It's a dark, cold time in South Florida sports right now. The Dolphins are an annual disappointment, the Heat can't catch a break, and the Marlins are... the Marlins. Times are tough. There is hope that each franchise can right the ship soon, but each has its own obstacles to overcome before it can be considered on the path to success.
Except the Florida Panthers. They have their stuff together better than anyone in town. I know — it's weird.
So how did the Panthers get to be the best-positioned team in town? A few very crucial ways.
5. The Panthers haven't mortgaged the future for present success.
The Panthers are built, not bought. They still own nearly all of their future draft picks. Dale Tallon and the Panthers haven't sold their souls to get where they are. In fact, they have been about as patient and frugal as anyone can be. Besides bringing back Roberto Luongo, there really hasn't been an expensive or future-impacting deal that has taken place. No credit cards were used to build this team. Straight cash.
4. The Panthers have their own Dwyane Wade... or maybe a better one.
It's might be tough to say, but Jaromir Jagr will go down as a better hockey player than Dwyane Wade will a basketball player. It felt dirty to type that, but it's factually true. Jagr is the Magic Johnson of the NHL. He's not the best of all time, but he's in the discussion. Having that sort of living, skating hockey museum in the locker room has paid off hugely for the Panthers. Not only has Jagr been a fantastic example for others but he's still a pretty damned good player. Just like Dwyane Wade.
3. The Panthers also have their own Pat Riley.
Sorry, Pat Riley — but in 2016, Tallon has been the best executive in town. While Pat Riley is the most recognized godfather sports president in South Florida, Dale Tallon is set up to leave his own legacy in Sunrise. After having built the Chicago Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup champion (and annual contender), Tallon has brought his same approach to the Panthers... and succeeded. It took a minute, but the fruits of his patience are starting to pop up all over the ice.
Tallon treated the Panthers like a total teardown when he arrived, and what he has built in its place is an amazingly young and talented NHL team.
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2. The Panthers are stocked with young stars you know and ones you'll soon know.
Even though the Panthers have plucked some youth from their farm system to get to where they are now, they still have one of the brightest, best-stocked systems in the league. By now, you know about Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov, but you probably don't know who Rocco Grimaldi or 2012 first-round pick Mike Matheson are. You should. Because they are coming to Sunrise soon. The Panthers have stocked their system with talent and have left it alone. They haven't rushed it to the NHL because they were sick of losing (See: Marlins). They haven't traded prospects away for aging veterans. They have built it the right way, and that has set them up to succeed for a long time.
1. Unlike some teams in town, the owner stays out of the way.
Who is the Panthers owner? To all four of you who said Vinnie Viola, congratulations, you're a diehard Panthers fan. He stays out of the hockey side of things and lets his hockey guy do what he does. He doesn't talk out of turn in the media, making all kinds of ridiculous statements and predictions about things he has no clue about. He owns the team, and he lets the people he's hired to run it, run it. Genius, right?!