Getting to Know our New Division Rivals: Florida Panthers

With realignment an eventuality now, it's time that we start focusing on new rivalries-to-be and old rivalries-to-be-renewed. We're reaching out to the fans who know the teams best to get to know more about them and what to expect.

The Team: Florida Panthers

The Blog: Litterbox Cats

The Head-to-Head Record (W-L-T): 14-4-5

The Last Meeting: April 1st, 2012 @DET (2-1 SOW)

The Brief History: The Wings and Panthers have so far been nearly total strangers. In the 20 years (not seasons), the two teams have only met 19 times. With Florida being an expansion team and Detroit having not missed the playoffs for that franchise's entire existence, the lifetime series between these two teams has gone about as expected. Detroit has consistently beaten the Panthers, having not lost in regulation to them since 1996.

Although there's not much direct history, there's some interesting player overlaps. Former Wing Tomas Kopecky now plays in Florida while former Panther (who was a former Wing) Mikael Samuelsson is back in Detroit. Tomas Fleischmann, one of Florida's best players was a Red Wings' draft pick who left the organization in the Robert Lang trade. Meanwhile, Shawn Matthias has been with the Panthers since the Wings traded him there for Todd Bertuzz in February 2007.

Getting to know you: Continuing our series on our new Division rivals, we've got John Beatty from Litter Box Cats to introduce us to the Panthers and their fans. We asked the same five questions which should help acquaint us with their fans. Also, if we're going to be conversing with them, we might want to take heed of their community guidelines. They're good folks.

1. First off, tell us the most important things we need to know about your team.
The most obvious thing is that the team actually has passionate fans who both know and care about hockey. This gets lost a lot. The most important single thing is that after ten years of incredibly poor management, the team is finally undergoing the rebuild that it needed for a long time. The basic story is that Wayne Huizenga was awarded the original franchise, and under his ownership the Panthers were the most successful expansion franchise, setting a league record in their first year and making the Stanley Cup finals in their third season. A few years later, he sold the team to Alan Cohen and the long years of bad management started.

Basically, Cohen was a genius in the pharmaceutical business, but was too much of a hockey fan and not enough of a good sports businessman to make good decisions. That Jacques Martin was GM/Coach for three seasons should say it all, but it is probably worth mentioning that between 2001 and 2011 there were five head coaches and five general managers. Eventually, Cohen turned his majority share over to Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel, and they hired Dale Tallon to run the hockey side. Tallon, at just under three years, is the second longest tenured general manager the team has had, and in that short time has completely restocked the team's prospect pool. That the Panthers, as badly as they're playing right now, have a rookie who is in the race for the Calder Trophy, is huge. Panthers fans are used to the team bringing in on-the-decline players like Cory Stillman, Gary Roberts and Ed Belfour and attempting to sell them to the fanbase as the way the team will finally make the playoffs.

2. Who on your team are we going to hate the most?
Erik Gudbranson. He's only in his second season and is still developing as an NHL player, but he's starting to show some similarity to one of his hockey idols: Chris Pronger. He still makes mistakes, but he's when he's on, he makes the Panthers harder to play. He's also starting to show a bit of a mean streak. Of all the players on the team, he's the one who shows the signs of being the kind of player that other teams are going to hate.

3. Why should the Wings fear you?
The Chicago Blackhawks. One of the men who built that team is the one running the show in Florida now. On top of Tallon's knowledge of hockey talent, his assistant, former Nashville Predators Assistant General Manager Mike Santos, is running the business side of hockey operations. Santos negotiates all of the contracts and deals with that end of things. Between the two of them, they're doing a good job of running a solid team on a budget.

4. What do you fear most about the Wings?
In all honesty, it's the extra home games against another opponent who has a huge road presence. We'll be losing tough home games against the Rangers and Flyers each season, but the Wings crowd is probably rougher. Besides that, no matter who is on the team, it's a well-run machine. Maybe the team is having a rough season with Lidstrom retiring and Datsyuk and Zetterberg getting older, but I can't imagine it's more than a blip.

5. What about the rest of our new division will our fanbases have no problem agreeing on?
I think we can all agree on hating the Bruins.

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