had to lose last night to a Keenan coached team…there is at least some justice that it came from the hands of ex-Panther and Keenan cast-off  Kristian Huselius.

Makes you wonder where this team would be if he never was a GM or coach here.  A number of friends and astute hockey fans believe we would be three years ahead if Rick Dudley held on to the reigns.  Oh well.

There’s a lesson here…and thanks to Keenan’s handling of Huselius…it’s a good reminder.  Think long and hard about trading away young talent from this team.  Believe me, history will repeat itself…they will prosper elsewhere.  It happens every time with the Panthers moves.  Be patient with our youth so we can enjoy their best years here.

12.05.07 7:45 am :::: Playoff Hockey...

“Complacent”, “Need to try harder”…that’s a sampling of Panther quotes since the two game home losses at the hands of the Bruins and Capitals…two teams the Panthers should beat.  I was away for meetings and parties in Chicago, so I missed those games and had to rely on a few friends analysis. In a nutshell…not good…the effort was not there.

How can that be???  This is a team that has little room for error and MUST play each shift as if in playoff hockey mode in order to be successful.  I keep going back to how obvious it is that the Panthers have such a golden opportunity to “own this town”…and I’ll keep reminding…

•    The Marlins just traded away two of their recognizable stars (although keep a close eye on Cameron Maybin, one of six players they got in return).
•    The Dolphins are winless and next year has little promise.
•    The Heat is playing so poor that they will have a real sales job for keeping their season ticket base.
•    The Canes are not even in a bowl.

So…what are the Panthers doing about this golden opportunity?  How’s this…they are presently 27th out of 30 teams in the standings and we are nearing the one-third mark of the season.  Those two home losses loom big.  But the reasons for the losses are not acceptable for hard core fans.  Come on…give 100% effort and nothing less and do it every game.  Just last year, in my early fifties playing adult league hockey, I never had a problem going down to block a slap-shot, and that was on a bum hip with average equipment.  I did it every chance I got, and for what…some slaps on the back while downing a pitcher of Labatts afterwards.  It’s just hard to fathom why pros, especially on this team, are not out there every game, every shift, giving it their all.

So…tonight we play Ottawa.  They are on a 7 game winless streak and just played last night in Tampa, losing after an overtime and shootout.  This is set up nicely, as we should be well rested and highly motivated to earn a win…let’s see.

The interesting thing about Ottawa’s winless streak is that they are still in first place in the conference.  That is the beautiful thing about getting off to a great start like they did…they can absorb a poor stretch.

Anyone notice in Calgary’s 3-1 win last night over St. Louis that Kristian Huselius and Marcus Nilson each collected goals.  That was a big game for Calgary (can’t wait to see them next week…will be fun to get a win over Keenan’s squad).

Alexei Semenov is logging decent ice time for a good San Jose Shark team.

Come on Panthers…27th out of 30 is not where fans want to see this team.  Win Tonight!!!!


11.24.07 8:45 am :::: 7th Place…

For at least a day, I can say we are in 7th place and a playoff contender.  Last night’s thrilling shoot-out victory over the Rangers not only gave the Panthers two points, but they now sit with 23 points on the season and are in 7th place.  Here’s the problem…we have played 24 games and those trailing us have games in hand…Islanders, Thrashers, Lightning, Devils, Leafs, and Pens are within 3 points (Islanders have played five less games, while the others have one or two less games). 

But I’ll take it.  Here’s what’s fun about it…I can start paying attention to other games.  Tonight, for instance, I’ll be cheering for Phoenix to beat the Leafs.  Talking about Phoenix…they secure Ilya Bryzgalov, Giguere’s backup from Anaheim, via waivers, and the guy reels off three victories, including a shoot-out win last night over his former team at the Duck’s home arena (that had to feel good).  I thought those nightmares only happened to the Panthers.   Meanwhile, ex-Panther Alex Auld was sent down to AHL San Antonio to make room for Bryzgalov.

Back to last night…the Panthers dominated and deserved the two points.  If they play like that consistently (and that is the key word)…they are a playoff team.  After winning three in a row…I’m wondering if the FRAGILE label was a bit pre-mature.  We’ll see.

