Rebuilds are nice, but Panthers want to win now

It was hard enough for the Florida Panthers to get noticed on the Miami sports scene before LeBron James made The Decision to take his talents to South Beach.

Rebuilds are nice, but Panthers want to win now
Matt Puempel. (Julie Oliver/OttawaCitizen)

It was hard enough for the Florida Panthers to get noticed on the Miami sports scene before LeBron James made The Decision to take his talents to South Beach.

More than a decade of futility will tend to do that to a franchise. The last time these jungle cats picked up a playoff win was in 1997, and it was the only win of an opening series loss to the New York Rangers.

Ticket pricing and marketing can only do so much for a team ranked 24th in league attendance — the Panthers need to win, and win now.

Whether or not they can do it is another story. They haven’t received much love from pundits, a fact not lost on head coach Peter DeBoer.

“Pride’s a great motivator and when you read every major hockey publication (and) they’ve got you picked last or second-last, it’s a great motivator,” he said Thursday, noting his team is short on superstars but long on effort.

“We’re a team that’s built around fundamentals, some basic principles and, from a coaching perspective, sometimes that’s easier with a room of workers,” he continued. “There’s a lot of nights — trust me — I wish we had one of those guys, you know, 1-1 games and you can’t score a goal or create an offensive chance, so it’s the old adage of live with them or live without them.”

Workhorse goaltender Tomas Vokoun agreed.

“We didn’t have a 30-goal scorer last season and we are not a team that’s going to rely on one or two guys to win the games,” he said. “Every night we need 95 per cent of the players playing well to win.”

Of course, that makes his job all the more difficult.

“It obviously gets tough sometimes if you don’t get goal support, but any team goes through that. That’s just the nature of the position.”

Vokoun’s goaltending helped the team to a 3-4-0 record heading into last night, with two losses arguably caused by lousy officiating. The hope is fans will return if they can string a few more wins together.

“I think it would be tough to sell tickets anywhere, with a few exceptions, if you haven’t been in the playoffs in nine years, especially in the U.S.,” he said. “We haven’t been where we wanted to be and obviously the fans, some of them are somewhat disappointed, so you can kind of understand that.”

At least there’s one guy who isn’t clamoring for tickets to see King James, CB4 and D-Wade.

“I’m not a big basketball fan,” Vokoun said with a chuckle.

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