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Wayne Huizenga, founding owner of Florida Panthers, dies at 80

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MIAMI (AP) — College dropout Wayne Huizenga started with a trash hauling company, struck gold during America’s brief love affair with VHS tapes and eventually owned three professional sports teams.

Huizenga owned Blockbuster Entertainment, AutoNation and the world’s largest trash hauler, and was founding owner of baseball’s Florida Marlins and the NHL Florida Panthers. He bought the NFL Miami Dolphins for $138 million in 1994.

The one thing he never got was a Super Bowl win.

Huizenga died late Thursday, according to Valerie Hinkell, his longtime assistant. He was 80.

The Marlins won the 1997 World Series, and the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, but Huizenga’s beloved Dolphins never reached a Super Bowl while he owned the team.

”If I have one disappointment, the disappointment would be that we did not bring a championship home,” Huizenga said shortly after he sold the Dolphins to New York real estate billionaire Stephen Ross, who still owns the team. ”It’s something we failed to do.”

Huizenga earned an almost cult-like following among business investors who watched him build Blockbuster Entertainment into the leading video rental chain by snapping up competitors. He cracked Forbes’ list of the 100 richest Americans, becoming chairman of Republic Services, one of the nation’s top waste management companies, and AutoNation, the nation’s largest automotive retailer.

”You just have to be in the right place at the right time,” he said. ”It can only happen in America.”

For a time, Huizenga was also a favorite with South Florida sports fans, drawing cheers and autograph seekers in public. The crowd roared when he danced the hokey pokey on the field during an early Marlins game. He went on a spending spree to build a veteran team that won the World Series in only the franchise’s fifth year.

But his popularity plummeted when he ordered the roster dismantled after that season. He was frustrated by poor attendance and his failure to swing a deal for a new ballpark built with taxpayer money.

Many South Florida fans never forgave him for breaking up the championship team. Huizenga drew boos when introduced at Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino’s retirement celebration in 2000, and kept a lower public profile after that.

In 2009, Huizenga said he regretted ordering the Marlins’ payroll purge.

”We lost $34 million the year we won the World Series, and I just said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to do that,”’ Huizenga recalled. ”If I had it to do over again, I’d say, ‘OK, we’ll go one more year.”’

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He sold the Marlins in 1999 to John Henry, and sold the Panthers in 2001, unhappy with rising NHL player salaries and the stock price for the team’s public company.

Huizenga’s first sports love was the Dolphins – he had been a season-ticket holder since their inaugural season in 1966. But he fared better in the NFL as a businessman than as a sports fan.

He turned a nifty profit by selling the Dolphins and their stadium for $1.1 billion, nearly seven times what he paid to become sole owner. But he knew the bottom line in the NFL is championships, and his Dolphins perennially came up short.

Huizenga earned a reputation as a hands-off owner and won raves from many loyal employees, even though he made six coaching changes. He eased Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula into retirement in early 1996, and Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, interim coach Jim Bates, Nick Saban, Cam Cameron and Tony Sporano followed as coach.

In 2008, Huizenga’s final season as owner, the Dolphins had a turnaround year and won the AFC East on the final day of the regular season.

”It was a magical feeling,” Huizenga said. ”I had tears in my eyes. I kept looking away so I wouldn’t have to wipe my eyes in front of everybody.”

Miami lost in the first round of the playoffs and didn’t return to the postseason until 2016. But Huizenga won praise from such disparate personalities as Shula, Johnson and Marlins manager Jim Leyland even when they no longer worked for him.

Harry Wayne Huizenga was born in the Chicago suburbs on Dec. 29, 1937, to a family of garbage haulers. He attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but dropped out and began his own garbage hauling business in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1962. He would drive a garbage truck from 2 a.m. to noon each day, then shower and go out and solicit new customers in the afternoon.

One customer successfully sued Huizenga, saying that in an argument over a delinquent account, Huizenga injured him by grabbing his testicles – an allegation Huizenga always denied.

”I never did that. The guy was a deputy cop. It was his word against mine, a young kid,” he told Fortune magazine in 1996.

