27 Florida Panthers Patience--what else?--is the buzzword for a team lacking experience and recent success

October 12, 2003

General manager Rick Dudley isn't promising any miraculous
turnarounds or Cinderella runs to the Stanley Cup. Instead, he's
preaching patience. The Panthers were the youngest team in the
league last year, and while the kiddie corps should help Florida
better its 2002-03 record of 24-36-13-9, greater accomplishments
will take some time.

"We have a lot of talent," says Dudley. "Right now, do you worry
about it a little bit because some of the key components are
young? Of course you do. But one thing I've learned--something I
didn't used to have--is patience. Being impatient almost never
works out."

Impatience is to be expected for a team that has missed the
playoffs five of the last six seasons. But Dudley, whose
relationship with coach Mike Keenan is the best it's been since
Dudley was hired in 2002, is certain he has the right players for
the job. Last season center Olli Jokinen had career highs in
goals (36), assists (29) and points (65), and made his first
All-Star Game. This year Florida will be counting on its '01 and
'02 first-round picks, 20-year-old center Stephen Weiss (21
points last season) and 20-year-old defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
Both played significant minutes last year and should only
improve.

Because defense was its weak spot (the Panthers allowed a
league-high 33.2 shots a game), Florida added veterans Todd Gill
and Lyle Odelein to its blue line this summer. Gill and Odelein,
both stay-at-home defensemen, have a combined 31 years of NHL
experience. Their presence will help young players such as
Bouwmeester, who had a -29 rating last year. "In training camp
I've noticed a big difference," says goalie Roberto Luongo.
"Every time we play with a veteran defenseman on my team, it just
seems much easier to do my job. Hopefully that's a sign of things
to come."

Dudley believes that the Panthers are headed in the right
direction. "I know [fans and media] have heard this before," he
says, "but we are building toward something special." --A.W.

COLOR PHOTO COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD C. LEWIS (JOKINEN) OLLI JOKINEN

SI RANKING
( 1 Best - 30 Worst )

OFFENSE 22
DEFENSE 28
GOALTENDING 7
POWER PLAY 30
PENALTY KILLING 29
G.M. AND COACH 28

INSIDER

How good is G Roberto Luongo? He can steal 10 to 15 points in the
standings by himself.... The young forwards should continue to
flourish under coach Mike Keenan, who encourages them to be
creative in the offensive zone.... One forward whose progress
stalled last season was Kristian Huselius: He was pushed hard by
Keenan and didn't react well. Huselius should look at Olli
Jokinen, who took the coach's challenges to heart and went from
underachiever to big-time scorer.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)