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.