The Florida Panthers have been a long-struggling franchise a lot of people believe are destined to, eventually, be relocated to a new city. And though ownership has stated its desire is to stay put, "the current business model is not sustainable."
Florida Panthers fans deserve something, anything, better than what they've been given in the 20-plus years of the franchise's existence. This is a team cursed with poor drafting, or poor ownership, or poor coaching, or poor trades, or any combination of those things. Very early in their existence they made the Stanley Cup final. And that was the peak for them. The thing is, I don't think this team is as bad as the one that finished 29th last season. The goaltending should be better, which is
enough to see some improvement, but the youngsters should also ascend modestly. Some deadwood was shed, although some younger cap deadwood was added (coughDavidBollandcough), but overall, in a weak Eastern Conference where the Toronto Maple Leafs will get some votes as a post-season team, Florida should be in the running for one of the last playoff spots. It's enough to give further optimism to a fan base that has been brought up on optimism and false promises without any payoff. But, still, hovering over this franchise is the prospect of relocation. Currently, the Panthers are seeking a greater share of Broward County's "bed tax" which are levied on tourists to the area. The hockey team receives 16 percent of that tax right now and is seeking an increase to about one-third, or 33 percent. Those who oppose a greater share going towards the Panthers want the money used on the beaches, which is a greater tourist draw than the arena. “We estimate that about 30,000 room nights are related to all events at the arena (concerts) annually. We have over 8 million room nights per year sold,” the county's Nicki Grossman
told the Miami Herald earlier this year. The Panthers, who claim to lose $30 million a year, have a lease in the BB&T Center that runs through 2028 and a debt of about $250 million on the arena. But mayor Barbara Sharief and the county have hired a consultant who is looking into the feasibility of letting the Panthers franchise relocate and get out from under that lease.
The results of that report are expected to be released in October. On Saturday,
Fox Sports published an interview with Panthers co-owner Doug Cifu who, among other things, was asked about where he saw this franchise in five-to-10 years. He dodged it with the
grace of Tim Thomas defending a breakaway, saying his and Vinnie Viola's desire was to keep the team in Florida, but he added... “the current business model is not sustainable.” The optimism about this young team is as thick and pungent as its ever been, what with Aleksander Barkov coming off a strong rookie showing, Jonathan Huberdeau bound for a bounceback season - plus veteran Roberto Luongo back between the pipes for a full season. But it seems the rumors and speculation that this franchise will inevitably move won't be going away any time soon. Hopefully, for those die-hards who are in Florida, its not some other city enjoying this group in its prime. So there you go, Panthers fans. Just another day in the summer of a sorry team that had to board up one of its end zones during a game. Keep the faith. Stay strong.
Editor's note: an earlier post on the Panthers focused on ownership meeting with one coaching candidate. We've been informed that quote was taken out of context and have changed the post.
Follow Rory on Twitter