Friday, October 5, 2007
Panthers Return To the Ice
Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun can't stop the Rangers Chris Drury from scoring one of his two goals
What is the worst pro sports team in South Florida? That's a tough one. The Dolphins are currrently winless and look hopeless. The Marlins just finished their season in last place. But I'm going to say the Florida Panthers. This is a franchise that hasn't been to the NHL playoffs in seven years. Think about it. Just about every hockey team makes it to the postseason in the NHL. You have to really suck to not make the playoffs.
Last night the Florida Panthers opened their season with a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. I have to admit, I'm not the biggest hockey fan in the world. But I was watching. To be fair, the Panthers were beaten by a very talented team on the road. Florida actually had a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period. But New York's Chris Drury and Scott Gomez took over in the final period with four unanswered goals.
A little over a decade ago the Panthers were living the charmed life. It was a time when hockey actually mattered in South Florida. The Panthers had won the 1996 Eastern Conference championship while playing to packed houses at the Miami Arena with rubber rats thrown to the ice. The names John Vanbiesbrouck, Scott Melanby, Bill Lindsay, Ed Jovanovsky and Stu Barnes still remain entrenched in my memory. Please keep in mind, I'm not even a hockey fan. But I'll never forget those guys.
But today there isn't a more maligned franchise in South Florida pro sports than the Panthers--and that's saying something. Since moving to their current arena, the Panthers have only qualified once for the postseason and were swept. Just last year, the Panthers made arguably the worst trade in the history of South Florida sports. They sent all star goalie Roberto Luongo to Vancouver for Todd Bertuzzi. Luongo may arguable be the best goalie in the game today and Bertuzzi no longer plays for the Panthers. Former general manager Mike Keanan was run out of town. He should have been tarred and feathered for that deal.
But there are some NHL pundits who believe the Panthers are going in the right direction. Let's face it, there's only one way to go and that's up. ESPN's Barry Melrose actually thinks the Panthers have a good shot to be a playoff team. New goalie Tomas Vokoun is considered one of the better up and coming players at his position. The Panthers have also started to mold a solid core of young talent including Olli Jokinen, Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss.
Vokoun surrendered five goals in his debut. But not all of it was his fault. The Panthers defense was sloppy to say the least in the third period. Not only did Vokoun debut as Florida's new goalie, the Panthers also debuted their new uniforms with red sleeves. And while the uniforms have changed, the results haven't. But the best part of starting a new season is wiping the slate clean. The good news is it's only one game. The bad news is there are about 81 more.