The Florida Panthers will begin celebrating their 20th anniversary season Oct. 3 when Florida kicks off a four-game road trip in Dallas.
Florida will then visit St. Louis, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay before playing their home opener against Pittsburgh on Oct. 11.
The Panthers plan on having a “throwback night” in their home opener as the Penguins, who were Florida’s first opponent at Miami Arena on Oct. 12, 1993. Florida could also have a retro game against Anaheim — which entered the league with the Panthers in 1993.
“I’m happy with the way things played out,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “I love the idea of starting the season on the road. I think it’s a good thing for our team. … There’s a good break between our last preseason game [Sept. 28] and our first regular-season game. Then we get on the road for some quality time together.”
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The new schedule features four divisions instead of six with each team in the league playing each other at least twice — once home and once away.
For the Panthers, the Southeast Division is now a memory. Florida and the cross-state rival Lightning remain together in a new Atlantic Division made up of mostly northeastern teams.
Florida and Tampa Bay will compete against Buffalo, Detroit, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Boston — with 30 of its 82 games this season coming within the division. The Panthers and Lightning were part of the old Atlantic Division when both teams began play.
The Panthers will play other Eastern Conference teams — which now includes Columbus — at least twice this season. Detroit, which the Panthers will play five times, also moves over from the Western Conference.
Florida will play Boston five times, twice at home, with four games against the other five teams within the division.
“We’re positioned with a lot of quality hockey teams,” Dineen said. “I love the idea of playing in Canada. This is our situation, the division we’re in. There will be some real challenges with our travel. But we have some pretty juicy stretches at home we can take advantage of as well.”
This year’s schedule also includes an almost three-week-long break as the NHL shuts down so its players can compete in the Sochi Olympic Games in Russia. Florida visits Carolina on Feb. 7 before resuming Feb. 27 against Washington.
Because of the midseason break, there will be no All-Star weekend. Columbus, which was supposed to hold the All-Star Game last January before it got canceled because of the lockout, is expected to host the event in 2015.
The lengthy travel break will cause teams to have to play a few more back-to-back games. The Panthers will play 14 sets of such games — with only one set coming on consecutive home nights.
A whopping 18 of Florida’s back-to-back games (22 percent of the schedule) will be exclusively road games.
“I come from the American Hockey League where there are a lot of three [games] in three [nights],” Dineen said. “I understand the challenges of back-to-back games.”
Here are some other highlights of Florida’s 2013-14 schedule:
• The longest homestand of the season is six games with Boston, Minnesota, Chicago, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and St. Louis coming to Sunrise from Oct. 17-Nov. 1.
Florida has three homestands consisting of five games each, including one to close out the regular season.
• Florida’s longest road trip will be a eight-day affair as the Panthers visit Minnesota, Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary from Nov. 15-22. The Panthers also have four different four-game trips during the season.
• With the Panthers having to visit all western teams at least once, Florida will have two trips to the west coast. The Panthers first western swing comes in November during the five-game swing. Florida then visits San Jose, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Anaheim from March 18-23.
“I’m happy about that; they’re not only split up but laid out well,” Dineen said. “I like being able to play a game in every city. I think that’s the way it should be set up. It is a challenge from where we are located.”
• As usual, the Panthers are home during the winter holidays when there are plenty of tourists in South Florida. The Panthers have a five-game homestand during Thanksgiving week, with Philadelphia, the Rangers, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Winnipeg coming to town.
Florida will also be home for Christmas, with Tampa Bay coming Dec. 23. The Wings play here Dec. 28 with Montreal (Dec. 29), New York (New Year’s Eve at 5 p.m.) and Nashville (Jan. 4) also in Sunrise.
• Florida visits Stephen Weiss and the Red Wings for the first time on Dec. 7. Weiss’ Sunrise Homecoming will be three days later on Dec. 10.
The Panthers allowed Weiss, the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, to walk as a free agent. Weiss signed a five-year deal with Detroit on July 5.
“I think it will be pretty emotional for Stephen,” Dineen said. “He’s a guy who enjoyed his time in Florida. I think the relationship couldn’t have ended any better than it did. There was mutual respect on both sides. That’s never an easy game to play. We wish him well on a personal level — except in the games in which we are playing him.”
• The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks visit Sunrise on Oct. 22.