He eventually bought out several competitors, expanding throughout South Florida. In 1968, he merged with the Chicago sanitation company his uncles owned, creating Waste Management Inc., which eventually became the world’s largest trash company. That became his method of operation – becoming the first national player in industries that had been dominated by small and local operations. He resigned from the company in 1984, taking $100 million in stock.

But retirement bored him and he soon began buying dozens of small businesses like hotels and pest control companies. In 1987, a business partner persuaded him to check out Blockbuster, a small chain of video stores. At the time, video stores were mostly locally owned mom-and-pop operations. Huizenga didn’t even own a VCR.

”I had an image of them being dark and dingy and dirty types of adult bookstores,” he told The Miami Herald. ”But when I finally saw a Blockbuster store, it opened my mind.”

The stores were clean and carried 10,000 titles, 10 times more than the typical corner video store. He loved the concept and thought it could become the McDonalds of video. He and two partners bought 43 percent of the business for $19 million and he became chairman and president. By 1991, the chain had grown to over 1,800 stores, with one opening every 17 hours, on average.

”The whole deal was to move quickly before our competition saw what we were doing and moved in on us,” he told the business magazine FSB in 2003.

In 1994, Viacom bought Blockbuster, then a publicly traded company, for about $8 billion.

In 1995, Huizenga got back into trash hauling by buying Republic Waste Industries Inc. for $27 million. Mergers and acquisitions soon followed. He renamed the company Republic Industries as it branched out, buying Alamo Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental.

Republic, under Huizenga’s leadership, then started AutoNation, a national chain of car dealerships – again, an industry that had been dominated by local and regional ownership. At its peak, AutoNation had about 375 dealerships in 17 states.

Republic Services was spun off in 1998 to control the waste management portion of the portfolio, a sector that had grown to more than $1 billion in annual sales. He remained its chairman until 2002.

Huizenga became a large benefactor of Nova Southeastern University, a private South Florida school where the Dolphins train. Its business school is named after him – even though he never completed college.

In 1960 he married Joyce VanderWagon. Together they had two children, Wayne Jr. and Scott. They divorced in 1966. Wayne married his second wife, Marti Goldsby, in 1972. She died in 2017.

Panthers hold keys to playoff fate

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Few teams have been hotter than the Florida Panthers down the stretch, something that had to be the case for the Cats to be in the spot they are currently in.

No, they’re not in a playoff spot at the moment — as a Wednesday they sit one point back of the New Jersey Devils for the second and final wildcard spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But a massive game awaits them on Thursday against one of the few teams that have been hotter than them in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have strung together nine straight wins.

The Panthers hold two games in hand over the Devils, who squandered an opportunity to increase their slim lead in a 6-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. New Jersey has struggled as of late, going 4-6-0 in their past 10, including back-to-back losses now. The Panthers, meanwhile, eviscerated the Ottawa Senators 7-2 to pull within a point of them. Florida is five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and six points behind their opponents on Thursday in Ohio. To thicken the plot, Florida holds three games in hand on Philly and Columbus.

Since the All-Star break, the Panthers have gone 18-5-1, have scored more 5-on-5 goals than any other team with 35 and are third in expected goals percentage during that time. The Florida Sun-Sentinel also points out that the Panthers have more points since the ASG out of any Eastern Conference team and the great goal differential (plus-27).

With 11 games to go, the Panthers sit in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own playoff fate.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner slightly downplayed the Columbus game in a conference call with the media on Wednesday.

“This time of year, it’s easy for these guys to get up for games, obviously how important they are,” he said. “It’s not going to be nothing over-the-top, extra special than what we normally do to prepare for a team. Obviously, it is an important game, but we have 10 more important games coming in.”

Despite losing key pieces in Jonathan Marchesseault and Reilly Smith over the summer — both are having career years with the Vegas Golden Knights — the current crop for the Panthers appear to have bought into Boughner’s message. And with Roberto Luongo healthy after missing two-and-a-half months with a groin injury, Florida is peaking at the right time.

