Noticed during my travels throughout Palm Beach County this afternoon that I felt an awkward sense of...something. Difficult to nail down; began to become aware of a slightly elevated heart rate coupled with a feeling that dictated an aspect of the day was askew. Like pulling up to the arrivals lane at an airport and just knowing you forgot to pack an important item.
And so it was I eventually realized what the issue knawing at the rear of my skull represented: massive, earth-shaking changes are on the visible horizon for the Florida Panthers. Stage One sets sail this week - perhaps in mere hours - as Cats GM Dale Tallon will attempt an unprecedented franchise-wide surgical strike to rid the "body" of choked arteries, terminal osteoporosis, and weakened heart drawing its final beats through a machine which has endured a decade lacking of even the most simplistic maintenance.
While the idea of a colossal organizational "re-do" is nothing novel in professional sports, it is new to the Panthers, and by extension the fans.
We'll not use this space to rip into the past: the failures of former players, owners, and management types have all been chronicled in many ways, fairly and otherwise, on dozens of occassions across every corner of the internet. What is unique about this very moment in time in June, 2010 is what it does not represent, and that is what's come before. Since the moment Tallon was introduced - and bear in mind nothing has been done publicly yet - did you get the feeling that somehow the Florida organization were instantly, magically, propelled into a higher orbit? The word "respect" began to pop up with regularity throughout the media.
It would be close to an impossibility to describe the feelings and weight such a word carries, especially when spoken 'round these here parts. Let's face it: Panthers fans have been tied to whipping posts for the heavier part of a generation. "Respect" - despite the efforts of many talents and strategies - has been nonexistent in Sunrise. But now? Previously ridiculous thoughts which could well land a fan within padded walls suddenly seem less certifiably insane. And it all begins with the "R" word. Success on - and off - the ice won't happen overnight, but the cliched light down that long, frightening tunnel is no longer the AutoTrain.
Back to the moment. This week will open the veil on Tallon's Grand Plans for the future of the Cats. We've all gotten intimate with the numerous Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss (...and Tomas Vokoun, and Rostislav Olesz., and ...) trade rumors, become involved in the workings of the Entry Draft and it's prospects - some fans for the first time, and volleyed opinions as to whether July 1st will be a quiet or hectic opening of free agency season for the Panthers. I'm guessing quiet, but that opinion lends itself perfectly to the X-Factor aspect of this summer. We just don't know.
And so we hang, perhaps hitting the refresh button on our favorite news outlets a bit quicker than normal this week. It's at times frenetic, others frustrating...a hurry-up-and-wait pressure cooker for fans. And in Florida this year, that's a wonderful thing.