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.
After only two years as division rivals, it is time for the Florida Panthers to say goodbye to the Winnipeg Jets. The Panthers are probably happy to see the Jets move to the Western Conference as the 1800-plus mile flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Winnipeg is not one that players like to do on a regular basis. The fact that the Winnipeg Jets were still playing in the Southeast Division was one of the biggest reasons why the league went forward with their realignment plan.
The Jets were playing in the Southeast Division because prior to the 2011-12 season, the franchise was still the Atlanta Thrashers which made much more sense geographically. As this is a send-off of sorts to the Southeast Division, it makes sense to focus more on the Thrashers than the Jets. The Panthers and Thrashers faced off for twelve years from Atlanta’s inception in 1999 to their final season before moving to Winnipeg in 2011.
During those twelve years (eleven seasons due to 04-05 lockout) the two franchises were locked in a heated battle for the “incompetent franchise” title. From 1999-2011 the Panthers and Thrashers qualified for the playoffs one time each, and they were both swept in the first round. The Thrashers by the Rangers in 06-07 and the Panthers by the Devils in 99-00. The Thrashers had an average Southeast division finish of 3.36 during their existence while the Panthers averaged 3.7th place during the same time. Atlanta also had one division title the Florida’s zero so the edge goes to the Thrashers.
The Thrashers came out on top in the head to head battles as well. Against Atlanta, the Panthers had 26 wins, 37 losses (including OT, SO) and five ties. Florida has fared only slightly better since the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, compiling a record of 5-6. Any serious bad blood between the Panthers and the Thrashers/Jets franchise died when Atlanta moved to Winnipeg. The short duration of the Jets-Panthers rivalry and the geographic separation made this ‘rivalry’ about as cold as Manitoba in February. I doubt fans will have a hard time letting this matchup go, saying goodbye to the Thrashers may have been difficult for some, but saying so long to the Jets will be like saying goodbye to a step-father that you only communicated with via Skype.
So with that, we have reached the end of our So Long Series, and it is time to put the Southeast Division in the rear view. To the Capitals, Hurricanes and Jets/Thrashers, I’ll miss ya but not too much..PEACE OUT!