It’s easy to cast a wide net of criticism on the NHL’s expansion to “non-traditional” markets. Looking at the struggles of teams such as the defunct Atlanta Thrashers and the struggling Phoenix Coyotes, one might make a generalization that the game cannot translate to these warmer climates.
That doesn’t mean that every experiment has been a failure, however. Too Many Men on the Site’s Jenna Barley took an interesting look at the fortunes of three franchises that cropped up in unusual markets in 1993: the Anaheim (formerly Mighty) Ducks, Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers. Naturally, it’s important to note that the Stars had a leg up on the expansion Ducks and Panthers because they inherited the Minnesota North Stars’ roster, but it’s still interesting to take a big picture view of some of the NHL’s biggest steps into atypical hockey markets.
Barley found that the three clubs have had some interesting ups and downs since being introduced almost 20 years ago. PHT will expand on her commentary with some notes and insights of our own.
No doubt about it, the Ducks grew mightier once they cut ties with their Disney movie past. As the Mighty Ducks, they made the playoffs just four out of 12 seasons, though they made spirited runs in two of their last three campaigns. Trading for Chris Pronger surely made a bigger difference than changing the team name, but it is interesting that they won their only Stanley Cup during their first season (06-07) as the plain new Ducks. The sans-Mighty Ducks managed to make the postseason if four of five seasons, bringing the franchise’s grand total to eight in 17 seasons – not awful for a team that many considered a joke even when Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya were tearing things up.
Again, Dallas inherited plenty of talent from the Minnesota North Stars days, particularly in the form of franchise player Mike Modano. It seems like the team picked the right time to peak when they won the Stanley Cup in 1998-99 as other local teams such as the Cowboys and Mavericks weren’t having much success. The Stars made the playoffs in 11 of their first 13 seasons, but things have been rocky lately – they’ve gone three straight seasons without making a postseason appearance.
Next season should prove pivotal for a franchise that many cite as a shiny example of successful “Sun Belt” expansion, as the team hopes to get a new owner in place and turn things around with new head coach Glen Gulutzan. Overall, the teams’ been a success but they need to find their way in the post-Modano days.
Barley points out that the Panthers were competitive out of the gate, which is pretty impressive since expansion teams are built from scratch.
The Florida Panthers had a very successful first four seasons in the NHL. They were only one point away from a playoff spot in both the inaugural and second seasons of 1993-1994 and 1994-1995. In their 3rd season (1995-1996), the Panthers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be swept by the Colorado Avalanche. They again made the playoffs in 1996-1997, but never made it past the first round.
The Panthers had their highest point season in 1999-2000 with 98 points (43-33-6-6). They also made the playoffs again that year, with a strong Pavel Bure leading the way. However, they were swept in the first round by the New Jersey Devils and have never made the playoffs since. The Panthers have gone through 8 coaches since then and 11 since the team inception, but the Panther’s hope that with Kevin Dineen this upcoming season, they can break their 11 year playoff drought.
It’s easy to critique new GM Dale Tallon’s frantic series of moves during his second summer running the team, but the hope is that the Panthers can find two things they haven’t seen much of since Ed Jovanovski was a much younger “Jovocop”: stability and focus. From different coaches to general managers, the team has had too many cooks in the kitchen over the last decade; if that trend stops, the Panthers flailing ways might come to end as well.
The Ducks, Stars and Panthers have had their ups and downs, but even Florida can point to moments in which they played on hockey’s biggest stage. Each teams have reasons for optimism but also plenty of reasons for concern, which means that it’s still too early to be certain if these teams will ultimately be seen as successes or failures.