Still on last night…I wonder what percentage of Rangers fans were in attendance…25% or so.  I don’t mind those visiting over the Thanksgiving holiday, but it’s the ones that live here and brazenly attack the home-town team.  Of course, it’s not just the Rangers…a number of visiting teams draw their fans into our spacious arena.  When we had a strong season ticket base and played in the 14,000 seat Miami Arena, visiting team fans were not that noticeable.  Easy solution…keep winning and make a run in the playoffs.  That will naturally increase the season ticket base and generate more local, home team fans to gobble up tickets against teams like the Rangers.  Even so, it was nice to see the arena full and a sell-out announced.

One more time…last night…Booth is really becoming a force for the Panthers with 6 goals on the season (scored another last night).  In my pre-season blog I had him finishing with 15 goals on the season.  The way he’s playing, he will easily eclipse that mark.  He plays with the hustle and enthusiasm that fans really appreciate.  He’s got a real opportunity to be a fan-favorite for years to come,

7th place…at least for a day, I’m going to enjoy it.


11.19.07 7:45 a.m. :::: Psychic...

Can I call it or what?

It happened…the FRAGILE word came out…and it was Panther exec/ex-player Joe Nieuwendyk, who was quoted in this morning’s Sun-Sentinel.  Now, take a moment and scroll down to my most recent blog of last week entitled “Next up – Fragile”.  Was I right on or what?  The quote in Steve Gorten’s good article was, “It becomes a mental thing.  It shows how FRAGILE we are as a group.  We play like a team that’s trying to hang on with a lead.”  OUCH!!!! 

In addition, Vokoun was quoted as saying, “It’s happened to me more here than nine years playing in Nashville”.  Gorten’s article went on to remind us of all the games in the past three seasons the Panthers gave up valuable points in the waning moments of a game.

You have to wonder…have there been any studies on the affects these losses have on a die-hard fan’s head, especially the number of times they occur year in and year out?  If the Panthers have little confidence going into the third period, what’s a fan to feel?  From my perspective… its pure torture.  At a game, you can see fans taking a look at one another realizing that hopes of a victory must be guarded.  Superstitious fans begin rearranging their surroundings to help accommodate a win, ‘let’s see, the last time we won I had my soda right here on the ledge, my cap slightly off, and I blinked three times before each face-off’.  Skeptical fans are talking it up as they share their worst Panther implosion moment, ‘remember that Ranger goal from the corner that went off Luongo’s back’.  The rare optimistic fans are actually the ones that have never been to a game, but are seen being schooled by the skeptical ones as to what can be anticipated.  In short, the energy generated by fans in the third period with the Panthers leading is “nervous energy”.  As the period goes on, and the opposing team scores to either close the gap or tie it up, the fans brace themselves knowing the video screen/speakers will soon try to charge them up with the “Let’s make some noise” prompting.  The kids and novice fans like it, but the sounds from die-hard fans are more guttural and allows us to bellow out pent-up voices of frustration, if we can even yell out anything at all.  Really, what kind of sound comes out when you are all stressed out, tense, and nervous…it’s certainly not anything that one can be proud of.

So, I believe the Panther organization needs to come up with an idea to reward die-hard fans that endure this annual suffering.  Here’s a few examples…

If implosions occur 3-5 times/season…a fan is provided with three all-day massage therapy treatments, in hopes that hours of physical and mental relaxation will help soothe the pain.

If implosions occur 6-10 times/season…a fan is provided the above PLUS an all-expense paid trip to the Bahamas to be witness of the Ice Dancers calendar shoot.

If implosions occur 11 or more times/season…a fan is provided with all of the above PLUS majority input into the Panthers entry draft selection, as well as one free agent signing.

Think about it…a reward incentive plan like that will have a major affect on the fan’s energy level in the third period, changing it from the present “nervous energy” to a strong rallying cry.  See, even if the Panthers implode, we still win.

I recommend this ‘negative reward system’ as opposed to setting up pre and post-game group therapy sessions in the concourses, which a couple of my friends suggested as a way to fend off the probable zombie-like state most fans leave an imploded game with.

