It wasn't until I reached college that I actively followed more than my hometown Flyers. Since I have been watching more and more hockey everyday I have felt incomplete with only one team. Who do I cheer for when they aren't playing? So I started to expand my horizons in hopes of finding a second team- another team to live and die by.
And with the prodding from fellow zelePUCKin writer, Matthew O'Brien, I have found that team: The Florida Panthers.
Start From Scratch
Unless you have been living under a rock lately, you have noticed the abundance of turnover in Sunrise, Florida over the last year or so. It started with a new GM, Dale Tallon. You would better know him as the GM that brought the Cup back to Chicago. Tallon has brought with him a core of scouts, and more importantly a system, to rebuild the Florida Panthers. This past deadline Tallon opted to trade away many veteran players for future cap space and draft picks.
Since I am a new fan, it is truly something to be starting with the team. This team isn't established--they by no means are a Detroit Red Wings or New York Rangers--and that makes being a fan so much better. As a fan, I get to grow with the team. It gives you more of a sense of belonging and importance than I have found with other franchises I have tried to follow.
As a new fan you are part of the rebuild, and that is very exciting.
If you are like me, than you already have hockey Christmas (aka July 1st) circled on your calendars, where teams unwrap Free Agent presents. We all want our team to get the biggest and the most presents. With the Florida Panthers, that is very plausible this off season.
According to capgeek.com the Panthers have $43 million dollars of unassigned cap space for next year. With all of this room, it is hard to see the Panthers not making a splash come July. As a fan, it is these splashes that draw us in, get us excited about the team and the sport.
We want action, we want deals, we want fresh faces of players and all that goes with them. The Florida Panthers have set themselves up for just that.
Young Players and Talented Prospects
Since Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Pat Kane, Taylor Hall and others have made instant impact throughout the league, the NHL has been about young players. They are now the face of the league, and no team is complete without such a player.
The Panthers have young players and promising prospects that would make most hockey fans happy. Not only that, but with their influx of draft picks this year will only grow that prospect pool. The Panthers are lucky enough to most likely have a top 5 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft where a Gabriel Landeskog could be a franchise player.
The Cats have the top goalie prospect in Jacob Markstrom ready to compete for the starters role this coming training camp. Markstrom has elite, Roberto Luongo who?, type of natural talent. He was able to debut in the NHL this year but, unfortunately, an injury caused him to put his NHL dreams on the sidelines for the rest of the year.
Florida also has a formidable young D corps that is only rivaled by the Kings and Predators. Boasting Keaton Ellerby, Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson, the Panthers truly have the makings of a scary blueline.
On offense they are loaded as well. They have emerging speedster Evgeni Dadonov and recently acquired Niclas Bergfors to go along with prospects Quinton Howden, Nick Bjugstad and Drew Shore. While none of these players are Superstar material, they still present a deep pool of good-to-great potential forwards. Also, Tallon is expected to pick up that superstar quality forward in the top 5 of the draft this year.
Markstrom is prime to backstop the Cats next year.
Add these guys to the young guys like David Booth, Shawn Matthias, Mike Santorelli, Jack Skille, Jason Garrison, Alexander Sulzer and Tyler Plante and you are looking at one of the youngest teams in the NHL. Their young age gives the fans a team that will develop before their eyes and promise great excitement.
Fans want close games, games that are exciting from start to finish. Well in Sunrise, Fla they are common. FLA has been in 48 one goal games. 48! Which means that over half of this past season's games have come down to the bitter end.
The Panthers' Home and Road jerseys are anything but boring.
Here in America we love the underdog story. We cheer for Rudy as he takes the field for Notre Dame. It's just in our nature to believe in the American Dream that anyone can have success, even the little guys.
There is no more of an under dog in the NHL than the Florida Panthers. They have gone the last 10 seasons without making the playoffs. Not only that but they have been at the bottom of the league for the most part of those 10 seasons.
This is good for fans looking for another team to call their own for two reasons. The first is that we will have the knowledge that we are not bandwagon fans. We despise the fans that climb aboard when the team is doing well and say they are "true fans." It irks something deep inside of our competitive nature.
Well, you would not be accused of such mortal sin as "joining the bandwagon" if you root for the Panthers. Instead you will be the fan yelling at the other fans trying to jump on the Panthers bandwagon in a few years when they are in contention for the Stanley Cup.
The second reason is that as an underdog team their success means more, and therefore, being a fan of the Panthers is more rewarding. Don't get me wrong, fans of good teams still receive bliss from a Cup Win or division win or playoff berth. But imagine the bliss you would feel if your underdog team, that grew up in front of your eyes, beat the odds. That is why we love sports and Remember the Titans.
...And the Best Reason
Let's be honest, at the end of the day it all comes down to one thing: Ice Girls.
The only thing hotter than the Florida climate is the Panther's ice team.
Readers, take my suggestion. If you are looking for a team to follow that will be exciting, young and a team of the future- look no further than to the underdog Florida Panthers. You won't be disappointed.