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VanMurph’s View: Knock It Off Already

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Murphy and Vanessa Burch
Murphy Burch is back for his fourth season of blogging. He will be sharing his views on the Panthers during the year, along with fellow fan blogger, Cliff Peeke (Peeke's Points).

Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.

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Please note that the views expressed in this blog are views expressed by the blogger only and are not necessarily the views expressed by the Florida Panthers Hockey Club.

It’s getting to be that time of year again. Hockey season is just around the corner, and as Panthers fans, it’s time to begin dusting off your senses of optimism and hope (even if they’re still coated with healthy layers of doubt and skepticism). With the NHL’s 2011-2012 season about a month away, hockey fans in South Florida should have a genuinely positive sense of anticipation for the first time in many years.

It’s said that sometimes something good comes from something bad. In our case, apparently sometimes it takes being utterly humiliated or hitting rock bottom for a hockey franchise to wake up. Maybe it was the decade of futility, or finishing dead last in the Southeast Division and 28th in a 30-team league; but whatever the reasons, the wakeup call seems to have been received. In a little over a year, Dale Tallon has nearly completely retooled the hockey side of the organization, and has managed to begin untangling the unadulterated mess left by his predecessors. Although there may still be a few holes to fill, I can’t help but be enthusiastic about the Panthers’ future (both immediate AND long-term).

But for all of the positive turns the organization has taken since last summer, there is still a lot of hostility directed at them from around the hockey world. As a die-hard fan of the team that recently set the record for the most consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, perhaps one of the most difficult issues to deal with is the constant barrage of negativity thrown at our team and our fans. On a near-daily basis it seems there is a not-so-palatable mention of the Panthers in articles throughout the media and blogosphere. Apparently it’s pretty easy to sit comfortably in Ontario (or elsewhere) and lob antipathetic bombs toward South Florida. And even if you disregard the fact that the people who are the most vocal antagonists are actually fans of teams that haven’t won ANYTHING in nearly two decades (1993 was the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup), it’s still tough to be a media-conscious avid follower of a team that literally every fan base looks down upon. Until a couple of recent articles about the depth and quality of our talent pool were printed, every single piece I’d read about the Panthers this summer had been negatively tinged.    

While some of the negativity is directed solely at the Panthers, usually it comes in the form of add-ons in articles about other struggling teams. This summer has been especially eventful with regard to ownership and relocation issues throughout the league, and as most Panthers fans know, these subjects generally have a way of hitting very close to home. Regardless of the negative topic, the Panthers seem to find their way into it. With the Thrashers being moved from Atlanta, the relocation grenades were tossed our way with a vengeance. Not a single article I read failed to mention the Panthers as one of the next targets to be moved. Next up was the ownership situation in Phoenix; and in nearly every article the naysayers referred to the Panthers and tossed them on the barbecue right alongside the usual host of teams that almost always has relocation proponents salivating. And last but not least was the New York Islanders’ arena conundrum; for the third time in the off-season, the Panthers were yet again broached as “the next team to go to Canada after the Coyotes.” This garbage got old a long time ago... It’s been regurgitated ad nauseam, and quite frankly it makes for tiresome reading. The same old trash, even if repeated often enough, is still just trash. Panthers fans have been listening to these pseudo-pundits predicting the demise of our hockey franchise since the day the NHL gave Wayne Huizenga the nod in 1992. Almost 19 years and counting…

I’ve never really understood the hostility directed at markets like Florida, Nashville, Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas and others. Why can’t people just worry about the mess their own teams are in and stop wasting their time putting this rubbish out there for public consumption? Let’s just call a spade a spade here. Almost all of this talk originates in Canada. We’ve been called an “embarrassment to ‘their’ game,” and a “disgrace to the NHL” among other much nastier things. I suppose it’s pointless to once again draw attention to the fact that no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Panthers came into the league… In that time teams from other so-called “non-hockey markets” like Carolina, Dallas, Anaheim and Tampa have all collected rings. So unless the object is to lure as many NHL teams as possible into Canada to help increase the odds of getting “their” cup back, it seems that the prudent thing to do is just concentrate on demanding better performances from the seven teams already there as opposed to waxing rhapsodically about the possibility of snagging another team or two from the Sun Belt. 

When these relocation conversations arise, I almost always hear about the empty buildings and apparent lack of fan support as the talking points for the arguments in favor of moving our hockey team. The funny thing about the empty seats argument is that I don’t recall it being used when teams like Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago, Washington and other stalwarts were stinking up the league. The fans of these teams didn’t have their feet held to the fire for their refusal to fill their rinks in support of a substandard product. That double standard perplexes me and often makes me wonder why Panthers fans catch so much grief while others got a free pass when their buildings contained fewer fans than ours. If you stop to think about it, the fact that we have ANYBODY showing up after this past decade is actually a testament to the potential this market has. If we’re filling a little more than half the seats on a nightly basis with a team in the doldrums, imagine how many more people will show up when Tallon’s blueprint is brought to fruition. Actually, you don’t have to imagine at all; just go to YouTube and watch videos from the Miami Arena in the mid to late 1990’s. This CAN be a hockey town. But winning is an absolute MUST if that is going to happen. The South Florida sports scene has repeatedly shown that unless you’re consistently winning, you’re simply going to be relegated to complete anonymity and irrelevance.     

One thing is for certain. The relocation proponents are going to continue to chirp as long as the Panthers don’t stand up and give them a reason to shut their mouths. Until we become a regular serious contender, the “move them north” sentiment is going to be prevalent among certain contingents in the hockey world. And like it or not, that’s just something we are going to have to accept. Look, defending our ability to go to the arena in Sunrise and watch an NHL franchise is something we could do on an almost daily basis if we had the stomach to sit there and deal with the ignorance of these clowns. But alas, most of us just read the articles (and the comments following the articles) and go on about our business. That seems to be the logical thing to do, because no matter how much reason and common sense you build into your retort, it’s an argument that a fan of a perennial loser is going to have a difficult time winning. However, not responding to the criticism only seems to bolster their point. Our collective silence is considered by the antagonists to be apathy, and they use it try to add credence to their otherwise baseless argument that our team has no fans.

When things improve around here (and after watching our Rookie Development Camp last month I believe that day is fast approaching), it’ll be interesting to see just how long it takes before our team receives vocalized respect around the league. For that matter, it’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for the local media to realize that there is an NHL franchise here. Hopefully the days of zero to five-word mentions of the Panthers on local sportscasts will be coming to an end. Over the course of the last several seasons I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what happens in the immediate future, our organization is going to be looked down upon by many within the ranks of the media and by the fans of other teams. As unpleasant as it is for us to deal with, the realization is that the Panthers are going to remain under siege until the Stanley Cup is hoisted in Sunrise. But the good news is, we are actually closer to that possibility than a host of other teams whose fans would love to see the Panthers playing north of the border…

As has been the case since I began writing this blog three seasons ago, I welcome your feedback.  If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, I can be reached on facebook via “Murphy Burch”, by email at  or on Twitter @Van_Murph

Thanks for stopping by the blog.  Here’s to the exciting and promising season all of us deserve.

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