That's hockey, baby: Jonathan Huberdeau (center) with linemates Peter Mueller (88) and fellow rookie Drew Shore - Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
For tonight's all-Florida tilt between the Bolts and Cats, we asked Donny Rivette, Managing Editor of SBNation's Litter Box Cats to tell us about the fabulous Jonathan Huberdeau, the impact of the disappointing season on the momentum that came from last year's success, plus his take on the Panthers playing in a new division.
1 - You guys are lucky enough to see this kid play every game, so tell us something about Jonathan Huberdeau that isn't obvious if one just focuses on the sparkling goal count.
Lucky indeed. There isn't really one aspect of his game to lock onto, short of his always being in motion. This is a big distinction from just about anyone - short of Pavel Bure - who has worn Florida's sweater. He is always moving unless in front to the opposition's goal, and even then you have what appears to be a choreographed dance in front of the netminder. Never know what he's thinking, as almost all of his goals have been of the "he did what?" variety.
Further, linemate - and fellow rookie - center Drew Shore has shown an ability to not only keep up with Huberdeau but complement his efforts; though Shore has yet to break out in a similar fashion (goal-wise), he has tended to get the lion's share of attention from defenders when he, Huby and Peter Mueller are on the ice. A good "problem" to have.
2 - How much negative financial impact on the franchise is coming from this disappointing season? There seemed to be so much momentum after last year, with winning the Division and that exciting playoff round against the eventual Conference champions. Is that all gone, or are there promising signs that the Tallon/Dineen era will be a strong one from a business perspective for a while?
At the gate? Probably a bit down regarding walk-ups, of course. Certainly nights featuring the Canadiens, Leafs, Flyers, et al are unchanged, as per the market. Otherwise the building is doing just fine, as has always been the case, as A-List concerts continue to fill the coffers on a regular basis. Back to the meat of your original question: the fickle tri-county area which this market actually represents - primarily encompassing Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach (and those three are not officially counted as one distinct market) - has remained receptive to the Panthers as something to do on a night out given the club's recent - and mighty! - struggles. The advertising is there, I-95 is blanketed with billboards, and they have a prime sports radio partner in Miami's wide-reaching WQAM 560, a station which tends to find more than a few minutes to devote to Cats discussion each day. Make no mistake, however: fans are frustrated. Many newbs are in the "you made the playoffs last year, why do you stink now?" camp, while a number of long-timers are digesting the club's continuing rebuild status with either joy ("wait until this all comes together! Bjugstad!") or outright anger ("Another carpet-bombing in Sunrise"). In a nutshell, most of the outwardly vocal fans believe completely in what Dale Tallon is doing, but are understandably frustrated that even a few wins in recent days have eluded the team.
3 - What's your take on the almost-approved plan for NHL re-alignment? How will it impact the Florida Panthers?
Personally? Love it, short and long term. Obviously such a setup benefits out-of-town patrons, and while that is not a satisfactory solution for many uber-fans, it generates cash at the box office. If the Tallon "blueprint" eventually results in a consistent playoff team, those snowbirds will have a far more difficult time finding seats at the BB&T, as locals will be snapping them up, fans and bandwagoners alike (it happened as recently as last April). Again, it's a market that rewards winners. Having the Leafs, Habs, Sens, Broons, Wings in the same division...beauty.