This summer has been a renaissance so far for the Florida Panthers. With the hiring of their new General Manager Justin Zahler there has been many promises of a revolution. Zahler stated earlier this week in his hiring interview, “I believe that this team can be great. I believe that this team can be a winning team. I believe this franchise can be talked about in 10 years on the same level as the top contenders in this league, instead of a laughing stock with the worst attendance and a top 5 draft pick yet again. This is the time to change this franchise for good. We are stuck in a weird phase right now where we don’t have an identity. Half our team are young stars just waiting to break through, while our other half is veterans wanting another last playoff push. Expect change…. Big change. We need an identity and I believe with the right moves we could be in the stages of building the foundation of a dynasty.”
With a lot of promises and an optimistic viewpoint the new general manger better be prepared to live up to it. Already this summer the Florida Panthers selected Patrik Laine 5th overall and made many draft pick movements. The first stage of the promised ‘Revolution’ occurred on July 3rd when a blockbuster trade for the Panthers fans occurred. The Panthers traded a long time player, assistant captain, and huge veteran leader in defenceman Brian Campbell, a 2016 2nd round pick (55th), 2017 2nd round pick, and 2017 5th round pick to the Detroit Red Wings for defenceman Mike Green who is an NHL seasoned D-man in his prime at age 30 compared to the older Campbell at 37. When asked about the move Zahler declared, “It makes us a lot younger and it gives us someone just as good to anchor our defensive core. Campbell is a huge member of our team and our locker room, but we need to find our identity. What we have been trying hasn’t worked, our leadership hasn’t won us a cup and since the turn of the century Florida has made the playoffs only twice. We need to shake up our veteran core and rely more on our young talent.” When questioned about the move over a brief phone call Campbell stated, “I’m sad to see the Panthers jersey come off. I am willing to play there, but on the bright side I get to put on the jersey of a playoff contender in the last years of my career and possibly compete for the Stanley Cup much more than I would of been able to last year.” When questioned about the deal the Detroit General Manger Jack Kozicz stated, “Green is coming off his best season in a while so clearly we will miss the production, but Campbell is a guy we can and will expect a lot of production from as well. We moved up in the draft to get our guy and are very happy moving back in the draft. In the end this is mostly a salary dump move, as paying Green 6 million for the next two seasons is a lot when we have good, young defenders making their way through the Grand Rapids pipeline.” The Panthers also acquired from the Washington Capitals seasoned NHL D-man Matt Niskanen earlier this week as well in a draft pick swap. Also starting veteran goalies were swapped between Vancouver and Florida in a trade on July 4th. Roberto Luongo was traded to Vancouver for Ryan Miller and Alexandre Grenier. Zahler stated when the trade was announced, “Keeping with the trend of getting younger the Panthers pick up a really decent bottom 6 physical player with size and hitting ability in Grenier and we keep the same type of player as Luongo with Miller. The only difference is that Luongo has a salary of around 4.5 mil for 7 more years. And Miller has a contract of 6 mil for 2 years.” When also asked Vancouver GM Nathan Brooks said, “Luongo is a stud and we believe he will continue to provide elite goal-tending for about 5 more years. Free agency looks like there isn’t much for goal tending either over this time. We have to respond to some of the moves being made around us and have a window with the Sedins to try and win. This also lets us develop our goaltending depth over this period and not rush any prospect into the league. We know what money we have spent now on goal-tending and can look to improve elsewhere. Grenier looked like a solid prospect but we have other RW’s coming who are already passed him.”
The Panthers’ ‘Identity’ is also about to change full swing. It was announced today by Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola that the Panthers will be moving out of Sunrise, Florida and back into the heart of Miami after the upcoming 2016-2017 season. In Miami, 20 years ago, the Panthers were the hottest ticket in town. They sold out the cozy downtown Miami Arena and competed for the playoffs every year. Despite the frozen playing surface, the arena was always hot and loud, intense in a way Joe Louis Arena in Detroit or the old Igloo in Pittsburgh might be. People threw toy rats on the ice whenever the team scored, and for a couple of years the rat became the Miami sports mascot.
Compare that to the BB&T Center where the Panthers can’t even give away their tickets to fill in the seats. Last season the Panthers were last in the NHL in attendance with an average Home game attendance of 11,519 and the season total Home game attendance of 472,318 where they statistically only used 56% of the capacity of the Arena. They had a total of 0 sell outs and compared to the second lowest team of New Jersey the Panthers were in deep trouble in Sunrise. The Devils had an average Home game attendance of 14,153 (around 2,500 more than the Panthers) and a Home game season total attendance of 580,298 (around 108,000 more tickets sold than the Panthers). The big eye opener is that that the Devils used 80% of their arena’s capacity. You don’t even want to compare the Panthers to the higher teams in the league with attendance.
So why was this move good for the Panthers? First off Miami is a huge market! And a lot of the fan base comes out of the greater Miami area, not it’s suburb of Sunrise. The location of where the Panthers were last year made it awkward for many of the fans from the larger cities to travel all the way up to their arena for games which in turn cut off a lot of their ticket sales. Also the fact that the Panthers were loosing did not justify a 40 minute drive from Miami to the significantly smaller town of Sunrise, especially when competing with the Miami Heat for fans. Which brings us to the next part of the discussion, the new arena. The Panthers will be playing next year in the American Airlines Arena and sharing it with the Miami Heat. This eliminates the teams having to compete for their fan bases because they will not be playing at the same time. The arena will hold 19,600 fans for hockey games, as well as have 2,105 club seats, 80 luxury suites, and 76 private boxes. Moving from a small, competing, market into a large downtown setting where the team is right there for people to watch is a huge improvement for the Florida Panthers Organization and just might be what they need to sell tickets and create a huge following. It has been a consideration to also change the franchise’s name from the Florida Panthers to the Miami Panthers to furthermore connect the franchise to a loyal following. This is still up for debate though.
Overall the ‘Revolution’ and ‘Miami Renaissance’ is very exciting and with huge moves like the ones we are beginning to see unfold may reshape the sport of hockey, Miami, and the whole of Florida sports forever.