Beleaguered Florida Panthers Fans Deserves Better From Their Team

Robert YoungContributor INovember 12, 2009

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 15:  A fan of the Florida Panthers entertains the crowd during their game against the Washington Capitals on February 15, 2009 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Capitals defeated the Panthers 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Florida Panthers have been known to start seasons slowly and then come on strong toward the end, just to fall wide of the postseason mark.

It appears as if this season has all those characteristics as well.

Whether or not the Cats can reignite their season and make a credible playoff push remains to be seen, but the beginning is thus far following familiar patterns.

“Let’s cut off the first 15 games and start fresh and make sure over the next five weeks we’re all better,” says Panthers' head coach Peter DeBoer said yesterday.

He went on to state that, “The good news is we have a lot more to offer, both individually and as a group. I think you’re going to see that. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played.”

Coach DeBoer is understandably trying to exude confidence and optimism, as a leader must do in front of his troops, but one does wonder what he must be feeling within after having begun this season 5-9-1.

Prior to the commencement of the campaign, Pete offered his hopes for the season and considering what he said, then and how wide of the mark the team is of that assessment, one must assume that on the inside, his sanguinity must have taken a bruise.

“This year I feel much more comfortable and I think the players feel much more comfortable in how we want to play and the systems we want to play and I think it’s showing on the ice. Hopefully, that will lead to a better start."

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Things didn’t quite work out that way, did they Pete?

Currently sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference with 11 points, trailing the Boston Bruins—currently in the eight spot—by seven points, Florida and its fans can’t be too hopeful of a spectacular turnaround of fortunes.

As it happens, the Cats will square off against the Bs tonight in Boston and therefore have a good chance of cutting that deficit down to five points.

Unfortunately, the Panthers will travel to meet a team that is finally overcoming a difficult hump themselves. Ravaged by injuries, and having traded goal poacher Phil Kessel to Toronto, the Bruins have looked a shadow of their former selves in the early goings.

However, in the past two games, the Bostonians have claimed two notable scalps in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, to restore confidence in the locker room.

The Bruins will be up for tonight’s game and, with their strong defensive corps. It’s hard to see the challenged Florida offense getting any goals on the solid Tim Thomas between the pipes.

It is tough to talk about a must-win game so early in the season, but with the poor start by the Cats, it will be difficult to imagine them losing this game and still being able to realistically compete for that eighth spot come spring.

So while not a must-win-game, this still qualifies as a very important contest for the Panthers; it’s one they’d be loathed to lose.

It is not easy to put a positive spin to the efforts by the Cats so far this season.

In 15 games played, of which one-third were won, they still only really impressed in two of those games; against St. Louis and Carolina (game two).

Both those teams were going through worse problems at the time of play than the Panthers were, so it’s hard to draw too much optimism from these two performances alone.

Overall speaking, the effort has not been consistently good enough from the Floridians in the opening 15 games. I doubt anyone could make a sound argument to claim that the club does not deserve to be where they currently reside in the standings.

Thirteenth place in the East seems like a fair reflection of the performances of the Florida Panthers after 15 games played.

The Cats have had problems with the organization of its new-look defense; allowing too many opposing players a clear path toward the crease, as well as giving up too many shots on goal.

The offense was also lacking in the early stages with any kind of chemistry, hard to come by. This, together with an inefficient power-play, has paved the way for the early struggles.

Admittedly things have gotten a bit better of late.

With the exception of the previous game against the Capitals, the defense has become more solid and the reshuffling of the offense has paid some dividends. No. 1 goaltender Tomas Vokoun is also starting to look increasingly unyielding in goal.

Whether or not this will be enough to turn the season around however, is questionable.

The Florida Panthers official Web site has put a positive spin on the situation, preferring to focus on the congested schedule ahead as a means of the team to “find their rhythm.”

With 24 games in 42 days to look forward to, or dread—depending on your outlook, it is understandable that the club as a whole must try and stay positive in order to try and recover lost ground,  and it is possible.

However, like many fans I’m not overly optimistic. And I fear the worst rather than indulge in false hope.

I suppose it’s basically a kind of self-defense mechanism we fans shield ourselves with, hoping that every defeat won’t sting as much as they tend to do for the believer; of course, it usually doesn’t help much.

A defeat is a defeat—whether expected or not—it still guts you to the bone.

And considering this, it really is a miracle that the Florida Panthers still have any fans at all; what resiliency!

It just goes to show that even years of failure will not and does not, deter the true sports fan.

And one thing I’ve learned in South Florida is that, despite what most people up north may think, there is a base for hockey here.

Despite the continued struggles and failures of the franchise on the ice (longest playoff drought in the league, since the year 2000), people still turn up in the thousands to cheer on the team, extend friendly hockey advice (shot the puck, you m**on!), and revel in the rare and shrinking successes—that we enjoy in midst of the many defeats.

I have not experienced what the hardcore South Floridian fan has been through, but, in my mere few years of following the Cats, I do have a growing appreciation for those fans that have been here from day one and experienced so many letdowns.

You guys and gals clearly deserve a better dish than what you’ve been served.

Nonetheless, the taste of success will be all the sweeter when it finally comes our way, because we have been through the many failures along the way.

Admittedly, not much comfort right now. Nonetheless, I suppose the lesson is to trooper on and hope for the best and sooner or later, good things will happen, surely.

And if controversial philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he coined the expression “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” then the Panthers’ fans are indeed a hardened breed in deserve of some rightful respect from its fellow hockey brethren.

Win or lose in Boston, I hope to share some more hockey moments with ya’ll in the B.A.C. on Saturday when the resurgent NY Islanders come to town. It should be interesting to see John Tavares and the young Islanders in action.

I hope the players start playing better—at least start playing to the best of their ability. Maybe they simply aren’t good enough to make the playoffs this year, but they should certainly be playing better than they currently are right now.

This may not be a hockey market on par with the Canadian ones, or say Philadelphia—just to name one, but it is still a vibrant place of vivacious hockey fans that don’t merit scorn from anyone.

What we’ve been through here, no other set of National Hockey League fans have had to prevail through.

And indeed, we’ve been through that proverbial trial by fire—and we’re still here. Another season of failure probably won’t change any of that, although, I hope we don’t need to find out.

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