“I think if you ask the guys, they’re having the time of their lives, having lots of fun,” Boughner said. “Let’s face it, we’ve been playing playoff hockey here for the last couple of months, just trying to dig in and scrape for points every night.”

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Luongo had gone 8-2-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage with two shutouts in his past 11 starts — vintage Luongo, who’s been down this road before.

“Lu means everything to our team, obviously,” Boughner said, adding that Luongo will be in the driver’s seat in Florida’s last 11 games.

“He’s going to play a lot of hockey,” he said, saying it will be in the realm of an 80/20 split between Luongo and backup James Reimer.

Boughner said Aleksander Barkov — who has eight goals and 26 points in his past 19 games — is his vote for the Selke Trophy and that Keith Yandle is the glue that helps keep the room together. Evgenii Dadonov, who has 12 goals and 13 assists in his past 19 games, shouldn’t be forgotten.

Boughner said when the team was struggling earlier this season, consistency was the most frustrating part — noting that the team couldn’t string together more than two wins in a row.

“There was too much individual work going on,” he said. “It took us a long time to sort of get the team convinced with sticking with the process and playing as a team… less selfishness and more about the team.”

That changed with a five-game winning streak in the last half of December.

“That’s probably where the light went on,” Boughner said.

It’s burned brightly ever since.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Roberto Luongo on streaking Panthers, approaching 1,000 NHL games (PHT Q&A)

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A glance at the list of hottest NHL teams since the end of January will show you that teams currently in playoff spots have done well to position themselves for the season’s final month. The Florida Panthers are just on the outside of the postseason picture, but have truly helped themselves with a 13-3-0 run in their last 16 teams.

The Panthers are a point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, but they also possess three games in-hand, which could put them in a comfier position should they win those.

Starting goaltender Roberto Luongo, who missed two months due to a groin injury, returned during this run and has helped the Panthers win six of his last seven starts while boasting a .945 even strength save percentage over that stretch.

The mood, as you can imagine, is quite fun inside the Panthers’ room.

“We’re excited to come to the rink every day and that’s what it’s all about,” Luongo told Pro Hockey Talk on Monday. “You want to be playing meaningful games this time of the year. Right now, we actually feel like we’re in playoff mode. It’s just fun coming to rink, hanging out with the guys, laughing and knowing that every time you step on the ice it can be a difference maker in the season.”

We spoke with Luongo about the teammate who’s impressed him the most, what he would tell his younger self, how fantasy sports has impacted his future career plans and more.


PHT: This run started in early February and it kept rolling after you came back. When you miss as much time as you did, how much easier is it to return when a team’s playing well compared to in a slump? Is there less pressure on you?

LUONGO: “Yeah, it was quite seamless. You’re not quite sure how you’re going to feel after not playing for two months, but the fact that the team was playing so well made it much easier on myself and didn’t put as much pressure on my shoulders to come in and try to save the day.”

The team is in a similar position today as it was last year, but there are new faces and there’s some positive momentum. How is what’s driving this team this year different than last year?

“I think it’s totally different. Last year it was a bit of a whirlwind with everything that happened. This year, I think we’re more settled. We believe in our group, in our systems, in our coaches. We’re just a confident group in the way we’re playing. It’s just got a different vibe to it in general.”

Who’s a guy on the team that has made the biggest jump from training camp?

“Obviously, [Aleksander] Barkov’s been our best player, but as far as jumps go, he’s always been our best player. I feel like he’s taken it to another level the last few weeks here. What he’s been able to do in the last 2-3 weeks has been head-scratching. It brings me back to my early days with Vancouver when I would see [Daniel and Henrik Sedin] play when they’re at the peak of their careers, but there were two of them; he’s by himself, so it’s quite impressive.”

When you’re out for the amount of time you were at the end of last year and then this season, how much are you playing coach and pointing things out to James [Reimer] from what you see?

“We chat once in a while… Whenever we have a game, if I know certain tendencies of certain guys, what they like to do, I’ll give him a quick word. But most of the time the guys know how to prepare and what they need to do to be ready. Even if I have something to say, I will once in a while, most of the time I don’t want to disrupt their routine.”

