April 1, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA;Florida Panthers center Marcel Goc (57) and Florida Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski (55) reach for the puck at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Getting To Know The Red Wings New Conference: Florida Panthers

When the Red Wings move to the Eastern Conference next season they will find themselves in familiar, but unfamiliar territory. Some fans remember when the Wings would play against Toronto, Montreal, and Boston in the original six days, but those days are no more. The new Red Wings and their fans will have to adjust to the new conference and teams.

Patrick McGrath (PM) from The Rat Trick was gracious enough to answer a few question about the Panthers and our new conference.

What is something Red Wing fans need to know about the Panthers and their fans?

PM: The number one thing to know about the Panthers is that their franchise and fan base has endured a tortured history. In every way that the Red Wings are a successful model franchise with a rich history i.e. original six team, 11 Stanley Cups, 21 straight playoff appearances, the Panthers are the exact opposite. Beginning play during the 1993-94 season, the Panthers have 0 Stanley Cups (they were swept by Colorado in their only appearance) 1 division championship (2011-12) and prior to that division championship last year the Panthers had endured a 10-year playoff drought.

Red Wings fans can expect the vitriol from Panther fans to be high from the get go if for no reason other than Panther fans are jealous of the enormous success the Red Wings have enjoyed throughout their history.

The Red Wings are the older brother who got straight A’s through high school, graduated from an Ivy League college became a brain surgeon, married a model and in his free time invented peanut free peanut butter thus becoming a hero in the peanut allergy community. Meanwhile the Panthers are the troubled younger brother who was kicked out of high school never stepped foot in a University and now works at a gas station and runs a WNBA sports book on the side to make ends meet.

Needless to say the tortured little brother Panthers will relish any opportunity to knock off the wildly successful Red Wings.

Me: I guess that is why Panther fans tried to copy the Wings octopus throwing by tossing rats onto the ice.

Which Red Wing player are Panther fans most afraid of playing against next season?

PM: I would say Pavel Datsyuk but I think I speak for most Panther fans when I say our fear of Datsyuk will take a backseat to our excitement at the prospect of watching Datsyuk’s poetry in motion style of play.

I think the Wings goalie Jimmy Howard deserves the distinction of player that Panther fans are most afraid of.  The Panthers have notoriously struggled to put the puck in the back of the net so the addition to the schedule of a goalie of Howard’s caliber is enough to set Panther fans’ nerves on edge.

Me: Howard can certainly take over a game and with his new 6 year contract Florida will be seeing a lot of him.

Which player from the Panthers should Red Wing fans fear?

PM: This one is easy. Mark my words when I say, Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers 19 year old rookie phenom, will be the bane of Red Wings fans for years to come.

Forgive me in advance if I get a bit too giddy talking about Huberdeau, the Panthers have not had a homegrown player that generates as much excitement as Huberdeau in their entire franchise history.

Huberdeau has more than impressed in his rookie season. At the time of this writing, Huberdeau has 13 goals and 12 assists. His 25 points lead the Panthers and all NHL rookies. His 13 goals are tops among rookies as are his 99 shots. He has also displayed nasty skills in the shootout. He is 4-6 on the year in shootout attempts, including the two penalty shot goals he has scored on his two chances.

Huberdeau has the makings of a future scoring monster and he is far and away the Panther player that Red Wings fans should fear.

Me: Huberdeau does scare me, but I believe either Zetterberg or Datsyuk would be able to cancel him out fairly easy.

Stephen Weiss was rumored to be a deadline trade until he was injured; do you expect him to be re-signed or let go in the offseason?

PM: Had Weiss not been injured this season I am 95% sure he would have been moved at the deadline. With that in mind, I would expect that the Panthers will not re-sign him in the offseason.

Weiss made 4.1 million this season according to capgeek.com and he will likely demand a multi-year salary at a similar price. At 30 years of age, Weiss is not the type of player Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon will want to commit to a multi-year deal.

The Panthers have a parade of young talented forwards coming through their system and the team will probably elect to go with one of these cheaper high potential players rather than spend a roster slot on Weiss.

Weiss himself has even acknowledged that his time in Florida may be done. On the prospect of this season’s injury marking the end of his Panther career, Weiss had this to say: “It’s definitely not the way I would have written it. It kind of burns at me that this is the way I could be going out.”

Weiss is fan favorite and a career long Panther. It will be sad to see him go but ultimately it is time for both parties to move on.

Me: It is unfortunate that Weiss is hurt because he could have brought picks or prospects to Florida at the trade deadline.

What will it be like having four of the original six teams in the conference?

PM: The Florida Panthers are just a baby compared to the original six teams. I think the Panthers will benefit greatly from being in a conference with such history. Developing rivalries with such storied franchises as the Red Wings, Bruins, Maple Leafs and Canadiens can only enrich the Panthers’ own history.

From a fan standpoint, it should be interesting. The original six franchises have had plenty of time to build strong and varied fan bases. A lot of these fans have located to South Florida, and they make their presence felt whenever their team comes to town. We see it every year with the Bruins, Leafs and Canadiens. Panther home games begin to feel more like road games, and while it is sometimes a subject of contention (it hurts when the cheers are louder for away team’s goals than Panther goals) there is no denying that games against original six teams are strong draws.

I think the NHL is subscribing to the “a rising tide lifts all ships” theory with their placement of the two Florida teams in a conference with teams like the Red Wings, Bruins etc. The Panthers should see a strong attendance boost next year and even if those new fans are rooting for the away team, they still have to buy a ticket.

Me: I hope neither the Panther or Lightning feel overwhelmed by the rest of the conference and continue to develop into the quality teams that their fan bases deserve.

A big thank you to Patrick over at The Rat Trick for answering these questions and helping us transition to life in the Eastern Conference. Be sure to check them out and we look forward to seeing you next season in Florida.

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