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Original Issue

16 Florida Panthers

Pavel Bure personally recharged South Florida's passion for
hockey last season by scoring 13 goals in just 11 games after
his January trade to the Panthers. So it's no wonder that Bure's
summer rehabilitation from season-ending knee surgery was
chronicled with tabloid intensity. There hasn't been this much
hand-wringing in Miami over a Russian rocket since the Cuban
missile crisis.

Bure's right knee is the fragile joint upon which the Panthers'
future rests. In an otherwise disappointing season Florida was
5-4-2 with Bure in the lineup last year, and his presence has
dictated a Panthers' about-face from a defensive style to an
aggressive attack. "We need him to be a superstar, and he wants
to be our superstar," coach Terry Murray says. "Pavel's resume
shows that he's a player who thrives on huge expectations."

A new five-year, $47.5 million contract should ensure that
expectations are suitably large. Bure's ability to meet them
depends on his knee, however. His rehab is on schedule, and at
times during training camp he skated as explosively as ever, yet
he didn't participate in a preseason game. "There have been
times when I forget about my knee and then I have to stop
myself, saying, Take it easy," Bure says. "It feels good, but I
want to take one step at a time because I'm looking forward to
playing a whole season."

To Florida general manager Bryan Murray the addition of Bure is
the key element of a team makeover he calls "passing the torch."
After the Panthers missed the playoffs the past two years,
Murray dispatched several aging veterans during the off-season
to give more ice time to promising younger players like forwards
Radek Dvorak, Viktor Kozlov, Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. Now
only four players remain from the team that reached the 1997
Stanley Cup finals. "When you're losing there's always that
temptation to trade away young players," Bryan Murray says, "but
we've made them the centerpiece of our team along with Bure and
told them it's their responsibility to lead us back into the

That message is clear to every Panther because it's in plain
English. After a 1998-99 season marked by poor team chemistry
during which players from seven countries spoke a cacophony of
languages in the Florida dressing room, Terry Murray has
instituted an English-only rule to bridge the communication gap
between the team's European and North American cliques. If Bure
can stay healthy and score his customary 50 goals, then this
monolingual bunch should win the weak Southeast Division. If he
doesn't, the Panthers will be ordinary, no matter how you say it.

--Tim Crothers

Florida had the league's best record of all nonplayoff teams
last season despite getting a league-high 350 games played from



OFFENSE 9 Bure and Kozlov should create tons of chances
DEFENSE 16 Addition of Pitlick big for the backline
GOALTENDING 21 Burke and Kidd will battle for starting job
SPECIAL TEAMS 13 Whitney and Svehla are power-play specialists
COACHING 15 Getting everybody on the same page is key for