You’re approaching game No. 1,000. What do you remember about game No. 1 (43-save, 2-1 win vs. Boston, Nov. 28, 1999)?

“I remember it being an afternoon game and I had just got called up and I was notified that morning that I was starting. It was quite short notice and I didn’t have my parents or anybody to have time to come down and see me play. Maybe it was a good thing, so it didn’t allow me too much time to think about it and just go out there and play. I remember being really nervous and just realizing a dream.”

If you could go back and give 21-year-old Roberto advice, what would you tell him?

“I think in the earlier stages in my career I didn’t have as much fun playing the game, just because I was so nervous and so wanting to perform well that most of my energy was focused on that. As I got a little bit older, I realized that [I need] to go out there and have fun and enjoy the game, and if you work hard the results will come. I see it in a different way now and it’s really helped me out.”

How much of that mindset changed going from a media market like Vancouver back to Florida?

“I started thinking that way towards the end of my tenure in Vancouver and with all the stuff that happened, I realized that sometimes it’s not worth it to beat yourself up over things and that you are still playing in the NHL and you need to realize that and enjoy the moment. You don’t want to have any regrets when you’re done playing. That’s what came about and since then I find that it’s really helped me out along the way as far as performance.”

You still have four years left on your deal after this season. Have you given thought as to what you might want to do after hockey is over? Poker player? Professional fantasy football analyst?

“I don’t play poker anymore. Unfortunately, I don’t have that much time for it. But honestly, I love fantasy sports so much that I’d like to maybe become a GM, if possible, in the future of an NHL team. If that works out.”

Have you asked [Panthers GM] Dale [Tallon] for any tips on how to get started?

“[Laughs] Not yet. I’ve got to wait until I retire for that. I want to keep going for now.”


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Panthers to honor, support victims of Florida school shooting


The Florida Panthers are planning to help and honor the victims and their families of last week’s shooting that claimed the lives of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

The Panthers will hold a moment of silence for the victims prior to puck drop at BB&T Center, just minutes from where the tragedy took place.

The organization is also partnering with OneBlood and JetBlue as they host a blood drive outside of the arena from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and through the second intermission. The blood collected from the drive will help replenish nearby blood banks. Donations will also be taken from through the second intermission.

Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers Foundation (FPF) will collect donations from fans during the blood drive and during the game. Both the FPF and the NHL will match every donation dollar-for-dollar and donate the money raised to the Stoneman Douglas Victims fund through the Broward Education Foundation (BEF).

Proceeds from the game’s 50/50 raffle will also be donated, with the NHL and the FPF contributing $50,000 to the raffle.

The Panthers will also be selling a limited number of MSD patches for $10. All of the proceeds from the patch sales will go to the BEF.

Finally, all proceeds from Fanatics Game Used Auction items will also benefit the BEF.

Those not able to attend Thursday’s game can also donate through the Stoneman Douglas Victims’ Fund on GoFundMe. A text-to-donate option is also available by texting PARKLAND to 20222, which will donate $10 to the fund.

Several Panthers spoke after their morning skate on Thursday, including Roberto Luongo and Derek MacKenzie, who live in Parkland.

“What happened last week, when it hits close to home like that, it’s hard. You just want to help as much as you can,” Luongo told the assembled media on Thursday.

MacKenzie added: “As a member of the Parkland community, I’m very proud of how everyone has come together.”


Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canucks, Panthers hold moment of silence after Florida school shooting Wednesday

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers, along with a full house at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, paid their respects to the victims of a school shooting in Florida on Wednesday.

At least 17 people died when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida around 3 p.m.

The Panthers, who play 10 miles south of Parkland at BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL, are in the midst of a five-game road trip.

The Panthers recorded messages of support prior to the game.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad tweeted out: “Heavy hearts for the victims, families and first responders in Parkland today. #unthinkable”

Fellow defenseman Mike Matheson also took to Twitter: “Praying for everyone affected by the shooting back home in South Florida. Stay safe 🙏”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck