The third NHL work stoppage since the Panthers came into existence in 1993 started Sept. 16 and didn’t officially end until late last Saturday night when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed by players and owners.
Among the highlights of the deal was a 50-50 split of revenue between the teams and players. For the Panthers, a new revenue-sharing package — as well as a lower salary cap as the deal moves forward — should help the team become more economically viable.
During the lengthy negotiations, the players and the NHL stressed that having 30 healthy organizations — and not just 10 or 12 — was best for all parties.
So even though the Panthers don’t pull in major dollars with local TV and radio deals, they will continue to get financial help from big-market and Canadian teams that do.
Are the Panthers better off today than they were before the new CBA?
“Certainly that was the intention. And, yes, I think they will be,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.
“One of the primary objectives of these negotiations was to create an agreement that worked better for more teams. It will help our lower-revenue markets become high-revenue markets. We certainly are bullish on the Panthers’ ability to do that in South Florida.”
The owners pushed for a long-term deal with their players, something Yormark stressed was important for his work in marketing the Panthers. The two sides finally agreed to a 10-year pact that the owners can back out of in the eighth year. The players can end it in the ninth.
“We have to get our fans to fall back in love with us, to feel there is stability with our sport,” Yormark said. “The stability of a 10-year deal means we are able to go into the community and tell them they can love us and follow us because we have labor peace for the next decade. That’s huge.”
Pierre LeBrun covered the lockout for ESPN and Canada’s TSN and has seen the enthusiasm for the return of hockey as displayed in South Florida.
LeBrun warns, however, that while diehard hockey fans have run back to the game, casual fans who have been watching more basketball during the lockout might be harder to drag back to the game.
“So far you see lots of open practices, buildings filled with fans,’’ LeBrun said from Montreal, where he’s set to cover the Canadiens’ opener against Toronto.
“I’m interested in seeing what happens after this initial excitement wears down. I just think this is too early to judge. There are a lot of casual fans who were giving hockey a look and didn’t understand why there wasn’t a season. They moved on, spent their NHL money elsewhere. They may be lost for awhile.’’
The Panthers had missed the postseason an NHL-record 10 consecutive seasons over 11 years before last season. Apathy became part of the franchise fabric.
“It had been 11 years,” Viner said earlier this week. “We weren’t really relevant in the sports market here anymore. We had to prove we were making the right changes to the organization — both on and off the ice.”
In 2010, Viner had seen enough. He brought in Dale Tallon, the architect of Chicago’s Stanley Cup champion, to turn things around.
By the spring of 2012, the Panthers were back in the playoffs.
Fans packed the arena for the playoff series against the Devils, with the opening round going the maximum seven games. New Jersey finally knocked off the host Panthers 3-2 in the second overtime of that Game 7 on April 29.
“Part of their plan all along, the missing piece, was the performance on ice,’’ Daly said. “… The team having success and the fans responding verified what they were telling us: ‘If we can be competitive, this marketplace will respond.’ We are very happy.”
Said Viner: “This showed people we were doing things right.”
And now the Panthers go into a new season with high hopes. Florida is a target now as the team will hoist its first division championship banner in its history Saturday night in Sunrise.
Carolina, the opponent, has geared up for a run at the Panthers and is one of the favorites to knock Florida off its perch.
“At the end, it’s what you see on the ice,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “We play an entertaining game; we’re easy to like. I think the fans were really connected with us last year. Winning makes a big difference.”