Next up (and I hope to avoid)…have you ever heard of ‘defensive season ticket renewal’ concept?  No doubt, it is much easier doing a blog when the team is performing.  Panthers…please win tonight against Washington!!!

11.12.07 8:00 A.M. :::: Next Up…FRAGILE

Bear with me on this one…I’m not happy, and I’ve got a few things to say.

I really believe the Panthers management expected lofty results from this team.  Here’s a reason why…they asked me to blog for the website.  When Dave asked me, I agreed as long as censorship was not part of the equation.  I would be fair, but brutally honest and hopefully share feelings of a hard-core hockey and Panther fan.  Feedback I’ve received from friends/fans is that it’s been right-on.  So…if things were going good, I would be a “chamber of commerce” type of guy for the Panthers.  On the other hand, if things are going bad, I would have to do what was asked…express how hard-core fans REALLY feel.

Being a season ticketholder since day one, you naturally develop an emotional attachment that is amplified by the dollar investment.  I was so pumped up for this season.  I’m the type of fan that high-fives strangers when I heard we acquired Vokoun.  How about holding an entry draft party, or tracking free-agent signings.  I’ve said it before…this team had a golden opportunity to own South Florida…but the requirement was a good start.  Didn’t have to be great…but needed to be in the top third.  It hasn’t happened.  A 7-11 record and 13th out of 15 teams in the conference does not cut it.  We are 11 points removed from first in the division.  Sure, we are only 4 points from a final playoff spot…but there we go again charting points away from something that we should be firmly entrenched in.

I paid very close attention to the expressions of the fans exiting the upper-level on the dual-down escalators following last night’s game against the Dive Team.  They were the same type of expressionless faces I recall years ago when I exited the movie GHANDI…a marathon-bore unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.  Not that the game last night was boring, in fact it was a well played hockey game…it’s just that the excruciating loss left fans stunned, bewildered, and zombie-like.  The pattern is eerily similar to previous seasons that it seems as though we are all becoming de-sensitized by these early season swoons, particularly November.  The difference for me, as I’m sure others, is that we are tired of this and don’t want to take it any more.  This was really supposed to be the season.

I hope we can turn this thing around quickly and reel off multiple victories in a row.  We’ve already heard the standard Panther quotes, as we have in years past; “We need to play a full 60 minutes”, or “We need to crash the net”, or “We need players to sacrifice their bodies and create traffic”, or We are digging ourselves a hole”, or “We need effort from all players”.  What I fear most is the next one that is due, and this one is the worst…THIS IS A FRAGILE TEAM.  Once that is mentioned, the season is doomed.

Tonight’s game at Atlanta now looms as being mega-important.  A division win on the road within 24 hours of last night’s shocker can help this team get on the right track.  It will help make Thursday’s game against Washington something to look forward to.  I want to exit the arena with fans happy and smiling…pleased with the effort AND results.  The Panthers are running out of time…we are almost a quarter of the way through the season.  Just get the job done…and make sure to avoid the FRAGILE label.  We don’t want to hear it.

11.08.07 5:00 P.M. :::: Why Not .500 ???….

Almost 24 hours ago, I was enjoying a couple pre-game brews and a burger at Newks, across from the Lightning stadium.  Kind of nice…downtown location, restaurants close-by, and the Channelside area down the road.  Second time this season I’ve seen the Panthers in Tampa…results not much different…effort, however, was considerably different.

Talking hockey at Newks before the game with a good friend, I pointed out how critical it was for the Panthers to neutralize the Lightning in the early going…fearing the desperation the Lightning would be feeling.  What happened?  The opposite.  The Lightning won the opening faceoff and the Panthers began moving at half-speed (or so it seemed).  Early on, Richards streaks in and backhands a pass to Hlavac whom Mezei left unguarded and an early Tampa lead develops.  St. Louis then scores shortly after, and I realized this was not going to be a Panther victory.  The shots on goal in the first period were almost even 10-9, but the Panthers did not really have a scoring opportunity. 

The second period was marred by too many penalties.  A “two many men on the ice” infraction starts it off, then we get a chance with Tanarsky in the box and generate nothing.  This is followed by two Peltonen penalties.  I have to admit, the Panthers did neutralize the Lightning power plays very well…but hard to sustain an offensive presence while shorthanded.

