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

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.

Three questions facing New York Rangers

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

Three questions to ponder for the New York Rangers during the 2018-19 season.

[Rangers Day: Looking back | Breakthrough | Under Pressure]

1. Does Henrik Lundqvist have a miracle in him?

Because that is probably what it will take for the Rangers to get back to the playoffs.

This is not a particularly strong roster — at least on paper — and is lacking in established, impact players all over the lineup. It’s not a terrible roster, it’s not a worst team in the league kind of roster, but it’s also probably not one that is strong enough to make up enough ground in the playoff race, especially in a division as strong as the Metropolitan Division.

If you’re a Rangers fan holding out hope for the playoffs, the biggest hope is that Lundqvist, in his age 36 season, can put the team on his back one more time and carry it to a level beyond any reasonable expectation. He has done it before, but it is probably asking quite a bit for him to do it again, especially as he has started to show some signs of slowing down over the past two years where his save percentage has dipped to .912 overall. Just for comparisons sake, his save percentage was .920 or better for eight consecutive seasons prior to the past two.

Even though it has not resulted in a championship, Lundqvist has been the face of the Rangers franchise for his entire career and its most important player. He has consistently given the team everything he has had and been one of the best players in the world. If the Rangers are going to make another run with him before his career runs out he is going to have to put together a herculean effort to make it happen.

2. What kind of coach will David Quinn be?

Alain Vigneault has had his share of success in the NHL, including with the New York Rangers.

But it became clear last season that it was time for a new voice and a new direction, especially as the team embarks on a rebuild of the roster. It is now a team that should be focusing on development and youth, something that probably was not going to happen in another season under Vigneault, a coach whose preference seems to be more with experienced and veteran players.

Replacing him will be first-year NHL coach David Quinn as he becomes the latest to make the jump from the NCAA ranks to the NHL (he will be joined this season by Jim Montgomery who is going from University of Denver to the Dallas Stars).

He is one of just five coaches to ever go from the NCAA to their first job in the NHL, a list that includes Montgomery, Dave Hakstol, Bob Johnson, and Ned Harkness.

Quinn comes highly regarded, especially when it comes to working with younger players, but as a rookie coach with no NHL coaching experience there is a lot of mystery as to what type of coach he will be.

With a roster that could have its share of younger talent his reputation as a talent developer will be put to the test.

That leads us to the third question facing the Rangers this season.

[Related: Rangers could once again be active in trade market]

3. Which young players will take a big step forward?

From a big picture outlook, the success or failure of this Rangers’ season probably shouldn’t be measured by how many games the team wins or loses.

They are probably not going to be contenders for anything. They are probably going to be a bad team. They are probably going to miss the playoffs and trade more established players before the season ends.

The important thing to watch for this season is whether or not any young players take a big step forward and establish themselves as long-term building blocks.

Even though this is a “rebuilding” team there is still a pretty significant veteran presence here, especially on the blue line and in net. But after all of the draft picks they have had in recent years, and all of the trades they made last year, there is also a pretty big collection of young players that could also get an opportunity, from the young players they acquired in the Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trades (Brett Howden, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek), to their recent first-round draft picks (Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson), to still developing NHLers like Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei, and Neal Pionk.

A couple of them taking a big step forward in their development would be a nice positive for what is almost certain to be another year outside of the playoffs.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rangers could once again be active in trade market

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

Over the past year the New York Rangers have been one of the busiest teams in the league when it comes to roster movement as they’ve kickstarted their rebuild. Since the start of last offseason the Rangers have dealt veteran players Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Nick Holden, Michael Grabner, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, and Rick Nash. Some of them were rentals on expiring contracts (Holden, Grabner, Nash), while others still had term left on their deal (McDonagh, Miller, Stepan).

In return for that group of players they acquired 16 assets, including draft picks (three first-round picks, including a top-10 pick in 2017) and players that have ranged from established NHLers like Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov, to prospects like Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, and Ryan Lindgren.

Given that the Rangers are staring down the barrel at what could be a second consecutive non-playoff season and have an eye on the future, it is possible, if not likely, that the major roster shakeup will continue this season.

There are a couple of players on the roster worth watching when it comes to potential trades.

