The Florida Panthers have not been one of the NHL’s or the world of sports’ shining example of success. Yet, like most sports teams, save for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, they look for any reason to hang another banner or flag to recognize a significant achievement. The rafters of the BB&T Center are pretty barren however, despite having had a good head start for a franchise back in the Miami Arena. Nonetheless, I will explore and analyze the history of the Panthers and the BB&T Center’s banners. There will also be a few suggestions that I feel should be considered regarding the banners in the rafters.
The first-ever banner the Florida Panthers hung came in 1994-95, their second year as a franchise, at the Miami Arena. The Cats had finished their inaugural season just one point short of a playoff spot while shattering many records for a first-year NHL expansion franchise. This banner was adorned with the Panthers inaugural season logo, their points and win totals from 1993-94 and proclaimed that team the most successful first year team in NHL history. This banner would hang in the Miami Arena and be moved to the BB&T Center where it hung until the 2013 lockout-shortened season. More on why it was taken down further down.
The next Panthers banner was their best looking one and it celebrated the crowning achievement of the best squad in franchise history. The 1995-96 Panthers had a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals in a season that defined the direction of the franchise and still affects them to this day. Despite the fact the team fell short of realizing the dream, that season paved the way for the Panthers to find their own home in South Florida and is responsible for the team’s only tradition with their fans, the Rat Trick. The Eastern Conference Championship banner was extravagant, as far as banners in any sport are concerned, as it featured the Panthers logo (just the upper torso portion) in gold, and cut in the shape of the cat, claw and all, with a navy blue background and the Prince of Wales Trophy. This banner would also hang prominently in the Miami Arena in 1997 and follow the Cats to Sunrise, though it too would meet its demise by 2013.
The next banner hung would come in the Panthers' new home in Sunrise, Broward County, Florida. The brand new arena was labeled the National Car Rental Center and opened not to a Panthers game but to a concert by Celine Dion. To commemorate this moment, the team, which now had full control of operations in their new home as compared to the Miami Arena, decided to hang a Celine banner. It is not uncommon for some arenas to hang banners to honor certain concerts or performance artists, but the Celine banner was always seen as an embarrassing thing to have, especially in the next decade-plus years when the Panthers were not able to hang much of anything in their new home’s rafters. Thankfully, it too met its demise in the 2013 season.
One of the perks of being the only tenant in what is now the BB&T Center is that the Panthers could hang the banners featuring the logos of every team in the league to align one or both sides of the arena. The Panthers for years, until I believe about the 2005 lockout, had the banners of all the NHL teams in the rafters. However, when the banners vanished it seemed the feeling of the BB&T Center as a hockey arena vanished along with them. Sunrise Sports and Entertainment (SSE), the umbrella company that owns the Arena Operating Company (AOC), the Florida Panthers and their practice facility in Coral Springs, began to shift focus to giving their non-hockey events priority over the NHL franchise. The Panthers carousel of personnel changes, which yielded mediocre hockey and no foundation to build on for the future, would leave the Cats wallowing in the league basement and afford them no chance to hang anything in the rafters based on team merit. The only evidence that remains of the NHL team logos are the NHL shield logo banner and the Eastern Conference logo banner.
The Florida Panthers would play host to two of the NHL’s premiere events, the 2001 NHL Entry Draft and the 2003 NHL All Star Game festivities. The Panthers would subsequently hang two banners to commemorate these events. Both feature the logos of these events along with the date they took place. The All Star Game banner would also feature a Panthers upper torso logo with a Sun behind it on the bottom.
At some point after the Panthers named their practice facility in Coral Springs the Saveology.com Iceplex a banner featuring the facility’s logo hung on the side of the arena that features the American, Canadian, and Floridian flags.
Finally, in 2010, the Panthers decided to honor Bill Torrey, the team’s original president who is still involved with the club in some capacity, with a banner. Honoring individuals that were not players with a banner is not unprecedented. In fact, Torrey is already honored in the rafters of the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum as "The Architect" of the Islanders’ early 1980s dynasty. The banner in Uniondale includes a bow tie, which is Torrey’s signature. The Panthers did something different, and retired the number 93 in honor of the Panthers’ establishment year. The banner that originally hung was similar to Eastern Conference banner only in a red background with team colored trim. This original banner would not last long, as it too was replaced in 2013.
When the Florida Panthers surprised everyone, even themselves, by winning the NHL Southeast Division for first time, it marked a renewed fervor for hockey in South Florida and quenched the thirst of long-suffering Cats fans that wanted something meaningful to hang in the rafters for once in the "new" arena. The Panthers would greet fans on opening night in January 2013 following the 2012 NHL Lockout with several changes to the rafters. The Celine banner was mercifully removed, but so too was the Inaugural season banner, the original Eastern Conference banner and the original Torrey 93 banner. In the place of the Eastern Conference and Torrey 93 were more generic and uniform looking versions of those banners to match the look of the new Southeast Division Championship banner. This line of banners now featured a red background with blue and yellow-gold trim, the Panthers logo above and a white and bold typeface. That same night the Panthers also unveiled a "7th Man" banner to honor their fans as a gesture to soften the blow of the 2012 NHL Lockout.