Peltonen missed a nice opportunity to tie the game in the early part of the third period, and after that, there were very few threats. 

Two things that my friend (he’s a Lightning/Penguin fan…can’t make up his mind) pointed out; (1) the Panthers did not skate nearly as fast as they did in the first game played here, and (2) if these two teams played like this against 80% of the league…neither would win.  I have to agree with him.  It was that kind of game…not worth the price of admission.

So our chance at .500 is lost…but we’ll get a chance to inch closer if we win Friday night at home.  Panthers…please start strong…use your speed…and crash the net.

11.05.07 :::: Live Game Blog: more...

11.01.07 10:07 A.M. :::: Carolina Dive Team Exposed….

The hockey gods are fair after all.  They sent referees McCauley and Watson to the BankAtlantic Center last night, and those two were not about to be fooled by the embarrassing ballet the Dive Team employs to gain power play advantage. Instead, the refs called LaRose and Williams for two minute “diving” minors in the critical third period.  The Panthers went on to do the unusual…score four goals in a third period.

The Dive Team is my team name for Carolina. I have never liked that they stole the University of Miami name.  In fact, their pro football team stole our Panther name as well.  I’ve got a good friend and ex-neighbor that moved to Raleigh before Hartford transplanted the Whalers there.  He’s had a personalized “CANES” plate in honor of his beloved UM team.  He gets honked and waved at by hockey fans…so he has to constantly explain that they are mistaken, and obviously regrets that Carolina could not come up with something original and specific to their state for the hockey team name.

The Panthers play the Dive Team in Carolina in two days…it will be interesting to see which refs are assigned to that game. The question will be whether or not they get seduced by the ballet or see it for what it really is.

The key to last night’s third period success??? How about some awesome assists.  And that’s why they should always be worth as much as a goal.  Weiss’ feed to Jokinen was nice for the first goal, but what about Jokinen skating in, drawing two Dive Team players, then feeding Bouwmeester, who goes top-shelf for the game tying goal. But wait…there’s Jokinen again with a perfect pass that springs Zednik free as he patiently shoots and scores for the go-ahead goal.  Horton scores the fourth goal, but that would never have happened if not for Peltonen’s fine play along the boards and pass to Horton.

That was a huge victory last night.  We need success on the road…so good luck to the Panthers Friday against Buffalo and Saturday against the Dive Team.

10.28.07, 9:45 A.M. :::: Third Version…

The first two were scathing attacks…so I rode my bike 15 miles and tried to calm down and write with a little less anger.  So here it is…but the anger is still there.

Prior to Friday’s game against Buffalo, I was talking Panther hockey with a skeptical fan/friend.  Meanwhile, I was the voice of optimism going on about the team speed, intensity, etc.  I was explaining how four points in two days will be the best way for this team to close out the first 1/8 of the season.  This was perfectly set up as the two teams the Panthers were playing against were struggling (Buffalo and Nashville).  Instead, zero points.  And to make matters worse, the loss against Nashville came with seconds remaining against a team using their back-up goaltender…devastating.  Vokoun returns to the team that traded him…and loses to their backup. 

So, instead of being optimistic and excited about this season…I now share my friend’s attitude…one of skepticism.  That’s not where I wanted to be at this point.  The team is 4-7 and the 8 points places the Panthers looking up from the bottom five in the league.  This, from a team that desperately needed to get off to a fast start…to prove to hard-core fans and those on the fence that the promises of being a playoff-caliber team may actually be reality this season.  A reminder…what a golden opportunity the Panthers had what with the Marlins enduring a tough season and the Dolphins winless.  A fast start would have generated a huge amount of enthusiasm, but instead we are at the same place we’ve been in prior seasons…a poor start and looking up to other teams…and we are not even into November yet (a notoriously bad month for this team). 

Don’t tell me and other fans that it is too soon to be concerned.  We are tired of hearing in Jan/Feb that the team is a certain number of points away from the 8th playoff slot…this year we were supposed to be up there with teams chasing us.  What really irritates us is to hear quotes from players and coaches saying that the team needs to play a complete 60 minute game.  Of course you play a full 60 minutes…such a novel idea.  And of all teams, this squad has to do it.  This season was to be “an incredible new journey of challenges met, goals achieved, and victories earned…unprecedented success”.  Well, 1/8 of the way there…the team is far behind on its goals.