Let’s take a look at a few of them.

[Rangers Day: Looking back | Breakthrough | Three Questions]

Mats Zuccarello — Zuccarello was the subject of trade rumors this past season but when all was said and done he ended up remaining in New York.

Now that he is entering the final year of his contract it seems likely that he will once again be a player on the trade block. He is almost certainly the Rangers’ best returning forward, and has built a solid career for himself after going undrafted and beginning his professional hockey career in Europe. But he is entering his age 31 season and the Rangers have to figure out if it’s worth investing in a new long-term contract with him because by the time the team is ready to be a contender again, he will almost certainly be on the downside of his career.

He is by no means a superstar, but given that he averages close to 60 points every season and has been extremely durable (he’s missed just 14 games over the past five years) he is a top-line talent and would be one of the most attractive and marketable rentals that could be available at the trade deadline.

Kevin Hayes This one just seems inevitable.

The Rangers were able to avoid arbitration with Hayes this summer by signing him to a one-year contract, meaning he is now eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. At this point you have to think that if the Rangers were committed to him as a long-term building block they would gone for a longer commitment. At age 26 and with more than 300 games of NHL play under his belt there are probably no secrets as to what Hayes is capable of as a player.

There probably is not much more in the way of development to take place here, and his production has been consistent enough over the past four years that the Rangers know what they have — a 15-to 20-goal, 40-to 45-point winger. He is what he is — a solid, if unspectacular player that is destined to be playing for somebody else by the end of February.

Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov — Two potential wild cards when it comes to potential trades for the Rangers because both are signed for the next two seasons.

Spooner and Namestnikov are two of the more established players the Rangers acquired in their roster purge this past season, with Spooner coming over as part of the Nash trade to Boston while Namestnikov was a piece in the McDonagh/Miller trade to Tampa Bay.

They are not prospects, but they also may not be core players for the next contending team in New York.

They seem like perfect “bridge” players that can give the Rangers enough in the short-term to not completely bottom out in the standings, while also still possessing some value as potential trade chips.

At the time of his acquisition from, Namestnikov, a former first-round pick of the Lightning, was having a monster season while playing alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos on the top line in Tampa Bay. It was absolutely a breakout season for him but you also have to take into account the talent he was playing alongside when looking at it. In his 19 games with the Rangers after the trade he managed just four points.

Spooner’s initial experience with the Rangers was very, very different as he immediately made an impact on the score sheet with 16 points (including 12 assists) in his first 20 games after being acquired for Nash. Given the rest of his career it was probably an outlier performance, but it was still a promising debut.

Given that both players are signed for two more years (both at $4 million per season) the Rangers have some time to get a longer look at both of them and see what they have in them. If one of them emerges into something that could be more than a bridge player they have a full year after this to sign them to a new extension. If not, they could almost certainly be flipped to continue to add to the branches of the trade trees that began last season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Under Pressure: Kevin Shattenkirk

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

Kevin Shattenkirk‘s career has been quite the roller coaster over the past two years.

Throughout most of the 2016-17 season he was seen as the big fish at the trade deadline that was supposed to put a contender over the top.

He ended up going to the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals where his performance was solid, but probably not as impactful as the team or its fans had hoped. The next season his former coach, Barry Trotz, offered a fairly honest assessment of his play. He acknowledged that Shattenkirk made their power play more dangerous and that the trade “worked out fine”, but he also added “I think everybody thought of him as a 1-2 and he really wasn’t. He was a little lower.”

Not a totally scathing critique, but definitely pretty blunt.

Following that season Shattenkirk signed a four-year, $26.6 million contract in free agency with the Rangers, a match that pretty much everyone saw coming from a mile away.

The first year of the contract did not go as anyone planned and went wrong in pretty much every possible way.

[Rangers Day: Looking back | Breakthrough | Three Questions

Like the rest of the Rangers’ blue line, Shattenkirk struggled defensively and even found himself in the crosshairs for some criticism from coach Alain Vigneault that ranged from wanting to see “more urgency,” to calling him a “work in progress” in late December.

Perhaps one of the reasons things were not going well for him and the Rangers on the ice: He spent the first half of the season playing through an injury that no doubt limited him and then ultimately ended his season after just 46 games.

