Garrett: Is A Cross State Rivalry Lost In The Everglades?

by W.B. Philp | Posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2014

governors-cupWhile reviewing the results of last year’s Lightning season and looking ahead with anticipation at what’s to come this year, it makes you wonder; what game will prove to be the most exciting? Who is the Lightning’s most exciting rival to watch? One could argue Philadelphia because of the playoff history and now Vincent Lecavalier. Of course The Rangers, featuring Martin St. Louis. The Canadiens always have exciting games against the Lightning (last year’s playoffs excluded). All of these potential rivalries and yet the in-state rivalry with the Florida Panthers has never gained any momentum.

The cross state rivalry would be the most natural to take shape. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of watching a “Battle of Alberta” game live knows the intensity the extra rivalry brings. No matter how the teams are playing or where they are in the standings at the time of the contest, both teams bring all they have. Despite entering the league only one year apart, the Bolts have never been able to draw fans based on the fact that the south Florida team was in town.

Both teams have had their ownership issues. Blockbuster Video owner Wayne Huizenga was awarded the Panthers’ franchise for Miami in 1992. It was announced the Panthers would share a facility with the Miami Heat led by a group of business and sales people, who according to Vice President of Business Operations Dean Jordan were a group where “none of the business people, myself included, knew anything about hockey.” Huizenga’s ownership of the Panthers trended in the same direction as the stores he owned and he sold the franchise to an ownership group led by Alan Cohen.

Equally shady was the beginning years of the Tampa Bay Lightning when an ownership group led by Phil Esposito found themselves involved with a group of Japanese businesses headed by Kokusai Green.  Rumors swirled that the Japanese partners used the team for money laundering and were nearly slapped with a lien for $750,000 in back taxes by the IRS. Eventually the Green group was looking to sell, although speculation was rampant that they were over $102 million dollars in debt. Art Williams the new owner of the Lighting would turn them around and point them in the right direction.

Having weathered the bumpy beginnings, both teams have been to the “big dance” in the NHL. The Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996 when the rats rained down. only to be swept aside in four straight games against the Colorado Avalanche. The Lightning were Stanley Cup Champions in 2003-04 when they defeated the Calgary Flames in seven games.

The number of playoff appearances are only the first in the long list of differences between these two franchises. The Panthers have only been to the post season four times in the over 20 years they have been in existence. The Lightning have made it to the big dance seven times.

Governor Rick Scott created the “Governor’s Cup” in 2014 with the hope it would increase the popularity of ice hockey within the state of Florida. The Cup was won by the Lightning and according to sources may not be awarded in the future. Just another failed attempt to create any animosity between these two teams.

The Lightning and the Panthers seem to be heading in opposite directions. The Lightning feature arguably the NHL’s best player with Steven Stamkos, whose name is splashed on basically all of the franchise record book. His name is surrounded by other superstars including Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. The crop of young stars for the Lightning and some promising off season signings have expectations set on the post season.

The Panthers finished 29th out of 30 teams last season and were led by Scottie Upshall and promoted a point’s leader named Nick Bjugstad. The all-time records feature lackluster names such as Robert Svehla for all time points, Viktor Kozlov for assists and David Booth in the top ten in all-time team goals. Wait, lets repeat David Booth in the top ten all-time goals. The only bright spot for the team has been the return of goalie Roberto Luongo and his always entertaining flair on Twitter.

In recent years it seems that the Florida Panthers franchise may be going the same way as the species –endangered and at risk of becoming extinct. The Panthers ranked second to last in attendance for the 2013-2014 season in front of only the always troubled Phoenix franchise. The lowering attendance and constant turnover have done little to entice a cross state rivalry with a team that seems to be heading in the right direction. When it comes to NHL Rivalries, the Sunshine State Rivalry will not appear in any record books, here is to hoping the rivalry with Montreal can gain some velocity.

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W.B. Philp
About the Author

W.B. Philp is the founder and Editor in Chief of the NHLShout Network. He is a longtime sportswriter, grandfather, father, husband, Melrose hater, instigator, agitator and vindicator.

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  1. BigKahuna says:

    I had no idea that the Cup was done. Rivalries need villains and with the rapid player movement in today’s NHL there is no chance to develop animosity. I agree with you that Florida will never be a rival and in fact may well be moved.

  2. ITMAN says:

    There is not enough playoff history with any team to have a true rivalry. That will develop over time. The realignment made it difficult to cultivate rivalries. Good article.

    • Sarah Garrett says:

      I agree that playoffs have a lot to do with the rivalry – but you would hope there would be some state pride on the line or something – but the contests between these two teams are just lack luster!

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