The Florida Panthers are “in a better spot than at any point in their 30-year history” on the “heels of a three seasons of upheaval,” according to David Wilson of the MIAMI HERALD. In the past three years alone, the Panthers have hired a new GM, a new coach and traded All-Star C Jonathan Huberdeau. However, owner Vinnie Viola said, “Generally, it seems like we’re on a stable route to excellence.” Viola believes that the path “started about five years ago when his ownership ‘redoubled’ on its commitment to winning after a ‘critical and honest’ assessment of how the first five years went.” Wilson wrote the “evidence is in the on-ice results,” but Viola sees it “more in the connection the Panthers have built with South Florida in the past few years.” The Panthers had the “third-best average attendance in franchise history in the regular season” and it “bumped up by nearly 2,000 fans per game from their Presidents’ Trophy-winning campaign last year.” Viola said that it has been a “process for Florida to build trust.” Wilson noted Viola points to the team’s “plans to revitalize” War Memorial Auditorium and turn it into a practice facility as “one major change.” It “fits in with the 10-year vision the Panthers have had, spearheaded especially by President Matt Caldwell,” to build an “on-the-ground connection to the community through learn-to-play programs and youth leagues.”
The Panthers already own a 1-0 series advantage over the Toronto Maple Leafs in round two and Caldwell’s work in the front office is surely paying dividends. His duties include taking on the arduous tasks of marketing and budgeting the team’s finances an important and intricate role in a salary capped sport.
In 2020, he recognized the club’s need to retool and hinted at the next steps.
“The hockey side has been tough, the last three seasons we’ve kind of been a bubble team,” Caldwell told the Advance at the time. “The next phase is trying to be Stanley Cup champions.”
At the time of his hiring in 2016, Caldwell was the NHL’s youngest CEO. His path to the league was an unlikely one, given his limited hockey background.
He graduated from West Point and served five years in the military. He later earned his MBA and law degrees from Northwestern before working on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs where he first linked up with Panthers’ owner Vincent Viola, who was a client.
But Caldwell wasn’t always all business. He grew up a New York Rangers fan and was Sea’s starting quarterback for three seasons.
“We came to Boston with the full idea we were going to win that game and that we were going to move on,’’ said Maurice, whose Panthers took a 1-0 playoff series lead for the first time since beating the New York Rangers in 1997.
Carter Verhaeghe’s slick move to break in on Ilya Samsonov was a rare stylistic play — and it turned into the game-winning goal with 2:13 left in the second.
After that, Toronto did not have a lot of clean looks until a desperate push in the final minutes where the talented Leafs threw everything they had at Sergei Bobrovsky.
For all the grief Maurice got from fans and media earlier in the season regarding his comments that Florida’s game needed to change to succeed in the playoffs, well, this is what he meant.
The Panthers play a much heavier game now, they take away space and speed from their opponents. Toronto’s two goals came on mistakes by the Panthers. They do tend to make those from time to time.
To be more precise, however, the X-factor of the series will be determined by the penalties assessed throughout the series, and I will say this series is far from over.
Most importantly, this has a chance to be a high-scoring series, but close contests are what the Toronto Maple Leafs should play even if the players feel good about their gameplay and start to score a lot of goals.
After observing the first game of the second-round series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers, it is evident both teams want to set the tone early in the contests, by being aggressive with their respective forechecks and playing excellent defense at both ends of the ice.
“Yeah, it is getting frustrating,” Keefe said after an optional practice Wednesday. “It is a League-wide trend, but it doesn’t make you feel any better about it. You’re still trying to get it right. It should be a tough place for teams to play and we should be better. We should have more life and more energy, all those kinds of things and we just haven’t had that. But it is certainly a topic around here in terms of handling that better.”
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