The story out of tonight’s Sabres 4-2 win over Florida wasn’t so much about Buffalo helping to improve their standing in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference but about the continued ineptitude of the Florida Panthers.
Not since the 1999-2000 season have the Panthers made the playoffs and their loss today guaranteed that this year would make it ten straight seasons without a postseason appearance for the Panthers. The stars on that team that bowed out in the first round were none other than potential future hall of famer Pavel Bure, Ray Whitney, and Viktor Kozlov. Buoyed by elder statesman Mike Vernon in goal, those Panthers were the last ones to see the playoffs.
The current Panthers led by Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Tomas Vokoun don’t carry much in the stardom department, but they do have a special distinction. On Frozen Pond’s George Richards tells us about the very infamous record the Panthers are now proud to own.
Florida had been tied with the California/Cleveland/Minnesota and Colorado/New Jersey franchises in missing the playoffs for nine straight seasons. Florida hasn’t been to the playoffs since being swept in the opening round by the Devils in 2000.
“It doesn’t hurt anymore,” said coach Pete DeBoer, in his third year with the team. “We’ve been hurting for a while. You just get numb to that pain.”
That brand of futility is stunning and sad. The Panthers for most of their existence have been a poor team. Over the 17 seasons the team has played since 1993-1994, their inaugural season, the Panthers have made the playoffs three times. Their most memorable run came in 1995-1996 when they made it to the Stanley Cup final on the strength of great goaltending by John Vanbiesbrouck and rat-tossing goal scoring from Scott Mellanby. Now the only rats you’ll find around Sunrise, Florida are the ones sniffing through the dumpsters outside.
This is where Panthers GM Dale Tallon has his work cut out for him. He’s got to turn around an organization that’s known nothing but failure throughout their existence and find a way to help sell hockey in south Florida. It’s not as if he’s got a LeBron James or Dwayne Wade-like figure there to help lure the top talent in the league to come down and soak in the sunshine, supermodels, and win the Stanley Cup. Hockey doesn’t exactly work that way either. We’ll just say it’s a different mind-set for hockey players.
The future could be bright for the Panthers as they’ve got a bevy of prospects in the system that could turn out to be huge. Erik Gudbranson, Corban Knight, Drew Shore, Jacob Markstrom, Quinton Howden, and Nick Bjugstad all represent guys that could be huge parts of the rise of the Panthers to relevancy. Those guys will take time to develop, however, and with another top five pick likely on the way again, perhaps that turnaround can start soon.
Until then, the Panthers will hang on to their playoff futility record. Let’s just hope they don’t go the way the teams they were tied with have gone and end up playing somewhere else before they break through.