First off: I don’t mean to insult Disney or their first rate entertainment business by comparing them to possibly the worst run sports franchise in North America, the Florida Panthers.
But, quite frankly, it’s hard not to make the link—if only on a tongue-in-cheek, derisive level.
Whilst there might be a couple of other strong contenders for the dubious honor of being the worst sports franchise in North America, hidden among the other continental underachievers in pro sports, there really is no competition within the National Hockey League itself.
Ten years without a playoff in South Florida is twice as much as the also long-suffering Toronto Maple Leaf fans have had to wait. Not even perennial deadweights such as the New York Islanders or Atlanta Thrashers come close to being as dreadful as our beloved Cats.
Thus, it is no wonder that a certain popular rodent comes to mind when trying to find words for how poor and dysfunctional this “Mickey Mouse organization” of a hockey franchise really is.
Putting the team logo in the urinals for everyone to take a piss on was the low point for sure. But the theatrics of showering the home sides’ players with confetti, as if they had just won the Stanley Cup, after just having lost the final game of the season—to cross-state rivals Tampa Bay no less—really isn’t that far behind in sheer and utter lack of class and respect to the players and fans alike.
Sometimes one wonders why one even bothers at all.
Why do Panthers fans still come out regularly to watch the increasingly sorry spectacle that is Panthers hockey?
I honestly don’t know anymore. All I can come up with is that when you are in love, you can’t quite explain why, either, and no matter how hard things get, you still can’t stop caring about the one you adore. And to keep on cheering for the Florida Panthers sure does take a lot of love; because the rewards are simply nonexistent otherwise.
Ending the season with the league’s third worst record is, or at least shouldn’t be, a surprise to anyone. Except, apparently, the CEO (Michael Yormark), the General Manager (Randy Sexton), and the Head Coach (Peter DeBoer), who all prior to the season sounded very optimistic about our chances of being a “competitive team” in the NHL.
One can only hope this was simply more hogwash of the empty brand of PR talk that the Panthers fans have had to get used to over the years, and that they really didn’t believe that drivel themselves. If they really did, that should—in itself—be a valid ground for their being axed from their respective positions.
To quote the big headed queen of Alice in Wonderland : “Off with their heads!”
And the really sad thing is, instead of realizing the mess the club was in prior to the season, and then blooding the club's burgeoning youth movement in the big league—like the Islanders and Avalanche have done with some measure of success—the organization instead went with the strategy of signing a few low-end veteran free agents to cheap one-year deals.
This wasn’t a complete waste of space, however, as these players fetched a couple of second round picks at the trade deadline.
A complete waste of space on the roster though was the team's entire third and fourth lines. Players like Rostislav Olesz, Gregory Campbell, Kamil Kreps, Nick Tarnasky, and Radek Dvorak were utterly unable to either check the top lines of opposing teams or generate any consistent secondary scoring for the Panthers.
Subsequently, their combined role on the team was reduced to blocking shots of opponents that gleefully took the opportunity to park their bus in the Panthers’ zone. Their only other usefulness was to give the top two lines—who am I kidding, the top line—some time to rest between extended shifts.
What is mind-boggling here is that neither the General Manager (Sexton), nor the Head Coach (DeBoer), did anything to try and jump start these under-performing and well-paid players.
No one was held accountable and made a healthy scratch for a period of time. No one was traded. And only poor Ville Koistinen (a defenseman playing out of position as a forward) was waived and sent down to the minors.
All the while these so-called character guys of the Cats were eating up valuable ice time that could—and should—have been given to some up-and-coming young talents instead.
These promising rookies, stuck for the most part in Rochester of the AHL, could have been cultured and formed from the experience of playing a year at the NHL level. This experience probably would have sped up their learning curve drastically as well.
At the end of the day these young players would almost certainly have found it hard to do any worse than the current load of dead weights and freeloaders that embarrassingly whimpered out and finished third from the bottom of the standings.
So, yet again, the story at the end of the day is that the fans are left scratching their collective heads at confounding and confusing—if not downright shoddy and cheap—promotional, managerial, and coaching decisions.
And what could possibly be worse than to cheer for a perennial loser?
Well, believe it or not, but it just got worse for many Panthers fans.
In recent years we have been able to draw some sadistic solace from the fact that there actually was a worse run organization—just across state, in the form of the shambolic Bolts.
Sadly for us, that is no longer the case. After all, it’s sad to be alone while the people on the West Coast of Florida are all the merrier.
Tampa Bay has had the good fortune of getting a real businessman at the helm of the franchise in Jeff Vinik. He knew, probably with a quick glance, that the organization, in order to be successful, needed to be torn down and rebuilt from its shaky foundations and up.
Thus, the head coach and general manager were fired the day after the conclusion of their season. He will now appoint a new CEO who’ll appoint his preferred general manager; who in turn will appoint a new head coach.
Meanwhile, the new majority owners of the Florida Panthers, Stu Siegel and Cliff Viner, are paralyzed. They have done nothing of importance to change the losing culture at the club so far. Rather, they seem to be sitting back and are currently “digesting the season”.
If anything, their damning letter about the players’ performance prior to the transfer deadline only helped to heap more misery on the club and create an atmosphere where the players no longer seemed to play for the pride of the jersey that they wore.
While probably well-intentioned, attempting to be open and honest with the fanbase, the move was at best naïve and counterproductive.
Hence, we now find ourselves in the sickening position of being the laughing stock of the entire NHL—for the ninth consecutive season—and the only remaining Mickey Mouse organization, not only of the state, but of the entire National Hockey League.
Until a string of hapless owners face up to this situation, get their combined thumbs out of their respective rear ends, and get to work on reshaping this franchise from the foundations and up—just like Tampa Bay is currently doing—there is no light at the end of this Florida tunnel of hockey gloom.
What is truly amazing, and often overlooked in this whole muddled situation, is that the franchise actually has a very loyal following of fans. Not even storied franchises like Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Washington, or Chicago, when they were respectively lodged bottom of the league year-in and year-out—had the attendance figures that the Florida Panthers can boast.
And maybe that is at the heart of the problem.
As long as fans keep going through the turnstiles, and as long as concerts and other events bring home plenty of dough for this crummy organization, they lack the incentives that above-mentioned franchises had to get their act together and start putting out a decent product on the ice for the fans to watch and be proud to call their own.
Right now, you could appoint Goofy as combined CEO, GM, and head coach, and he’d probably do a better job than the current incumbents.
Unfortunately, this all seems to suggest that before this franchise is ever likely to get better, it’s first going to get a lot worse.