Settle down, Canada!

By Bill Whitehead

Before diving into this, I feel the need to say this up front: I like Canada. I really do, though I have to admit my familiarity with it is lacking.

First, I’ve never been to Canada, but I have visited its exhibit in EPCOT, a 30-minute long, 360-degree panoramic view narrated by comedic actor Martin Short, whose performance is sterling, especially when he bursts through a snowy whiteout and proclaims that all Canadians, in fact, do not live in igloos. I love the band Rush and to a lesser degree its comrade-in-maple-leaves Triumph, both whom I’ve seen live multiple times. Bryan Adams and Honeymoon Suite are good, while Glass Tiger, the Kings, Chilliwack and Toronto are all Canadian bands that I like exactly one song from each. Admittedly, my opinion changes drastically when Anne Murray, considered a national treasure much like Molson beer and Tim Hortons, is mentioned.

Living in South Florida, I encounter Canadians on an almost daily basis from October to April as they flock south to the Sunshine State’s warmth. Though a derogatory joke about them often circulates — something about them arriving with a clean t-shirt and a $100 bill and changing neither — I enjoy their company. They’re genuinely friendly, something I encountered as well from Minnesotans last weekend at the NHL Draft. Perhaps its the frequent chill in the air that takes the edge off being angry, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just been lucky enough to encounter the really cordial Canucks.

What wasn’t very cordial from Canadians and was totally uncalled for on Friday was the TSN television crew’s reaction to the Florida Panthers signings of players during Free Agent Frenzy, that noon time activity on July 1 which allows teams to help themselves. While Florida GM Dale Tallon and Assistant GM Mike Santos were answering a phone that was ringing off the hook with calls from players who want to play in Sunrise for a change, TSN went out of its way to belittle the Panthers, its fans and the brass’s efforts to improve a team that has struggled mightily for a decade and been the laughingstock of a division that itself has been viewed as a laughingstock among all divisions.

And what was the egregious offense committed by the Panthers that drew the ire of the Canadian media? These additions:

F Kris Versteeg
F Scottie Upshall
F Tomas Kopecky
F Tomas Fleischmann
F Sean Bergenheim
F Marcel Goc
D Ed Jovanovski
D Brian Campbell
G Jose Theodore

That list — built around seven UFA signings and a pair of trades involving former Chicago Blackhawks — is what has provoked the Canadian media into its own frenzy regarding the Panthers. With all the criticism that was heaped upon Florida yesterday by Canadians, you would think a nuclear disaster had occurred in the States and winds from the south were carrying its residue over the border into the Great White North. TSN analyst Craig Button was the most ridiculous on-air offender, saying he couldn’t honestly say Florida was any better now with this group of nine new players than the team it iced last season. Do we all remember that group, especially after the trade deadline? It was about half NHL players and half AHL performers trying to make an impression on a coach trying his best not to get a pink slip. These new-look Panthers are now no better than that club that couldn’t get out of its own way? Of course, TSN also took potshots at players having to suck it up and play in front of a half-empty building that had no one at all in the upper deck, which they said was sectioned off by a curtain. Don’t know where that one came from.

It’s way too early to call this Florida team a bona fide playoff contender or a team whose success will rival that achieved by Tampa Bay last year. Too many factors are involved, like the goaltending situation and how team chemistry will develop. To think that adding nine new players — nearly half a roster — in the span of one week will make the Panthers a frontrunner for one of the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference would be engaging in some offseason homerism. But Canadian media like Button can continue to cry and gripe about how bad a market the Sun Belt region is and how Florida’s doing it all wrong while these Cats could start winning…and keep winning…and win some more with a tweak here or there…and then win something big that would really rile the maple leaf-themed media.

Granted, Florida always receives criticism from the press up north. If the Cats don’t spend money, hoard draft picks and play as poorly as it did last year, they’re nothing more than a glorified AHL team in the scribes’ view. If it goes out of its way to spend, reaches the cap floor (up to roughly $48 million from $20 million last Friday when I entered the Xcel Energy Center) and gets serious talent in the process, then it’s just buying its way to get better. Isn’t that the point, to improve whether it be by building from within or on the market?

Hey, Canadian press corps, get over yourself for a minute and put this great day in Pantherland into perspective. Yesterday and last Friday are a new start for a franchise that doesn’t deserve what it has suffered through for a decade and has a fanbase waiting to get energized to go to BankAtlantic Center again. And while you’re at it, TSN, meet the new Panthers.

Not the same as the old Panthers.

By Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL