Owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu have ushered in a new era of change, designing a new logo and jersey for the Florida Panthers for this upcoming season. Basing the logo off of the symbol for the 131st airborne regiment, the logo takes on a shield design that holds the image of a Florida Panther surrounded by a midnight blue and a “Florida” wordpress logo in a sea of crimson. This marks the first major change to the look of the team, wearing the same logo since the team’s inception in 1993.
Along with a new logo, the “Cats” will be fielding a largely new team, especially on defense, after the signings of highly touted free-agents Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. The two free agents will join 2014 rookie of the year Aaron Ekblad, in what hopes to be a strong defense that will stifle teams. On the backend of the defense lies 37 year old all-star goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was in consideration for the Vezina trophy in 2015.
Florida, defending champions of the Atlantic division, was met with a disappointing first round playoff exit from the hands of the New York Islanders in a hard fought six game series. Redemption is on the minds of star players Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, the young stars of the blossoming team, as they face the Islanders for the first time in the new season on Nov. 12 at the BB&T Center.
Barkov, 22, aims to become one of the elite centers in the National Hockey League, having scored 28 goals and 31 assists in 62 games played in 2015. With intention to play a full season for the first time in his young career, higher point totals appear to be on the horizon. Gerard Gallant, head coach, remarks “There’s not a whole lot of work to do with him. You leave him alone and let him play his game. We’re happy with him. We don’t have to talk to him too much, and I think that’s how he likes it.”
Playing alongside Barkov is the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr. Clocking in at 44 years of age, Jagr continues to produce at a level of play unthinkable for a player of his age, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. Jagr prides himself on his extreme work ethic, spending many late nights in the gym and even containing a clause in his contract to include 24/7 access to the team arena so that he can practice when desired. Jagr will be playing on Barkov’s right side on the first line.
Much of the Panthers’ success will ride on their younger players. General Manager Dale Tallon built the current team through drafting, rather than trading for players. Drafted players include Nick Bjugstad (2010), Jonathan Huberdeau (2011), Vincent Trocheck (2011), Aleksander Barkov (2013), and Aaron Ekblad (2014). All said players are under the age of 25 and signed to long term contracts, with the goal to lead the Panthers to an eventual Stanley Cup championship. The plan is already in the works, with the team marginally improving every year since 2013.
The Panthers will valiantly fight off the improved Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins to try to reclaim their division title and make a hopeful run for the Stanley Cup.
The season begins on Oct. 13 against the New Jersey Devils in Sunrise, Florida.