Here we are, still two weeks away from American Thanksgiving, and the Florida Panthers are done like dinner.
Every game from here on in will be spent in the role of spoiler. That seven-year streak of missing the playoffs will stretch to eight.
These clawless Cats aren't playing with the string. They're playing it out.
You think the housing market is tanking? Imagine the demand for Panthers tickets the rest of the way. The league leader in freebies now has resorted to giving away a pair of ducats to anyone with a Florida driver's license...and they're still only half filling the BankAtlantic Center.
You can't blame the fans for leading the league in another category: apathy. They're tired of watching the same routine as their heroes bury themselves with yet another sluggish start. Remember when they won just seven of their first 19 last season and never recovered? It's 2007-08 all over again.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. Coming off a strong finish and bolstered by new coach
Pertinent question: Can a club that's led in scoring by
As bad as they look, the standings don't adequately express how grim things are. The Panthers have looked lifeless in losing six of their last seven. Absent the services of former captain
DeBoer's postgame remark was telling: ''We didn't have a good first period. It's inexcusable, and you'll have to ask the leadership group in the room why. We're at the point in the season now where you have to earn your ice time or you're not going to play. Unfortunately there were too many guys to sit tonight to use benching as a motivation.''
You have to feel for DeBoer, who already looks frustrated by the mess he stepped into. Not that the lack of success is a reflection on him. He's a bright guy with a strong track record of developing young talent. That's an element this team should have in spades after making seven top-10 picks in the last eight drafts. Problem is that outside of
Watching these Panthers, you get the sense they know it, too. When they get behind, they don't have any fight in them. Want proof? They've yet to earn a point in the seven games in which they've trailed after two periods.
The culture of losing is deeply ingrained in this squad. Only one player,
So now the question is, does this management group have the stones -- and the smarts -- to finally turn this thing around?
Despite the repeated assertions of GM
Martin was too quick to accept that kind of offer when he made his last big trade. The deal that sent Jokinen to the Coyotes for Ballard and
The best Panthers fans can hope for is that Martin learned his lesson on that one. A Bouwmeester deal, possibly expanded to include another young Florida asset, is inevitable.
It can be intimidating to send a big name packing, but this situation demands something more than tinkering. The key is that Martin can't afford to simply break even when he pulls the trigger. He can't just shuffle the chemistry. He needs to win the deal to get this thing can be turned around. Given his bargaining position, that won't be easy.
The playoffs are history, but there's still time for this group to learn to at least compete. To put young players like
If those things happen, this season won't be a total loss.