Sure, the Florida Panthers backed into the playoffs last night thanks to a Buffalo Sabres defeat. And yes, this team isn’t going to scare the sixth seed after leaning upon a league-high 18 charity points. Even with all that in mind, you’d have to have a cold soul* if you weren’t happy for Panthers fans who haven’t watched their team play a postseason game since April 9, 2000.
The Panthers broke the longest playoff drought in NHL history on Thursday, so it seems like a logical time to look back at 10 seasons of futility (the lockout erased one season, after all). The team’s such a mess that I’ll just do the best I can to break things up into digestible eras.
Terry Murray gives way to Duane Sutter: After leading the Panthers to a franchise-record 98 points in what was once their last playoff season (1999-2000), Terry Murray was fired 36 games in 2000-01. Duane Sutter finished out the last 46 games and managed one more season before being canned as well (01-02).
Panthers in 2000-01: 22-38-13-9 (66 points)
2001-02: 22-44-10-6 (60 pts.)
Duane Sutter’s overall record: 22-35-15 (Note: for the sake of sanity, I’m combining ties and OTL’s going forward in this spot. You’ll live.)
The Mike Keenan Era: Keenan spent two seasons as the Panthers’ head coach before shifting to GM from May 2004-September 2006. Things get a little screwy because the lines between coach and GM can get blurred – there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen – so let’s just try to keep it simple. (Rick Dudley spent time as general manager and coach, too … so seriously, it’s confusing.)
2002-03: 24-36-13-9 (70 pts.)
2003-04: 28-35-15-4 (75 pts.)
2005-06: 37-34-11 (85 pts.)
Keenan’s coaching record: 45-73-35
Rick Dudley’s coaching record: 13-15-12
John Torchetti’s coaching record: 10-12-5
The Jacques Martin Era: The Panthers eventually promoted Jacques Martin from coach (2005-06) to coach/general manager, allowing him to shop for and cook his own groceries – to paraphrase Bill Parcells. Martin’s recipe wasn’t so robust in Florida, though. Martin spent the 2008-09 season as GM while Peter DeBoer took over as coach.
2006-07: 35-31-16 (86 pts.)
2007-08: 38-35-9 (85 pts.)
2008-09: 41-30-11 (93 pts.)
Jacques Martin’s coaching record: 110-100-36
The Let’s Just Call it the Grab Bag Era: DeBoer saw three different general managers in his three seasons in Florida: Martin, Randy Sexton and Dale Tallon. If that doesn’t show you how much of a mess this franchise has been, I don’t know what will.
2009-10: 32-37-13 (77 pts.)
2010-11: 30-40-12 (72 pts.)
Peter DeBoer’s coaching record: 73-67-24
So, since the last time the 1999-2000 season ended, the Panthers have had: seven coaches, seven general managers (counting interim ones such as Chuck Fletcher) and three finishes in second place in their division. (Every other finish was in third place or worse.) They’ve lost 40+ games twice and suffered through five more seasons with 35+ defeats. As much as the 10 failed seasons have been about losing and disappointment, they’ve also been clear evidence of the toxic effects of stability.
Then again, you could also argue that the Panthers gave the keys to two guys (Keenan and Martin) who didn’t really benefit from receiving a decent run of stability.
Like I mentioned, the Panthers didn’t exactly kick down the door to the playoffs, but it should be obvious that even this moderate achievement is huge for the clueless Cats. They haven’t won a playoff series since they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 Stanley Cup finals, however, so the big question is: how far are they from being a legitimate threat? Is this already the year?
* – Sabres fans get a partial pass for obvious short-term reasons.