The general consensus is there are two teams who will be most negatively affected by a prolonged NHL lockout: The Los Angeles Kings and Florida Panthers.
The Kings successful run to their first Stanley Cup championship in their 45-year history captivated Southern California and a lengthy wait to raise that banner could affect their ability to capitalize on the moment.
In South Florida, the Panthers were retaking their spot in the marketplace. After a decade of futility and turnover, the Panthers are trending north and fans are taking notice.
At midnight on Sunday, however, the NHL put those plans on hold for a while by locking out its players for the third time since 1994. The last time there was a lockout, the entire 2004-05 season was lost and the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to build on its Stanley Cup win in 2004.
The Panthers might not have won it all like their in-state rivals, but there is definitely excitement surrounding this Florida team. Last year the Panthers won their first division title in franchise history and took the eventual Eastern Conference-champion Devils to seven games in the opening round of the playoffs.
Florida helped itself last year by getting off to a good start as the Heat were locked out and the Dolphins and Hurricanes struggled. The Heat, the defending NBA champs, are back next month.
Any concern the Panthers will lose the momentum they gained? Oh yeah.
We had a fun team to watch, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said last week. Anytime you are dealing with professional sports, its hard for most people to see the logic in these kind of negotiations. Were no different from the fans management, players, coaches. We have a great passion for the game, we care for the game. We want to keep stoking the fire and the enthusiasm we had for this team.
Said goalie Jose Theodore: We did accomplish a lot of things as a team. We did some things people didnt expect. We know what our potential is. We cant take a step back. Teams will be ready for us, but we know what we can do. We want to take things to the next level.
In 2004-05, the battle with the players was systematic; the league argued that a salary cap was needed so small-market (and non-traditional market teams like Florida and Tampa Bay) could compete with the heavies. A salary cap was instituted and salaries rose.
The Panthers, a franchise which operates in the red, could actually be helped financially by a short-term work stoppage.
If the lockout wiped out the opening month, the Panthers would lose just three home games and would save big bucks by not paying salary nor paying for a long-scheduled road trip Long Island, Winnipeg and Minnesota.
October is traditionally a tough sell for NHL teams around the league especially in Florida.
Although Opening Night against the Lightning on Oct. 13 is expected to be a sellout, the Panthers would struggle to fill their cavernous arena against the New York Islanders, Columbus, Winnipeg and Ottawa in October/early November.
An NHL return by November would work out pretty good for the Panthers since that is the time of year when their attendance begins an upward trend.
Snowbirds usually bring better crowds in Sunrise and the Panthers have their annual Thanksgiving-week homestand stacked with traditional draws the Rangers, Red Wings, Capitals and Flyers.