The Icarus Problem Continues: The Florida Panthers and recent Free Agent Moves

 There has been a lot to get excited for in the past little while with the Florida Panthers; a new coach, a great looking red jersey, a solid draft--things were looking up... and then the team took a very active approach when it came to the "free-agent frenzy" at the start of July and potentially ruined it all by falling down the same path of instantaneous gratification that has been the pitfall of this organization's rebuilding processes for over 10 years now. As exciting as it was to see the team being so pro-active, the rebuild was short-changed for the immediacy and history seems to have repeated itself with another Icarus; to put it bluntly the 2011 off-season can best be described as, the same (expletive), different pile--and we're applauding.

In Greek mythology, Icarus (the Latin spelling, conventionally adopted in English; Greek: Ἴκαρος, Íkaros, Etruscan: Vikare[1]) is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus. The main story told about Icarus is his attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. He ignored instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall to his death. The myth shares thematic similarities with that of Phaëton — both are usually taken as tragic examples of hubris or failed ambition — and is often depicted in art.

 

 From Wikipedia.

 The Florida Panthers and their managing parties are the new age version of Icarus; hubris and failed ambition at it's finest. Let us hope that changes.

 

 

 Much of the hockey world is split on the extravaganza that saw Panthers General Manager, Dale Tallon adding 10 new faces to the Panthers lineup by both trade and Free-Agency--For every positive review, there's a negative (to quote a member of the LBC community, Hater's gonna hate) which makes sense as it's all prognostication and opinion right now, so no one is wrong and no one is right--and nothing will be settled until the puck hits the ice this fall (or even a few years down the road when you consider contract lengths).

 In saying that though, one can't help but notice how the Panthers continually seem to follow the same championship building processes every few years regardless if it's Rick Dudley, Jacques Martin or the new "architect" Dale Tallon--start rebuilding (read: sucking), get a few good prospects from the draft, develop those prospects and at the first sight of progress abandon the plan by spending large sacks of money (within the self-imposed cap, this is not a cap team!) on free agents signed to long term deals and take a stab at Stanley; Panthers fans have endured 2, 3 maybe even 4 of these over the past 10 years depending on your definition of a rebuild--and none of them have even remotely panned out.

 It was clearly understood that the Panthers had to reach the salary cap floor--this was no secret, and everyone knew the Panthers had to spend money--but did they have to do it so frivolously and without regard for the future? Some people believe in order to attract top level talent to South Florida you have to overpay--but here's the thing, they didn't go after a superstar player--they went after the same type of players they normally attract, wayward veterans and mystified youth, with no stars according to Assistant GM Mike Santos to be seen, "I don't think what we did today was add any type of a superstar player"--they just had to sign a lot more dotted lines than they usually do because of the cap freedom Dale had created, it's the exact same off-season we've always seen just on a larger scale.

 It's perhaps the worst possible time to have all this cap freedom with the CBA set to expire, and this in itself further creates a dangerous potential when it comes to some of these signings. Campbell's deal might be a bit daunting now, but what if the cap is decreased next season? You might be able to argue for some of these contracts today but the future is considerably grim on an economic front, especially considering all the mad spending sprees "self-imposed" cap teams had to have to reach the cap floor.

 For every Fleischmann, Campbell and Theodore I see a Zednik, McCabe, and Belfour--the names might be different, but from a impact point of view these players all are very similar, and a reminder that for every exciting off-season, there's a possibility of impending hardship. Now don't get me wrong, these players past, present, and future have become fan favourites and often have been the few bright spots to cheer for when watching a Panthers season, but the fact remains the same, this plan has not helped the Panthers rid themselves of their 10 year playoff drought--so why will it suddenly work now? And I think this is precisely why Tomas Vokoun bid farewell from the organization--he saw the similarities, and he didn't want to endure this all over again after essentially being the catalyst for fast-tracking the last rebuild.

