At the Panthers' new $184 million arena, something called the National Car Rental Center, in Sunrise, fans can eat sushi, salmon and fruit salad and choose from 18 desserts. There are seats with leather armrests and the arena boasts 274 toilets for women and 226 for men.
We're told 500 Johns in one arena is a record for professional hockey. Too bad that's the only NHL record the Panthers will set this season. After a miraculous run to the finals in 1996, Florida missed the playoffs last year and, in keeping with an ugly trend in pro sports, put all its effort during the off-season into building an arena instead of a team. Despite finishing with the second-worst record in the league last season, the Panthers made only two moves over the summer. General manager Bryan Murray's first move was to sign his younger brother, Terry, to coach Florida. Terry has only missed the playoffs once in eight seasons as an NHL coach, and if he does this year, the sun could set on his brother in Sunrise. Terry, who took the Flyers to the Cup finals in 1997, will instill discipline in a team of chronic underachievers, such as defenseman Ed Jovanovski, center Viktor Kozlov and injury-prone center Rob Niedermayer.
Bryan wasn't guilty of nepotism in hiring Terry, but Panthers fans have accused him of inept-otism. After letting All-Star goalie John Vanbiesbrouck bolt to Philadelphia, his only other off-season move was signing Flyers castoff Sean Burke after five goalies said no. "The Panthers underachieved last year, and so did I," says Burke. "I come here with a lot to prove." He'll get his chance. In front of Burke is a defense that gave up 256 goals in 1997-98.
What the Panthers need are more Canadians who irritate people while producing big hits. Perhaps Murray should have had a contract ready when the opulent National Car Rental Center celebrated its grand opening last week with a concert by Celine Dion.