Twenty-six years. Sixteen coaches. Ten general managers, including twice Dale Talon and one set of brothers, Brian and Terry Murray.
There were five owners, not counting the group of eight investors, who were briefly led by Miami favorite defender Bernie Kosar, who said hockey was his “first and special love” and then moved on to Alan Cohen’s big wallet.
Cohen disappeared after four indifferent seasons, telling people that he prefers to invest in horses than hockey players because “they don’t respond”.
Cliff Weiner bought the team. The memory of his tenure is an attempt at a peaceful divorce in Key West, where his ex-wife’s waiver of any right to the Panthers became such a story that the team issued a statement about it all.
Wiener divorced the Panthers after three sluggish years.
Does it help anyone? Does this begin to explain why Friday mattered? Does this tell us about the long and tortured treadmill on which the Panthers rode for more than a quarter of a century?
At 22:43 on Friday Carter Verhe again became cavalry, scoring a goal in overtime. The Panthers beat Washington in a thriller 4-3. That meant the Panthers won the playoff series. This is not a typo. They really won the series. The ghost is gone.
“I will not lie, it’s weird,” said Alexander Barkov, who is spending his ninth season at the Panthers.
Fans of the “Dolphins” complain that they have not won the playoffs since 2000. The Marlins have not won since 2003. These are children’s things compared to the Panthers and their 26 years of experience between the playoffs.
Here’s one story: Paul Bure led the league with 58 goals in 1999-2000, and was relegated to a playoff series where the Panthers were beaten by the New Jersey. On the bench.
“Don’t ask why,” he said then.
Here’s another story: Jaromir Jagr, who was withdrawn from the Eastern Conference finals in 1996 by annoying panthers like Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Lindsey, joined the Panthers two decades later. I once asked him about that series. He asked me something in response.
“Is it true that they haven’t won anything since?” he said
We could continue these stories. And so on. Mike Keenan, as general manager, fired his coach Dwayne Sutter for just 26 games in the 2001 season, put himself on the bench and later agreed to a new contract with one player needed by this franchise: Roberto Luong. Keenan then traded Luong before signing the contract.
Seven years later, Luong was returned to the Panthers, which was included in the list of buildings that reached the playoffs in 2016. Then all the internal wiring was dismantled in a way that only the Panthers could do.
Veteran coach Gerard Galant was fired after an away game in Carolina and left on his own, so he had to wait for a taxi to leave the arena. The coach, who had no experience in the NHL, Tom Rowe, was put in charge of running the front office and coaching the team.
The expected thing happened. The Panthers happened. The catastrophe happened again. And, again, allowed people to stop paying attention.
Confession: Just writing this boils my blood a little, remembering stories I wrote down a long time ago. The Panthers had great hockey players like Bill Tory who provided guidance and food – if they wanted to – until he died in 2018.
“I’m not sure anyone is listening to what I’m saying,” he told me once after one of those lost years. They all mix together.
All of this explains why you should have been happy watching the Friday holiday. Do you know who deserves to be the happiest? Life sentences in this franchise. I see in the halls the officers who are there forever, the support staff of the team, who in passing smile in the hall.
Randy Moller has worked there for decades, a good and cheerful announcer who laughs that the last year of his game was the 1994-95 season – a year before they reached the Stanley Cup final. His broadcast partner Steve Goldstein shouted at his trademark, “Let’s go home, baby!” after Verhe’s winning goal on Friday.
The other day he reminded me that after he said it one night, I mentioned it would be a good signature for him. He then accepted it as such. Now he has closed the winner of the series with it.
Ed Jovanovsky, a newcomer to magic in 1996, now leads the team broadcaster, giving a history lesson on Friday as they highlighted the highlights of that long-ago season. It’s hard to explain to people that it was in 1996, when hockey took over South Florida – or the passion in 1997, when, say, general manager Brian Murray replaced center Stu Barnes.
South Florida was in a rage. Did he trade Barnes? Why did he break this team? People then cared. Perhaps Friday night was finally a step towards that.
“There was a lot of talk about not winning, but standing out in the first round,” – said Barkov. “It was there … It’s gone.”
For the first time in 26 empty years there was something to hold. Jonathan Huberdo, who has won the Panthers for 10 years, was able to accidentally say what no Panther player has said at this time of year that has been waiting for a quarter of a century.
“Now we need to think about the second round,” he said.