Panthers make League History.

With the 4-2 lost to the Buffalo Sabres Friday night, the Florida Panthers now own a league record, one which marks just how much this team has struggled in the last decade.

The Panthers have become the first team in NHL to miss the playoffs for 10 straight seasons.

When head coach Pete DeBoer was asked about the record, he said "It doesn't hurt anymore, we've been hurting for awhile. You just get numb to that pain."

For many loyal Panthers fans, watching their team perform so bad is very depressing, and raises many questions about what happened to their fantastic new team that broke into the NHL in the early 1990's.

The Panthers were granted a team for the 1993-94 season, and instantly stacked a team with their expansion draft thanks to great work by GM Bob Clarke and head coach Roger Neilson. They built a team which was solid defensively with players such as Brian Skrudland, Bill Lindsay, Tom Fitzgerald, Mike Hough, and Dave Lowry. They would later add guys such as Gord Murphy, Scott Melanby, and Rob Neidermayer (who was a highly touted forward at the time.) They even managed to luck out in goal as they stold John Vanbiesbrouck from the Rangers, and Mark Fitzpatrick as a backup, they even landed Billy Smith as a goaltending coach.

The team would post a 33-34-17 record that season, their .494 won-lost percentage was the best record posted by a first year team in modern sports history, they would miss the playoffs that season despite the great year. But, the staff would suffer a blow as Bob Clarke would return to Philadelphia that off-season, and would be replaced by Bryan Murray.

Murray would pick up Ed Jovanovski in the 1994 Entry Draft, but the Panthers would only post a 20-22-6 record in the 1994-95 season due to a shortened season caused by the lockout. They would again miss the playoffs but this time, only by 1 point.

The following season, the Panthers proved that they were something special as the team posted a 31-14-5 record just 50 games into the season thanks to head coach Neilson. The team then hit a slump, but still stumbled into the playoffs with a 41-31-10 record.

In the postseason, they faced Boston in the first round. Despite being a massive underdog, the Panthers dismatled the Bruins team with a 4-1 series victory. They would then unarm the Broad Street Bullies with a 4-2 series victory. In the Conference Final the Panthers faced the Pittsburgh Penguins. They fought hard against Mario Lemieux and the Pens, and stole the series in 7 games. But, they would run out of gas as they were eventually swept 4-0 by the Colorado Avalanche.

Fans were out in full support the following season, in hopes of another return to the Cup by the Panthers squad. The team again made the playoffs, but ran into a New York Rangers team in the first round that boasted a roster which listed Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. Vanbiesbrouck stole the show in the first game with a 3-0 Panthers victory. But, the team would lose their next four.

Florida would then miss the playoffs for two seasons before the team shipped out Jovanovski and a package of players to the Canucks for Pavel Bure. In the 1999-2000 season, the trade would appear to work out for the Panthers as Bure scored 58 goals despite having injuries early in the campaign. He had 14 more than anyone else in the league. He won the Maurice Richard Trophy that year, and finished just 2 points behind Jamoir Jagr that season who won the Art Ross Trophy with 96 points. The team would eventually be elimated in the first round against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions New Jersey Devils that season in four games.

That next season the Panthers roster included players such as Pavel Bure, Ray Whitney, Viktor Kozlov, Scott Mellanby, Rob Neidermayer, Robert Svehla, Mike Vernon, and Trevor Kidd, but they would miss the playoffs that season, and a big deal was not made of it, nobody thought what would happen to the club for the next decade.

Now, the current Panthers squad led by Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Tomas Vokoun all share the special award which was started a decade ago by the star-filled Panthers team.

Clearly, Panthers GM Dale Tallon has his work cut out for him. He does not have a Sidney Crosby, or Alex Ovechkin to help build this team around. Plus, Tomas Vokoun, arguably their best goaltender since Vanbiesbrouck is set to become a UFA this off season.

For now, the Panthers have the future to look forward too, with a stockpile of prospects to turn to such as Erik Gudbranson, Jacob Markstrom, Corban Knight, Drew Shore, Quinton Howden and Nick Bjustad.

Until our turn around happens, we just have to hope for the best, and pray that the team doesn't end up like the California, Cleveland and Minnesota franchises who also shared the nine straight seasons without the post season with the Panthers, as neither exist anymore.

Adam Reid
adam_mapleleafs@hotmail.com

3 Comments

George Prax's picture

It's unfortunate, but I said it in my "Thirty Thoughts" blog and I'll say it again. I think the Panthers will move sooner rather than later. There's no way a team can survive a decade of mediocrity and not move. Unless the Habs or another huge team are in town no one goes to the games and frankly I wouldn't be surprised if they negatively affected attendance in other cities as well. You just can't have that in this day and age and there are way too many cities that are chomping at the bits for an NHL franchise. I don't think that even Bettman can ignore this, and now that Tallon decided to have another firesale there's no hope. Just a matter of time now.

Adam Reid's picture

As of last season, the Panthers average attendance was higher than the Thrashers, Avalanche, Islanders, Predators, Coyotes, and they were on par with the Ducks, Hurricanes, Jackets, Devils and Lightning. That means they are either above, or tied with 33% of the League in attendacnce, surely moving the franchise is not going to be the number one issue on Bettman's plate. This team was under mediocre management for the past few seasons, and have made several trades which resulted in hurting the team moreso than helping them.
Tallon, unlike your "Thirty Thoughts" article suggestd, actually has a stockpile of prospects in the system. As of right now, 95% of the Panthers are under the age of 30, and 65% are under the age of 26. The organization is very young.
Tallons main priority this offseason is to start signing some big name players. As of now they have 9 players under contract for next season, and are looking at 42+ million dollars to play with on July 1st. Therefore, he could really change the direction of this Panthers team.

George Prax's picture

I didn't mean to say that the Panthers had the worst attendance in the league, but they're certainly not in good company. There are plenty of other factors and attendance is just one of them. If we were to go through all those teams, the Avs have kind of a fairweather fanbase and once they start performing again their attendance will pick up. I think the same will apply for the Isles. The Avs, Isles, Ducks, Canes, Devils and Lightning have all won cups and the league isn't moving a cup winning team in all likelihood. The Preds are about to break out in terms of attendance I think, otherwise the Jackets, Coyotes and Thrashers are in the same boat as the Panthers when it comes to relocation.

The one issue that sets the Panthers apart? It's in the subject of your blog. I realize that Tallon is a good GM and he could very well pull them out of this, but do you seriously see them making the playoffs next year, or even the next? Or even if they do, winning around? I can't see it. As for having money in the off-season, lots of other teams in better markets have money too, and there really aren't that many big names out there for the Panthers to throw money at. So that 10 year record is, IMO, almost certain to be a 12 or 13 year record.

And you seem to mention youth when it comes to the Panthers' prospects, but other than Markstrom and maybe Gudbrandson, do the Flyers really have any elite level prospects? They have a lot of prospects, but who in there can really come in and make a difference? You see organizations like the Caps bust out elite level prospecrts almost every year. The Canadiens, who are supposed to have one of the more depleted crop of prospects, have the same level of elite coming in every couple of years with Price and Halak a few years ago, Subban this year, Leblanc coming next year. The Flyers are a prospect machine, same for the Kings. And these aren't teams that are always missing the playoffs and always have a chance to stock up like the Panthers. That bad management that you admitted to yourself is going to be the death of that franchise in that city, and to me its inevitable.

It's one thing to have decent attendance and a lot of prospects, but to mix that with the fact that it's quantity over quality when it comes to those prospects, and the fact that they've had absolutely no success for a decade, IMO it makes the choice a lot easier if and when the league finally caves to relocation.