On the first day of free agency, the Panthers moved quickly by signing Dvorak, Zednik, and Mclean.  Through 11 games, those three have accounted for 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points.  As a point of comparison, Niklas Hagman of the Dallas Stars (a player the Panthers discarded two seasons ago) has the same 8 points himself through 10 games with 6G and 2A.  In fact, he got the game winner last night vs. Phoenix and the assist came from none other than Stu Barnes.  Don’t get me wrong, I like those signings, but there needs to be results…soon.

The Panthers have put themselves in a precarious position.  If they need a reminder as to the benefit of playing a full 60 minutes, perhaps a field trip to watch the Jr. Panther ’98 Squirt travel team will bode well…those kids play a relentless team defense game while playing each shift as though its their last…the results…victories.

To the Panthers…this is how a hard-core fan is feeling this morning…and to think I’ve actually had to tone it down three times to get to this version.  More importantly…here’s the best thing the Panthers can do…prove the increasingly skeptical fans wrong.

10.25.07, 9:30 A.M. :::: And The Headlines Read...

NO DEAL GOOD MOVE.  Yep…the headlines in today’s Sun-Sentinel sports section was all about a baseball trade that didn’t happen between two teams geographically distant from us.  Meanwhile, the only game played last night by a South Florida pro team was the Panthers thrilling victory over the Flyers, and yet that win was given secondary space to the non-trade article.  In Monday’s paper, Michael Cunningham’s commentary means well as he writes about why South Florida fans have reasons to be angry and irritated.  But he goes a step further when he writes, “The Panthers are increasingly irrelevant”.  That negative press and lack of exposure compounds the “on the bandwagon” mentality that often describes this area.  Perhaps Mr. Cunningham forgot the consecutive sell-outs the Panthers achieved in earlier years while playing in the Miami Arena with most fans travelling a distance from Broward.  You watch…as the Panthers work their way into playoff contention, the headlines will start appearing…and to me that is jumping on the same bandwagon the media likes to poke fun at.

There is a large base of hockey fans in this area.  We’ve proven that if the product is good, we will support it.  I’ve pointed out Blackhawks and Bruins poor attendance in prior blogs to show that, short of being a Canadian market, teams must win to sell seats.  I wonder if Mr. Cunningham recalls how “irrelevant” the Heat were prior to Shaq, as the upper level of the AA arena was cordoned off.  The last six years in Pantherland have been tough from a fan’s standpoint, especially with the team’s poor starts.  But most of us sense something different about this year’s team, and if last night is any indication, this team will give us our money’s worth.  Let’s see when the press catches on.

Last night’s victory over the Flyers…that was a dominating effort by the Panthers, yet the score didn’t reflect it.  As my heart rate is doubling during the final seven minutes, I can’t help but think…it shouldn’t be this close.  With a 2-0 lead and a four minute power-play in the 2nd period, we’ve got to put the game away.  Instead, way too much dump and chase with zero success.  Zednik misses a couple of opportunities (tough to knock him as I thought his skating, playmaking, and hustle really energized the team), we let in a cheap goal in the 3rd closing the gap to a one goal lead, and there I am on the edge of the seat…heart pounding away like crazy.  But we win and skate off with two big points.  I still can’t believe how much faster the Panthers seem to be compared to last year (and we didn’t have speedsters Olesz and Booth in the lineup).  To me, this team needs to play with the same speed and intensity EVERY GAME in order to compete and win.  When we play like that, it seems to neutralize the opponent (where was Briere last night?).  Work that hard against Buffalo on Friday and we’ll be back to .500.

Did you notice that the refs let the game be decided by the players last night?  No penalties called by Koharski and Martell in the third period.  Just let me know when Kimerly and Sutherland show up to ref…I’m staying away.

Ok…so we didn’t have the killer instinct last night, but there were many positives.  I thought all the lines played well.  Other than the Montador play (his first game action in a while) allowing the two on one, the defense played solid…kept shots on goal to single digits each period.  Dvorak and Zednik were speedsters out there, and Jokinen was all over the ice. 

