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GR: Florida Panthers Long Way from Dark Decade of the 2000s



Florida panthers
Rostislav Olesz of the Florida Panthers knocks a puck out of his net as Tomas Vokoun (29), Jay Bouwmeester (4), and Keith Ballard (2) jump in to help during a game against the host Atlanta Thrashers on Nov. 2, 2008, at Philips Arena. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
Florida panthers

George Richards, Back in the Day

When I first took over covering the Florida Panthers for David J. Neal at the Miami Herald in 2004, the team had won 28 games, fired their coach and general manager, and started fresh.

Well, they did bring back former coach Mike Keenan as their GM so it could have been a little fresher.

Anyway, the Panthers are celebrating their 30th anniversary season and, as part of that, are hosting ‘2000s Night’ when the Philadelphia Flyers come to Sunrise tonight.

There was not much celebrating for the Panthers in the 2000s.

The decade started well enough, although goalie Trevor Kidd was injured in a team skills competition during a career year on Dec. 12, 1999.

It should have been a warning of what was to come.

The team was sold by Wayne Huizenga’s group following Florida’s third playoff appearance after that 1999-2000 season — one in which it was swept out of the first round by the Devils.

Soon, Pavel Bure was traded away and things turned bad. Fast.

The Panthers did not return to the postseason until 2012.

Stephen Weiss, one of the most loyal players the Panthers have ever known, appeared on the verge of tears when the team finally clinched a postseason spot following a loss in Washington in 2012.

Weiss has kept a low profile around the Panthers since wrist problems forced him into early retirement. 

Still, he will join Roberto Luongo, Bryan McCabe, and Peter Worrell tonight as part of the team’s celebration of what was a pretty dark decade.

That was not Weiss’ fault, nor was it the fault of players such as Olli Jokinen, Radek Dvorak, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tomas Vokoun, David Booth, Richard Zednik, Luongo, McCabe, Cory Stillman or others.

The Panthers did have some talent over that time, but even with a salary cap coming in following the loss of the 2004-05 season to a lockout — yeah, there was no hockey in my first season coving the Panthers — ownership could not keep up with the bigger market teams.

There were many losses and even more gimmicks as the team struggled to keep its place in a competitive marketplace.

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As the Miami Heat surged to the top of the NBA with Pat Riley & Co., the Panthers were relegated to the back pages of the three newspapers who covered them at the time.

Attendance plummeted.

Their televised games were beaten in the ratings by infomercials (not making this up).

Keenan lasted one full season as GM of the Panthers.

After signing Nieuwendyk, Gary RobertsJozef Stumpel, and Martin Gelinas following the end of the lockout in 2005, the Panthers came within seven points of making the playoffs.

The team, at least, appeared on the rise.

Then Keenan got into a snit with Luongo during their contract negotiations, and he made a blockbuster deal at the 2006 NHL Draft in Vancouver, sending the Florida goalie to the Canucks.

A few months later, on Memorial Day, Keenan was fired, and coach Jacques Martin was promoted to a dual role of general manager and coach.

That lasted two years.

Martin was told he could not coach the team anymore, but he was welcome to remain the GM.

His first move was trading Jokinen, the team captain, to Arizona. The two openly feuded during Martin’s final year behind the Florida bench.

Martin wisely hired Pete DeBoer as his replacement, but knowing the team was for sale again and running on empty financially, he jumped ship to coach the Canadiens after one season in that GM-only role.

Jay Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton were two other Panthers who wanted out and eventually got their wish.

DeBoer and interim GM Randy Sexton grabbed Dmitry Kulikov in the first round in 2009, but things continued on a downward path.

The Blackhawks had fired their charismatic GM, and team founding father Bill Torrey ran up to Vero Beach and sold Dale Tallon on the Panthers.

In 2010, Tallon started rebuilding the Panthers all over again.

Say what you want about Tallon, but he certainly did rebuild the Panthers.

After holding a fire sale at the 2011 deadline, which led to DeBoer moving on, Tallon went on a spending spree that summer.

It resulted in Florida winning the Southeast Division title in 2012 and ending what was, at the time, the longest postseason drought in NHL history.

The Panthers would go through some ups and downs in the 2010s, but it was paradise compared to the previous decade.

Florida drafted several players who would carry them forward — Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad, and Vincent Trocheck, among them — and helped get the franchise where it is today.

Yes, these Florida Panthers are a lifetime away from the ones I started covering, really, in 2005.

Instead of looking for quick fixes and marketing ideas to try and get fans into their cavernous barn, the Panthers have built themselves for the long haul.

On Tuesday, the Panthers won their sixth straight, and 16th in 18 games.

Florida sits atop the NHL standings and are the betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup after making it to the Final last year.

Vladimir Tarasenko told the Ottawa Senators he would only waive his no-trade clause to play for the Panthers.

On Wednesday, Florida GM Bill Zito got him for two mid-range draft picks — and got Jacques Martin’s Senators to eat 50 percent of his cap hit.

Things have certainly changed, although Kulikov is back with the team.

Luongo, McCabe, and Worrell all work for the Panthers and are now used to seeing their Sunrise arena filled up on a Thursday night.

They are used to seeing their team win nightly and enjoy everything the Panthers have accomplished over the past few years.

Stephen Weiss should have been able to experience some of this during his time with the Panthers but, alas, never really did.

Give him an extra cheer tonight when he is introduced before the game.

Those guys from the 2000s deserve it.

It was a long decade.



  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Season Series — At Florida: Flyers 2, Panthers 1 (Feb 6); Thursday. At Philadelphia: March 24.  
  • Last Season: Philadelphia won 2-1
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Philadelphia leads 57-37-6, 7 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Calgary, 4 p.m.

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