With the 0-1 Dolphins, 0-2 Hurricanes and last-place Marlins not offering much hope in South Florida at the moment, the Florida Panthers — who are expected to be a playoff team this season — took this market’s center stage Thursday with their annual “Media Day” event at the BB&T Center.
Panthers President and CEO Matthew Caldwell said there’s a buzz about the team this year, and the proof is in the boost in season-tickets sales, which are now at 7,500.
When this current ownership group took over in April 2016, season tickets were at about 3,000, Caldwell said.
The Panthers were second-to-last in the NHL last season with average attendance totaling 13,261, but Caldwell expects improvement after the hiring of coach Joel Quenneville, who won three Stanley Cup titles with the Chicago Blackhawks, and the signing of Sergei Bobrovsky, the top goalie in the 2019 free-agent market.
“I’d be shocked if [attendance] falls below 14,000 this year,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said he waited until just a few hours after the press conference to announce the Bobrovsky signing on July 2 to fly with his fiancée to Brazil to get married.
He also took an earlier trip to Austria to do his homework on Bobrovsky and how he trains.
“We thought we had the inside track [on Bobrovsky],” Caldwell said. “I think it was a two-horse race [with the New York Islanders, presumably].
“We didn’t really flinch at that contract [seven years, $70 million]. We flew to where he works out in Austria. We walked around and talked to people. This is before he signed. We wanted to make sure everything passed the sniff test. We made ourselves very comfortable.
“You need good goaltending. Why not lock ourselves in?”
Caldwell said the Panthers figure to lose money this season, even if they were to make a deep playoff run, although that scenario “could catapult [revenues] for the next year.”
Added Caldwell: “We needed a coach, and we needed a goalie. Those were our two big needs.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ In a sign of the Panthers’ marketing challenge, star center Aleksander Barkov said he doesn’t get much fanfare in South Florida. “I get recognized maybe once or twice a week,” he said. “You can go eat anywhere and no one is following you like in [his native] Finland.”
▪ Newly retired former Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo was at the BB&T Center on Thursday, although not doing interviews. “Those days are over,” Luongo said as he walked past the media room.
▪ Panthers second-year center Henrik Borgstrom learned a lot as a rookie. “It’s a great league,” he said. “Guys are big, strong and really smart. Plays that you are able to make in the AHL, guys here know how to hide their sticks and poke it at you at the last minute.”
▪ Panthers winger Mike Hoffman on the talent his club has this season: “This is my seventh year in the league, and this is the best team I’ve been on coming into training camp, on paper.”
▪ Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said on what he has heard about Quenneville from athletes who have played for him in the past:
“You hear ‘honest’ and you hear ‘players’ coach’. You will know where you stand with him every day.”