The victory helps me not to dwell on the Ottawa game played last Saturday.  Although I would like to point out that in 41 days, Mr. Anton Volchenkov arrives in South Florida.  That was very scary seeing Booth on the stretcher after Anton drove him into the boards.

One final note…the Red Wings were 3,000 seats short of a sell-out…how do you figure?


10.19.07, 2:10 P.M. :::: One Point…

I started thinking that I would be satisfied with one point as the clock moved to eight minutes remaining in regulation…two would be the bonus…but just get us one.  Things were looking good in Toronto for that to happen, and then a weird twelve seconds occured.  I see Ian White taking his gloves off trying to induce Stumpel into a fight in our zone…Stumpel ignores him…the right move…and that should have drawn a penalty.  But no…referees Kimerly and Sutherland choose to ignore this for fear of the wrath of the Maple Leafs home crowd (that can be the ONLY explanation).  It almost seemed like play had stopped.  Meanwhile, Bouwmeester grabs a loose puck, flies into the Leafs zone, makes a nice move, and misses a goal by a couple inches.  Bouwmeester briefly goes down, and the Leafs quickly transition…this is where I spot trouble…since it looks like Jay will be behind the play.  The Leafs then get a lucky rebound and Antropov buries it with 28 seconds left…a nightmare.

I have no problem blaming poor decisions, or non-decisions, by refs.  Their inability to raise an arm on a clear penalty cost us a point.  For that matter, if we got the call, we would be on a power play and who knows…maybe two points.  I’m tired of seeing certain teams and certain players getting breaks from refs.  While the Leafs are heavily penalized…it should be worse.  Look at what happened in the 2nd period.  Gill is manhandling a Panther behind their net…Horton comes in to defend his teammate, and the two draw major fighting penalties.  Why wasn’t Gill also given a two minute minor…it was so obvious. I mean the guy is 6’7” and 250 pounds…it’s hard not to notice him.  While those plays get ignored, the refs call a penalty on something very weak.  To me, the lack of consistency and the perception of favoring certain teams/players is the most frustrating thing about the new NHL.

OK…praise must be given to the Panthers for collecting two points against Montreal on Tuesday.  Usually (in the past) it happens the other way around…so it was gratifying for us to come out on top.

Many of my co-workers in our Chicago corporate office took exception to my slamming the city for the lack of support for their Blackhawks.  But then I noticed once again that their attendance just crept over the 10,000 mark (10,002) for their home game this week.  Great all-around sports town?  Keep an eye on their attendance throughout the season…it’s a joke.  But it does cement the fact that winning will bring the fans in…and losing keeps them away…it’s always that simple. 

Huselius got a goal and an assist last night so he’s at 5G, 2A on the season.  I still can’t believe that MK made that move to get rid of him, and now they are back together.  Huselius handles that puck so well in tight situations…oh well.

Talk to you soon.

10.13.07, 4:50 P.M. :::: Nothing Like A Win

There's nothing like a win. 

I was at the game in Tampa Wednesday.  A buddy, “On The Fence” John, got us some great seats (he can’t make up his mind if he’s a Pens or Bolts fan).  The Panthers lost, but they looked good…and fast.  Many of the Lightning fans I sat near had commented about the speed of the Panthers, and how the Bolts could not generate much when play was even strength.  The winning goal was on a power play.  Tampa fans knew they escaped with a win that should have gone the Panthers way.

Anyway, the effort was encouraging, and I didn’t have much time to dwell on the defeat (or the fact that ex-Panther Gratton scored both goals for the Bolts) as I headed back down I-75 toward Sunrise for Thursday night’s game against the Devils.  Usually in the day after a loss, I take a few moments to see how ex-Panthers are faring, but aside from noticing Niklas Hagman scoring his 2nd and 3rd of the season for Dallas, I opted out of my normal routine.

Thursday night…desperation mode…the Panthers (and Vokoun in particular) rose to the challenge delivering a victory while shutting out the Devils.  Dvorak gets an assist and looks great on the PK, while Murphy gets a couple more assists…I’m liking those additions.  Now we need to string a few wins together and get back in the mix. 

