Panthers' attendance woes no laughing matter; more notes
Having a laugh at the expense of the Panthers? A brief history lesson might help put their abysmal attendance into perspective.
Go back 10 seasons to the 2003–04 campaign. Florida wasn't particularly good back then, either—in fact, the team missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row—but the Panthers were still a fairly likeable bunch. Likeable enough that they averaged just shy of 16,000 fans per game, good enough for 17th in the league.
For the record, that placed them ahead of the Sharks, the Bruins, the Blackhawks and the 30th-ranked Penguins on the league's attendance chart. Today, any one of those clubs could fill its building if it were playing a team of beer league all-stars on a Monday afternoon.
The point being: Outside of a few select markets, attendance is cyclical in the NHL.
To be fair, Florida wasn't averse back in those days to passing out a few free tickets in order to goose attendance numbers, but the Panthers still drew. And they can again ... it's just going to take time. Remember, this is a franchise that has missed the playoffs in 12 of the past 13 seasons, a remarkable run of ineptitude. It doesn't matter how die-hard the fans in any given market may be. Any team that remains that bad for that long is bound to bleed customers and red ink.
And so while images of a nearly empty BB&T Center on Monday night made for great clickbait, no one who has been paying attention should have been caught off guard. Over the summer the team's owners made a commitment to season ticket holders by eliminating not just thousands of freebies, but also most discounts for single-game buyers. The Panther's' owners knew what that would mean for attendance, especially early in the season, especially on a Monday night, especially for a low-draw opponent like the Senators. But they made the commitment anyway, even knowing that there would be days like this, where fans in places like Quebec City and Seattle would start gleefully rubbing their palms together and wondering when they should line up along the freeway to cheer as the moving vans from Sunrise, Fla., rolled into town.
Maybe Florida will find that the 7,311 actual tickets sold on Monday was rock bottom and the team can build from there. Maybe it wasn't, and maybe it can't. But owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu appear dedicated to making hockey work again in South Florida, and we've seen the lengths that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will go to keep a franchise in place even without that kind of commitment. Panthers ownership will be given plenty of time to reconnect with lapsed fans and win over new ones. It's going to take a lot of winning for the team to fill its rink again, but it only takes looking back 10 years to know it can happen.
In the meantime, the Panthers caught a break from the schedule maker. Florida has three days off before heading out of town on a four-game, nine-day road trip that begins in Buffalo on Friday and keeps the Panthers away from Sunrise until Oct. 30. That's plenty of time for the sales staff to drum up a little interest ... and make sure there aren't quite so many good seats available for the next home game.
A taxing situation
Speaking of relocation rumors, the Coyotes were quick to put down any suggestion that the addition of Andrew Barroway as a their new majority owner has destabilized the franchise's ties to the community in any way.
In fact, the team said, the $152 million deal was centered around lessening the team's tax burden.
George Gosbee and Anthony Leblanc, the two investors who rescued the franchise moments before it was headed out of town last year, are Canadian. And as LeBlanc revealed, foreign ownership creates significant tax liabilities. Selling a 51% stake in the club to an American (Barroway) addresses those issues.
While Barroway's admission to the club's ownership group still requires the approval of the NHL's Board of Governors, it is expected that the trio will act as partners, with Gosbee and LeBlanc focusing on attendance and other business issues while Barroway serves as governor and face of the franchise.
The dark cloud of relocation hasn't vanished. Gosbee, LeBlanc and Barroway can move the team if they suffer $50 million in losses after five years of ownership, but if they effectively focus their energies on engaging the community, there's still hope for hockey in the desert.
B's shooting blanks
It's easy to say now that they're 1-3-0, but the Bruins were always a good bet to get off to a slow start. They lost top sniper Jarome Iginla to the Avalanche. Leading scorer David Krejci began the season on IR, and power forward Milan Lucic is recovering from off-season wrist surgery. Tough for any team to make hay without its first line.
But after Boston GM Peter Chiarelli watched his team score just four goals through its first four games, including Monday's 2–1 loss to previously winless Colorado, he apparently had seen enough. On Tuesday morning, he sent puck possession black holes Bobby Robins and Jordan Caron down to AHL Providence, and then signed veteran winger Simon Gagne to a one year, $600,000 contract.
Not that this is a risky move, but it's hard to believe that things have gotten to this point already. The Bruins finished third in the NHL in goals scored last season, averaging 3.15 per game. The 34-year-old Gagne couldn't find a job in the NHL last season, and while he didn't embarrass himself during a training camp tryout, he didn't do enough to force his way into the lineup, either. He made the cut because this team needs a shakeup. Nothing like being in the right place at the right time.
Best case scenario here: Gagne skates with Krejci (who returned to action on Monday), scores a few goals and provides the sort of veteran presence that Mark Recchi brought to the club in 2011 when Boston won the Stanley Cup. Realistically, he holds down a roster spot while Chiarelli shakes the trees and hopes that someone who is more useful falls into his lap.
Caron, meanwhile, has likely played his last game for the Bruins. The team's 2009 first-rounder has an NHL body, but an ECHL head. And after allowing him far too many opportunities to prove otherwise, Boston seems to have finally figured that out. A minor-league trade seems likely, if only to cut the team's losses and take a chance on rehabilitating another team's castoff.
What a drag
One team official told SI.com that he thinks the pre-overtime dry ice scrape that was introduced this season “will be history by Christmas.” It's a great concept on paper, designed to improve ice quality and enable offenses to end more games before getting to the shootout. Instead, the process has turned out to be a time-consuming buzz-kill, sucking the energy out of players' legs and the life out of arenas. We've already seen a couple of scrapes extend more than six minutes, but even the five-minute standard set by the NHL is just too long.
The Ontario Hockey League followed the NHL's lead in instituting the dry scrape, but dropped it after one week when a London–Owen Sound game was delayed more than 10 minutes. It's only a matter of time before the NHL follows suit.
Sabres' star comes up big
Tap the brakes on speculation that the Sabres are talking trade with the Red Wings and/or the Ducks regarding defenseman Tyler Myers. The 6' 8", 219-pound former Calder Trophy winner is off to a strong start, playing some of the best hockey of his career. Woeful but rebuilding Buffalo needs his contributions now, as well as in the future when he can act as sensei to the team's bevy of young blueliners.
Devil in limbo
Another big defenseman whose name is being mentioned as a trade target early on is the Devils' Adam Larsson. The fourth pick in the 2011 draft was a healthy scratch for New Jersey's first two games (both wins) and isn't likely to see action on Tuesday night against the Lightning. If things keep going well, and everyone stays healthy, Larsson's stay in the press box could drag on for awhile.
His pedigree is nice, but Larsson simply hasn't done enough to force his way into the lineup on a consistent basis. The tools appear to be there. He can make a smart first pass and he plays a decent positional game, but his mental mistakes tend to be costly and he doesn't have the best sense for when he's about to get hit and turn over the puck. That has led to him being passed on the depth chart by Jon Merrill, Damon Severson and Eric Gelinas, all of whom are under 23. While the snubs might hurt Larsson's feelings, it doesn't mean that GM Lou Lamoriello is going to look to find him a way out.
Larsson's value is entirely based on his potential, and that alone is not going to get the Devils enough in return for the team to consider moving him. If New Jersey wants to increase his trade value, the team will have to find him some playing time so he can work on the areas of his game that need improving.
Larsson's chance will come eventually. An injury, a slip in play by another defender or a desire to change team chemistry will open the door for him. From there, it'll be up to Larsson to not just seize the opportunity, but to prove he deserves to remain in the rotation.