By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
That preseason game October 6 versus the New York Islanders provided a vivid reminder. During a second-period power play, as Stillman chased the puck in the corner, Bouwmeester crept in from the right point. He flashed into a passing lane that Stillman anticipated perfectly. Bouwmeester one-timed Stillman's pass into the goal. That looked so easy, it's hard to imagine why it would take more than a month before a Bouwmeester shot found the net again.
On October 16 against the Minnesota Wild, the Panthers manage to score a goal in the second period, but they're still behind 2-1. For nearly ten minutes, the teams play to a stalemate. Then, with the Wild on a power play, the Wild's Mikko Koivu handles the puck near the right face-off dot. Peripherally, he spots an opening between Bouwmeester, fellow defenseman Nick Boynton, and Panthers rookie Gregory Campbell. Koivu fires a pass through that slot. The puck finds Minnesota's Antti Miettinen, who wrists a shot over a diving Tomas Vokoun.
This sequence, as well as the one that resulted in the Wild's first goal, are the ones that Bouwmeester will remember as he sits in the locker room after the game, a 6-2 loss. He'll have forgotten about the long, perfect outlet pass he made just before he was checked that landed right on Campbell's stick as he streaked for a breakaway scoring chance. Nor will he remember his poke check that spoiled what would have been a Wild breakaway.
Asked after the game to name a positive, a sulking Bouwmeester gives a rueful laugh. "This is one you just try to forget and move on."
With the loss, the Panthers fall to 1-2. Coach DeBoer wears a strained expression at his post-game news conference. Asked whether he noticed how few people were in the stands, he answers, "No. I didn't. But we've got to give them something to cheer about, and tonight we didn't."
The following week, on a South Florida radio program, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman snuffed out rumors that the Panthers franchise would be scrapped.
"It's mostly a Canadian fantasy that teams like Florida disappear and the league contracts back to 24 or 26 teams," says Burnside, the ESPN analyst. "Unless Cohen gets tired of having a lousy team in a lousy market, nobody's going to take the team away from him."
For a team that seems to lose a star every year, it would be heartbreaking to the team's few fans to watch Bouwmeester go the way of Jokinen and Luongo. The chances of the strapping defenseman's staying in Florida? "Slim," says Burnside, who named Bouwmeester among the prizes that could be had at this season's trading deadline if the price is right. He thinks Bouwmeester may play with more passion if he goes to a true hockey market, like those in his native Canada, where he'll be reunited with rabid fans.
So far, Bouwmeester has avoided the subject of his commitment to the franchise, saying that the future is up to the Panthers. But his father, Dan, seems to have two hands firmly on the crystal ball. "I know what's going to happen," he says cryptically, "but I can't be open about it."