The only downside to Thursday’s game was that only 10,847 showed up.  Still, it beats the 10,122 that was at the United Center in Chicago on Wednesday night (and they still don’t show home games on TV). 

What’s wrong with the Thrashers, winless in four.  I’m rooting for the Devils in Atlanta Saturday night.  Meanwhile, we play the Bolts on Saturday, and if we play like we did Wednesday against them, I predict a victory by a four goal margin.

One last item…Luongo gives up 4 goals on 13 shots in the first period against the Flyers Wedensday night, and exits after one period.

Talk to you soon.

10.10.07, 9:25 A.M. :::: Week One…
 
I am not going to get all worked up about Vokoun’s first two games as a Panther.  First of all, I didn’t see the games as I was in Boston for my son’s Jr. Panther Squirt ’98 travel team’s domination of some New England squads in the Columbus Day Classic.  In five victorious games, the kids allowed only three goals, playing hard every minute from opening face-off to the final horn (from what I understand, if the big club Panthers did that, they may have had a victory as well).  Ville’s twin boys are on this team, and helped contribute as the team won the championship.  Several Jr. Panthers teams made the trip and had varying degrees of success.
 
While in Boston, I couldn’t help but notice how the local media was slamming the Bruins.  Appears they are struggling getting fans into seats.  Amazing what losing does.  Just check out attendance at Blackhawk games…pathetic, considering how everyone raves about that city being a great sports town.  Did anyone notice that Detroit was 2,000 tickets short of a sell-out on opening night.  Here’s a winner, and they were playing the Stanley Cup champs.  In their home game last night against Edmonton, they were far short from a sell-out as well.  What’s going on in Hockey-Town?
 
While away, I heard from a few friends that the Luongo trade came up again with some comments that it may have been the worst ever.  Or the worst Panther trade ever.  How about this one…Vincent Lecavalier for no-one.  What…how can that be?  Well check this out…in ’97-’98 season, BM trades a first round pick to the Sharks for Viktor Kozlov.  That pick ends up in the hands of cross-state rival Lightning, who get lucky in the lottery and lands the #1 overall selection which happens to be Lecavalier (see…he could have been a Panther).  Meanwhile, we have Kozlov until ’03-’04, when we trade him to New Jersey for Christian Berglund.  Berglund may have played a few games, but was last seen in Europe.  Kozlov continues playing, although not for the Panthers (scored the game tying goal last night for the Caps) and Lecavalier is a top scorer in the league.  Now, do you see how that comes together….Lecavalier for no-one…and that’s worse than the Luongo trade.
 
Meanwhile in Nashville…Vokoun’s old back-up (and now the starter), Chris Mason, has only allowed one goal in two games.
 
Capital’s off to a start the Panthers have got to be envious of…three wins.  Ovechkin feeds Kozlov for a goal…that may become a common occurance.
 
I’ll be in Tampa on Wednesday to witness the first Panther victory of the season, then back for the home game Thursday.  Next report will have more game analysis…and hopefully we get four points.
 
Talk to you soon.
10.02.07, 1:52 P.M. :::: Panthers Pre-Season

I just keep Renewing.

This last go-around happened in March.  Normally, I wait a month or so after the season to re-up on the season tickets, but this year was different.  As with most of you, I’ve been a disappointed, albeit die-hard fan the past six years.  I’m so often too optimistic only to be brought back to reality by the end of November.  But I really feel “different” about this team in a positive way this year.  I liked what I saw as they tried clawing their way toward a playoff berth (although 3rd period collapses against Carolina drove me nuts).  I also felt that, for once, there was stability in the front office.  I believed JM had a blueprint he’s willing to stick to, and that the team would add some decent players via free agency.

Cory Murphy adds a dimension that’s been lacking on this team.  I’ve heard comparisons to Dan Boyle (which, of course, was a Panther not too long ago that blossomed big time in Tampa after MK traded him for a 5th or 6th round pick).  I’m doing my best to get over the horrendous personnel moves of the past…but occasionally I may have to bring one or two of them up (I’m hoping you all understand).

