With the 2013 NHL Draft less than a week away, things are going to start heating up. By the time Sunday rolls around, we will have our Stanley Cup Champion; the 2013 NHL season will be rapidly receding into the past and our gazes will be intently fixed on the future.
These next few weeks will be loaded with excitement for hockey fans, especially fans of bad teams like the Florida Panthers. After the cup is handed out to this season’s champion the slate will be reset. Every team will have the same record, every team will have limitless untapped potential.
This Sunday will be Panthers’ fans opportunity to dream. Whoever Florida selects with the second pick in the draft, we will be able to map out his career from exciting rookie sensation to superstar, leading his team to the promised land. The Panthers may have had a dismal, depressing, soul sucking 2012-13 season but they also have a strong contingent of youth, and youth merits excitement. Young untested players carry with them the intrigue of the unknown. Who these players will eventually become, it is something that will be revealed further on down the road but for now we can only project.
We as Panther fans have a tendency to adopt a jaded and skeptical view of the future of our team. We are hardened by years of futility, we have been told the future is bright many times before and we have always ended up disappointed. When we are told, “wait a few years until all of this young talent develops” we want to believe it, we want to get excited but that would mean potentially exposing ourselves to more hurt.
My non-Panther fan friends (which to be honest, is all my friends; there are not many Panther die hards in up state New York surprisingly) laugh at me when I get optimistic about the Panthers. When I try to justify their poor play with tales of the prospects the team has stashed away waiting to be unleashed on the league, my all too familiar chorus of “just you wait” falls on deaf unbelieving ears, and really they have no business believing me as I tell the same tale year after year, “we’re just rebuilding, in a couple of years we’ll be competing for the cup”, and every year they see the same results, the Florida Panthers near the bottom of the standings.
When GM Dale Tallon talks about ‘the blueprint’ we want to believe that he has a plan. Even if we do trust that things may get better soon, there is still that voice deep inside of us, conditioned by years of anguish, whispering words of doubt, clouding our attempts at optimism.
This can be a tough existence for a fan. So much of fandom involves faith. You need that irrational confidence, that willful self deception in order to stick with a team through the tough years. Fans of perennial contenders do not understand this mentality that is required to root for snake-bitten teams. Why do Kansas City Royals fans get excited at the start of another baseball season? Pittsburgh Pirates fans? why even bother? Why do Florida Panthers fans endure countless years of failure yet still wake up every off-season morning hungry for more hockey? The answer to all of these questions is, because they have to. They do not know any other way of existing. You root for your team no matter how painful it can be because they are your team and one day, who knows, they could win a championship and then all that pain and suffering will be meaningless compared to the pure joy of victory.
So Panther fans, when Sunday comes let’s be excited, let’s be shamelessly optimistic. Let’s breathlessly project the stunning futures these young Panthers will inevitably have. Let’s pencil in the names for the Florida Panthers’ 2015 Stanley Cup winning roster. We have an entire season to be realistic, to have our hopes shattered and our expectations forced into place by the cold calculus of wins and losses. But Sunday… Sunday we are free to dream, free to let our imaginations run rampant. So enjoy the draft, keep your head up, and don’t be phased by the laughter you will inevitably hear when you cannot control your excitement any longer and start blabbering to anyone who will listen about how good the Florida Panthers will be.