At the Panthers' new $184 million arena, something called the
National Car Rental Center, in Sunrise, fans can eat sushi,
salmon and fruit salad and choose from 18 desserts. There are
seats with leather armrests and the arena boasts 274 toilets for
women and 226 for men.
We're told 500 johns in one arena is a record for professional
hockey. Too bad that's the only NHL record the Panthers will set
this season. After a miraculous run to the finals in 1996,
Florida missed the playoffs last year and, in keeping with an
ugly trend in pro sports, put all its effort during the
off-season into building an arena instead of a team. Despite
finishing with the second-worst record in the league last
season, the Panthers made only two moves over the summer.
General manager Bryan Murray's first move was to sign his
younger brother, Terry, to coach Florida. Terry has only missed
the playoffs once in eight seasons as an NHL coach, and if he
does this year, the sun could set on his brother in Sunrise.
Terry, who took the Flyers to the Cup finals in 1997, will
instill discipline in a team of chronic underachievers, such as
defenseman Ed Jovanovski, center Viktor Kozlov and injury-prone
center Rob Niedermayer.
Bryan wasn't guilty of nepotism in hiring Terry, but Panthers
fans have accused him of inept-otism. After letting All-Star
goalie John Vanbiesbrouck bolt to Philadelphia, his only other
off-season move was signing Flyers castoff Sean Burke after five
goalies said no. "The Panthers underachieved last year, and so
did I," says Burke. "I come here with a lot to prove." He'll get
his chance. In front of Burke is a defense that gave up 256
goals in 1997-98.
What the Panthers need are more Canadians who irritate people
while producing big hits. Perhaps Murray should have had a
contract ready when the opulent National Car Rental Center
celebrated its grand opening last week with a concert by Celine
COLOR PHOTO: JIM MCISAAC/B. BENNETT STUDIOS Big things are expected of Dvorak. [Radek Dvorak in game]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
Last season the Panthers had the league's second-biggest decline
in points (from 89 to 63) and the second-worst drop in goal
differential (-73) from 1996-97.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--The Panthers must improve their putrid penalty killing, which
was effective only 79.9% of the time last season, worst in the
--The talented young core guys--forwards Viktor Kozlov and Radek
Dvorak and defenseman Ed Jovanovski--need to step up and play to