As we embark on the 2013-14 NHL season, we do so in a new and radically changed environment. NHL realignment has caused a sea change around the league and, for the Florida Panthers, the move from the now defunct Southeast Division to the eight team Atlantic Division means the loss of old rivalries and the addition of new ones. As we get closer to the season we will look at the Panthers’ new divisional foes in great detail but for now I want to pause for a moment of reflection and talk about the rivalries that will be no more.
The Washington Capitals-Florida Panthers rivalry may not be Ohio St.-Michigan but in the Panther-verse it was kind of a big deal. The Panthers have been battling it out with the Capitals since their inception in 1993 when both teams played in the Atlantic Division. The two teams played in the Atlantic Division through the 1997-98 season and during that time the Panthers had a 10-10-5 record against their foes to the north.
The 1998-99 season brought about changes to the league and the Panthers and Capitals moved to the newly minted Southeast Division. While both teams had seen success in the Atlantic Division days, both had unsuccessful runs to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Panthers in ’96 and the Caps in ’98, the move to the Southeast division represented a fork in the road. The Capitals took the path towards consistent divisional dominance while the Panthers chose the road of perpetual futility.
In the fourteen seasons that the Southeast Division was in business, the Capitals qualified for the playoffs nine times and won the division title seven times. In that same time span, the Panthers made only two playoff appearances to go along with one division title. Despite the disparity in each teams’ success, the Panthers have managed to keep up in the head-to-head match ups. Since Southeast division play began, the Panthers record against the Caps has been 33-39 with four ties, five overtime losses and two shootout losses. The Panthers will probably not be too upset to see the Capitals go as they currently are in the midst of a seven game losing streak dating back to the 2011-12 season.
Although they are no longer in the same division, it is not like these two teams will never play each other. With the new schedule breakdown the Panthers will face the Capitals three times next season but something will feel different. When the now ex-division rival Capitals come to town it will be like an awkward reunion between a couple who recently ended tumultuous relationship and have now decided to be just friends.