As the Florida Panthers 2010-11 season comes to a close, Panthers fans are once again disappointed as their club failed to make the playoffs for the 10th straight season. Clearly this is something which fans have become accustomed to, as year after year we are let down by the underachievement of the club.
As my first segment for therattrick, I will create a mini series to show a season by season preview of what happened to this club that entered the league back in the 1993-94 season with such promise.
Season 1 – 1993-94: The Beginning
In 1992, Mr. H Wayne Huizenga who was part owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and the MLB’s Florida Marlins put plans of bringing a hockey team to the Miami area into action. Huizenga, who was chairman of Blockbuster Entertainment, met with the Los Angeles Kings head Bruce McNall and inter NHL president Gil Stein, and was informed by Stein that Disney would be soon entering the league with a hockey team, and another big corporation such as Blockbuster would also be permitted to enter at the same time.
Though not much of a hockey man, Huizenga decided to take the chance of trying to develop a hockey fan base in Florida and on December 10th, 1992, NHL owners approved the entry of both the Anaheim and Miami franchises, the two clubs would make their their debut in the 1993-94 season. With no time to build a new stadium, the Panthers would have to share the Miami Arena, which was already home to the NBA’s Miami Heat, until a new facility could be created.
The first thing the team would have to worry about before anything could be created would be to form a staff. The role for the General Manager was cut down to a 2-man race between Washington Capitals GM David Poile and Philadelphia Flyers senior vice president Bob Clarke, Clarke was hired on March 1, 1993. Huizenga then named Bill Torrey the clubs president since he played a huge role in building a 1980’s New York Islanders dynasty.
The nickname “Panther” would be chosen by Huizenga for the club, as the Florida Panther was the official state animal.
Roger Nielson was named head coach by Bob Clarke since his track record with the New York Rangers at the time spoke for itself.
Clarke and Torrey then came into luck when it was time to create a team, as the NHL created better rules for the selection than the ones in place when Tampa Bay and Ottawa joined the league.
The club focused on creating a strong defensive team for their first season. For their captain they selected Brian Skrudland who was a Stanley Cup hero with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986. They also signed players such as Mike Hough, Tom Fitzgerald, Bill Lindsay, and Dave Lowry. For the 1993 entry draft, the Panthers selected Rob Niedermayer who was a highly regarded prospect at the time.
The Panthers also got lucky in net as the team managed to steal John Vanbiesbrouck away from the Vancouver Canucks. Mark Fitzpatrick was taken from the Quebec Nordiques to serve as backup.
The Panthers opened training camp on September 10, 1993, and then opened their first regular season on October 6, against the Chicago Blackhawks, and to many surprise they actually tied the game 4-4. They lost their second game to the St. Louis Blues, but then in game three, a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning proved to be a great matchup, as John Vanbiesbrouck shut out the home team 2-0 in front of 27,227 fans. From that point out, when the Panthers returned home, fans packed their arena game in and game out.
Over halfway through the season, the Panthers surprisingly found themselves 5 games over .500, proving they would be a tough team to compete against. But, they would finally be eliminated from playoff contention in the last week of the season.
With 33 wins, their inaugural season proved to be a success. Their .494 win percentage proved to be the best for a first-year team in modern pro-sports history. The future was looking bright for the new team in South Florida, things were only looking up from that point. But, they received some bad news as Clarke would return to Philadelphia to take control of the Flyers again. Bryan Murray would be named as his replacement.