Take for instance the addition of Radek Dvorak.  We should never have had to “add” him, as he should never have “left” in the first place.  He was a 19 year-old rookie in the “Year of the Rat” and collected 27 points his first season as well as being a +2 in the playoffs.  He was a super penalty killer and led the team in shorthanded goals in ’97-’98 and ’98-’99.  Going into the ’99-’00 season, the Panthers had two good goaltenders (Burke and Kidd).  Kidd was playing lights-out, so the Panthers traded Burke and brought in Mikhail Shtalenkov.  The team was doing well, Bure was scoring at will, and the team was poised for a serious run at the Cup.  Then, in some kind of charity exhibition, Peter Worrell slams into Kidd, causing an injury that will sideline him the remainder of the season.  Shtalenkov doesn’t see himself as a #1 Goalie, so Brian Murray has to do some shopping. 

Side Note…I’m on the NHL XM station constantly, and I often hear this guy getting accolades…I wonder how his tenure with the Panthers gets ignored. 

Next thing I know, we trade with San Jose for a pending free agent, Mike Vernon, and give up Radek Dvorak in exchange.  To make matters worse, the Sharks immediately trade Dvorak to the Rangers for Todd Harvey.  Dvorak goes on to have a decent 2nd half of the season, and the following year lights it up for 31 goals as a member of the Czech-Mate line, while Vernon is long gone.  Am I the only one that goes crazy over these things?  Anyway, we’ve got him back…he’ll contribute as a two-way player and we’ll see him on the PK.

I also like the pick-ups of Zednik and McLean.  A lot of added speed and grit, and are upgrades to Kolnik and Gelinas (there was a weird article on the Predator website about Gelinas getting all happy about a neighbor welcoming him with a pie…that he’s really comfortable in Nashville).

Globke makes the team.  He’s got a few NHL games under his belt, so if he goes out there and plays like he’s been there before rather than trying not to make mistakes, he’ll be a good addition.

Here’s why I like this team…we are solid in the net.  We’ve got a legitimate top 5 goalie (Vokoun) and a backup (Anderson) that’s played solid when called upon and has no problem with his role.  Defense is as solid as any team in the top third in the league.  Up front, this is the first time in a while that I believe we can roll out three lines (maybe four) and not see much drop-off.  Horton will net 35+ goals, Weiss can be 25+ goals, Jokinen should continue to be one of the league leaders, and his Fin-Mate Peltonen will benefit from another year on the team.  I also think Stumpel will have a big year.  How about Booth…no longer a rookie…this guy has speed, energy, and hustle…maybe 15 goals this year?  Olesz gets 15+ goals this year as well.

Recently let-go Panther watch…Anybody notice the ice time Kwiatkowski is logging for Atlanta in pre-season?  I thought the 23:12 in Wednesday’s game against the Panthers (which equaled Bowmeester’s) was weird, but I checked the night before and he skated 20:33 against Nashville.  Don’t tell me he’s going to crack their top four.  Reminds me of a year ago when we let Jon Sim loose, Atlanta grabbed him, and he had a pretty good year for them.

The season opens on the road Thursday against the Rangers, whom many predict to head up the East.  It’ll be a good test for the Cats.  I’ll be in Boston for my son’s Jr. Panther Squirt Travel Hockey team, as they are in a tournament up there Thursday through Monday.  I’ll find a sports bar that has the NHL Channel, and hopefully catch a Panther game. 

Just learned Montador injured his knee.  I’m counting eight defensemen, including him.  He needs to be healthy to maintain a spot, and I do not see him on the fourth line.  Of course you all know how we got Montador…remember MK’s displeasure with Huselius’ play a couple years ago…tried waving him then sending him to Calgary for Montador.  Sure as all heck, Huselius thrives in that environment, scores 34 goals and 77 points last season.  Now he’s reunited with MK (coach)…probably working out fine right now.  Alright…I’ll stop it.

One more thought…with the Marlins having finished a rough season (though it was great to see them spoil the Mets chances of post-season play), the Dolphins off to their worst start, and the Heat on the decline…this is an awesome opportunity for the Panthers to gain some major attention down here.  If they succeed in getting off to a good start, they will gather some serious support.

Talk to you soon.
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