 Hasn't it been a running joke around the hockey world for quite some time now, that the Panthers are the Del Boca Vista of the NHL? I mean there was precedence to Jay Mohr's NHL Awards Panthers ribbing--I thought Panthers fans were enraged with the constant love affair this team has with veterans on the last leg of their career? So why the hope with Jovanovski, Theodore, or Bradley? How is this season any different from the last 10 when the team signs Jovo-cop to a 4 year deal? I don't think anyone discredits Ed's ability to bring leadership to the room and on the ice he's a formidable top 4 dman still-- but as many have brought up in discussion, a 4 year deal of this magnitude to a 35 year old can be very haunting and to drive this home, it's the term that scares a lot of analysts when looking at these deals. Think of this, Bryan Allen and his oh so terrible contract we escaped from, had a $2.9 million cap hit (1.225 less than Jovo's), is 5 years younger, and had almost identical numbers to Ed's last season with the Panthers--doesn't it seem like the team got rid of one problem, only to get a bigger one? But at least Jovo-cop is a fan favourite, so he's got that going for him. 1 Step forward, 2 steps back.

 Every time the organization starts to turnaround, and the future looks bright, someone gets the bright idea to speed things up and harm the long term growth of the club--and don't get me wrong, these new additions aren't in question as individuals, they're fine players, and many have shown they have the ability to be part of a winning franchise--it's just as a whole, compiled with their inflated contracts both in term and dollars there is a lot to be worried about when it comes to the future. Not only did Tallon and company lock up a lot of mediocre players long-term to what many are calling "crazy money", he's essentially locked out some of his more promising and ready prospects from competing and gaining experience at the NHL level to ready themselves for when the Panthers would be ready to challenge for Lord Stanley...Remember Santos and Tallon had called this a 3-4 year process in their own right--that the reason they were dealing away Nathan Horton, Bryan McCabe, and the plethora of other fan favourites was to make room for the new bloods, the young bloods who'd wait in the wings for their crowns and kingdom. Right now it seems like the team just swapped out a pair of their semi-used batteries for their remote control for a couple of other semi-used ones they found in their Wii controller that they never use; in the end it's band-aid solution rather than a full repair of the problem.

 When you look at this team pre-Tallon, from every intricate point of the organization, very little looks changed--sure the names on the backs of jerseys are different and the pipeline looks a lot fuller, but that could have just as easily happened (and to a point was when you consider the Cats allowed themselves good drafting position even before Tallon was hired) without the mass exodus--there were already considerable pieces in place with Dadonov, Ellerby, Kulikov, Repik, Alexabder Salak, Jacob Markstrom and Drew Shore to name a few. As amazing as it is to see all the new faces in a Cats uniform, does this team really look better? Sure there was mostly only room to improve, and they certainly did improve from where they were at seasons end but in the big picture of Tallon's reign, how is this team that is shaking up any different from those Panthers teams we've seen in the recent past? This seems more like the Panthers team we were accustomed to with Martin at the helm where we'd vie for mediocrity and a chance at a playoff spot rather than hoisting the Cup--and I thought that is what this was about, that's what the last 2 years were for--not to re-assemble a crack team of free agents to formulate the NHL's 17th ranked "A-team", but right now that seems lost.

 It would have been nice to see this rebuild finally done the right way--I thought that's what Tallon was trying to do, and it's what got him the respect and adoration of many fans, but he's simply doing the same thing that's been done before, but with his stamp on it--the stamp that says, I built a winner so follow me to the ends of the earth. The thing is though, as much as we want to see Chicago Blackhawks 2.0 here, this is not Chicago, this is a different situation, a different market, and a different team. As great as it would be to rekindle the magic he helped create in the windy city, he's going to have to do things differently and he's going to have to start learning from the mistakes of his predecessors, not continue to carry them out without realizing their follies. You can't fly into the sun with wax wings, and you can't chase a cup with the same plan this team has been using for 10 years. As much as the organization has tried to rebrand things, these are still wax wings we float on.

 "We've got a lot of work to do still, We're not anywhere near where we need to be, but thank God we're not where we used to be." -- Dale Tallon after the Frenzy.

 

So if it's the same story over and over again, why is it that Panther Fans continually get excited with every off-season? Hope. Hope that this will be the year that things are different, that this is the year the great ambition of the organization pays off and the jokes will end--that the minds of the present learn from those of the past, and that this team one day raises the cup over South Florida. In a way we the fans are Icarus, we're the ones compiling dream rosters, and prognosticating outlandish things--it's our ambition that flaps the wings...and we keep flapping and moving towards the sun no matter how many times we've fallen to the sea--and we'll continue to do so.

Hopefully this spending spree pays off for Dale, the Panthers, and the Fans who've toiled in the trenches for so long, maybe it'll work this time--who know's, time can only tell, I only hope that for this trip to the sun our wax wings stay intact.

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