Now many of this site's more active members and fans have been very vocal about what should and should not go into the BB&T Center’s rafters. I would like to offer my take on what the Panthers organization should do to liven up the BB&T for the faithful: return the original Eastern Conference Championship Banner to the rafters.
1. Bring back the original banners
I get the idea of having a uniform look to all your banners as many teams have done the same, yet there was something very unique to the Panthers’ original ECC banner, and that is the way it was cut on the bottom. The Panther logo is very bold and in your face as it is, which has helped it withstand the test of time. The Torrey banner following suit also helped. Why the Southeast Division Championship banner could not follow the same pattern is strange (I suspect cost had something to do with it). Team banners being all the same and generic makes their crowning achievements look lackluster. If you have seen the look of the New Jersey Devils banners you can see what I am getting it. Something akin to the Miami Heat’s banner situation would have been a better way to go. Each level of team achievement has a slightly different look. In any case, that Panther logo flanking the bottom of the banner is definitely more eye-catching and I know I am not alone in saying that it is better than the current banner style introduced in 2013.
2. Un-retire Number 93
2010 was definitely a year of desperation. The Panthers had been shanked out of a playoff spot the previous season and were riding a decade-long wave of futility. Not many players of significance had stayed long enough with the organization to warrant number retirement based on tenure. Bill Torrey does deserve to be honored by the team as he helped in the club’s founding and has remained by their side ever since. However, it would have been just as memorable and sufficient to do what the New York Islanders did and honor him with a bow tie, or just his title and years of service like other professional sports teams do for non-player personnel. Retiring number 93 just for the sake of having a retired number is coming across as desperate. That is a perception that this team does not need.
3. Remove the 7th Man banner
Speaking of desperation. Look, I understand that the lockout left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, but there is something about that 7th Man banner that does not feel genuine. I do not feel much of anything for it as a fan. My belief is that the fans should be honored through the actions of the organization. The 7th man just comes across as cheesy and phony when I know it was only placed up there as a gesture to make up for the lockout. It is also a relic of the previous managements’ tactics of putting up a front of respecting the fans yet disrespecting them at the same time. The Viola/Cifu ownership group would best try to distance itself from that era of management.
4. Get those 30 NHL team logo banners back up there
The NHL team logo banners would mark a return of the BB&T Center being known as a hockey arena, not a concert facility that has the capability to host hockey.
5. Honor the other Olympians in team history
The gesture made towards Barkov and Kopecky by honoring them with banners for reaching the Olympics is not unprecedented in sports. In both the NHL and NBA, teams have honored their Olympians. That is why the Panthers should honor players of the past that also suited up for their country while playing for them. It would also help to denote some players with a symbol of bronze, silver or gold if they were able to win a medal. They would need nine more banners for Roberto Luongo (Canada, 2006), Jay Bouwmeester (Canada, 2006) Olli Jokinen (Finland, 2006, silver), Pavel Bure (Russia, 2002, bronze), Valeri Bure (Russia, 2002, bronze) Niklas Hagman (Finland, 2002), Jokinen (Finland, 2002), John Vanbiesbrouck (USA, 1998) and Robert Svehla (Slovakia, 1998).
6. Retire Number 34
From what I have gathered it seems there are two factions of Panthers fans. Those that want to see Vanbiesbrouck’s number 34 retired and those that do not. Those that do not levy reasons such as his limited time in the Panthers uniform, statistics when compared to other goalies when he was down here, and the fact that he came up short in delivering a championship. However, I am of the notion that Vanbiesbrouck deserves the honor simply because almost all Panthers can agree that he was the most important player in franchise history. If he does not perform the way he did with an expansion franchise made up of unwanted NHL players, rookies, and journeymen then maybe the Panthers do not survive in South Florida. There is a legion of fans that also want to retire Beezer’s number but only after the team wins the Stanley Cup. Either way I believe his career in general should be honored and since it will not happen in New York with the Rangers than it should be with the team that revitalized his career and in turn, the one he helped stay in South Florida. Seriously Nolan Yonkman wore number 34. That's just wrong.
7. Move the banners away from the curtains
This is just an aesthetic criticism that I have noticed while sitting in a couple of sections in the arena. Those curtains that are used to block off and hide sections of the upper deck when the arena is hosting shows are blocking the banners in some fashion. If they could move them in front of those curtains, or in some way so that they are not blocked when viewed from the lower bowl, then it would be better. Just a bit annoying seeing our team’s few achievements being cut off by a rolled up curtain.
Banners are a wonderful thing in sports as fans, players and management love looking out towards them and recalling fond memories of success. For Panthers fans, it is hope the days of multiple banners taking their place in the BB&T Center rafters year after year are coming soon. Just having them will be a delight, but my hope is that they look good and unique too and represent and account for the best in the team rather than serve as acts of desperation, symbols of a lack of commitment to the hockey team or as a weak public relations tool.