When all of that comes on the heels of a brief tenure in Washington that ended in disappointment it’s probably going to result in a pretty big hit to the reputation.

That tends to be the trouble with how we evaluate teams and players in professional sports, where what we saw from them last is what ultimately defines them. What we saw last, however, is not always the most accurate picture of what that player or team is or is capable of. And what have we seen last from Shattenkirk? A brief trip to Washington where he didn’t adjust and fit in as quickly as anyone would have liked, and an injury-shortened season in New York where he was probably never 100 percent.

The reality for him is that he is simply better than what we have seen from him over the past season-and-a-half, and more should be expected from him in 2018-19 for the Rangers.

For the six-year stretch between 2011-12 and 2016-17 Shattenkirk was one of the most productive defenders in the league. He was a constant lock for at least 45 points over an 82-game season and he always had outstanding possession numbers that placed him near the top of the league. During that five-year run he was 10th among all defenders in points per game (0.61) and had a 54 percent Corsi percentage that was 15th among defenders. He was one of only a small handful of players to be in the top-15 of both categories, and by pretty much every objective measure he was a top-15 player at his position in terms of his actual on-ice performance.

You do not just accidentally perform at that level in the NHL over a five-year stretch if you’re not a darn good player.

He also did not just suddenly lose all of that ability this past season. It is all still in there, and if healthy and in a system that might play to his strengths better than whatever it was the Rangers were doing this past season we could see very well see it on display once again. Heck, we even saw some of it last season when he started the year with 17 points in his first 18 games, including a seven-game point streak in November when he helped the team go on a 6-1-0 run.

For the Rangers’ sake they are going to need him to be healthy and return to that level of play because they are still counting on him to be a cornerstone of their defense for the next three seasons. As long as he is making more than $6 million per season during that time there is going to be an expectation for him to play at that level.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Building off a breakthrough: Pavel Buchnevich

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

After selling off several veterans last season, stockpiling draft picks, and collecting a bunch of younger assets the New York Rangers’ rebuild is well underway.

One of the most important — and perhaps most intriguing — players for the short-term outlook could be 23-year-old forward Pavel Buchnevich, whose potential still seems to be a little unknown given the way he was used under the previous coaching staff.

The argument for him coming off of a “breakthrough” season is simple: he played his first full season in the NHL and saw a nice jump in his overall production, while also finishing as the team’s fourth-leading scorer. All good stuff, and a nice positive development.

The problem is the Rangers may not have gotten as much out of him as they could have.

Or should have.

[Rangers Day: Looking back | Under Pressure | Three Questions

Throughout most of the season Buchnevich went through stretches where he would get lost in former coach Alain Vigneault’s line blender, and he never really seemed to get the benefit of the doubt from a coaching staff that seemed to favor older, more experienced (in other words, “safer”) players at the expense of younger, potentially more impactful talent. It was especially confusing early in the season when Buchnevich got off to a fantastic start offensively, recording 20 points in his first 25 games through the end of November. Despite that strong start things cooled off considerably (both in terms of ice-time and production) over the next couple of months before picking up again following the trade deadline when his role once again increased.

The one thing that consistently stood out about his season is that he usually managed to produce when he was given an opportunity.

His 1.77 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play placed him fourth among all Rangers that played at least 40 games for the team, while his 1.75 primary assists per 60 were tops on the team. He was also one of the best Rangers forwards when it came to generating shot attempts.

Was he a totally well-rounded player that didn’t make mistakes? No. He was and still is very much a work in progress. But there was still a lot to like about his season and the potential he showed, and given the Rangers’ struggles offensively he probably should have had more of an opportunity to make a bigger impact.

That is what makes this season under first-year coach David Quinn so interesting for Buchnevich and the Rangers.

Quinn comes to the Rangers with a reputation for being able to work with young players and develop their talent, and Buchnevich’s development should be a primary focus for him. Not only because the Rangers are going to need offense this season, but because they need to identify the next wave of talent this rebuild is going to be centered around. With Buchnevich entering the final year of his entry level contract they are going to have to make some sort of a financial commitment to him after this season and it would be nice to have a clearer idea of what exactly they have in him.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.