When it comes to which South Florida professional sports team has the best chance to play for a championship this year, few would argue it’s most likely the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers soared to the top of ESPN’s ‘Ultimate Standings’ not only cracking the top 10 among all North American sports teams but distancing themselves from the Miami Heat, Marlins and Dolphins.
ESPN has definitely taken notice of the rebirth of the Panthers and ranks them seventh among all teams.
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Just two years ago, the Panthers were ranked 102nd out of 122 pro teams competing in the four major leagues.
Last year, the Panthers moved up to 48th in the poll and ended up setting franchise records for wins (47), standings points (103) and won their second divisional title in history.
Paced by a young and talented core with experienced star players such as Jaromir Jagr, Keith Yandle and Roberto Luongo, the Panthers are considered one of the two top teams in their Atlantic Division again this year.
Florida’s rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning, took the top spot in the ESPN poll — which looks at a variety of factors including: affordability, coaching, fan relations, ownership, players, stadium experience, championships won or expected, and ‘bang for the buck’ which figures “wins in the past two years per fan dollar.”
FACEBOOK VIDEO: Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant meets the media after Friday’s practice via One Panther Parkway
Although the Panthers fared well in the 2016 standings, other local teams did not.
With Dwyane Wade off to the Chicago Bulls and Chris Bosh out because of blood clots, the Miami Heat dropped from 21st last year to 53rd — making the Heat the second-highest ranked South Florida team. Miami is ranked 15th among all NHL teams.
The Marlins come in third among South Florida teams and 91st overall after being our fourth-place team last year at 106th. ESPN credits the hiring of manager Don Mattingly for their rise.
The Dolphins, despite being the most popular team in the region, took a big drop in the ESPN findings, falling from 92nd to 106th out of 122 teams — and being ranked 26th out of 32 NFL teams.
The 49ers are ranked last in the NFL and overall rankings.
Miami’s 2-4 start wasn’t factored into this too much, but according to ESPN, the Dolphins got poor marks in fan relations, ownership, title track, etc.
As ESPN writes in the ‘what’s bad’ segment for the Dolphins: “The Dolphins have made the playoffs just once since 2002. They haven't had a playoff win since 2000. That's 16 years — nearly a generation — of fans who have been beaten down and suffered through mostly downtrodden results.”