Remembering Panthers and rats as another team in our state plays for the Stanley Cup

When will I be glued to every second of the Stanley Cup Finals? When rats fly, more or less, for that is the enduring memory from the last NHL championship series that required my full attention.

Still got one of those toy rats on display at my work cubicle. In 37 years of covering sports, there never has been a stranger sight than thousands of plastic vermin raining down on the ice from Florida Panthers fans who couldn’t believe that hockey heaven had come to Miami.

[Top 10 reasons Nick Saban probably never watched the Letterman show]

[Making GM the manager is akin to Loria managing the Marlins himself]

[When was last time Gators had new coaches in football and basketball?]

It was 1996 when the Panthers plowed their way into the Stanley Cup Finals in what was the franchise’s third year of existence. The Colorado Avalanche ruined the party by sweeping the series, but even then it took three overtimes to finish it off in Game 4 at Miami Arena.

All the while, great mounds of supplemental air-conditioning equipment wheezed away in the summer heat outside the building. It took an extra shot of winter delivered by massive air ducts to keep the ice inside in the mood for playoff action.

Panthers' Scott Mellanby in 1996 (Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post photo)
Panthers’ Scott Mellanby in 1996 (Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post photo)

The rats? Oh, that was in silly tribute to Scott Mellanby killing a rat with his hockey stick in the Panthers’ locker room and then going out to score two goals that same day. They called it a “Rat Trick.” They called it good luck, too, and in the earlier playoff rounds against Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, there was plenty of that.

Tonight the Tampa Bay Lightning open the Stanley Cup Finals at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. In some ways, it always will be a bit strange to think of hockey settling its ultimate score in Florida, where sheets of ice are as artificial as spray tans.

It was even stranger on the night of Oct. 7, 1992, when I found myself perched on a catwalk high above the ice at the old Expo Hall at Tampa’s Florida State Fairgrounds. That’s where they put the media for the first regular-season NHL game ever played in our state – Tampa Bay vs. Chicago.

Yes, it was the Blackhawks again, surlier than ever after being made to wait through an hour-long pregame ceremony featuring the Lightning’s Japanese ownership group. In my column from that night, Phil Esposito, the Lightning GM for that expansion season, explained how he got Japanese businessmen interested in hockey. “They thought I said saki,” he said.

Anyway, Tampa Bay won 7-3 and everybody was happy except for the guy sitting on the stool next to me. He fumed the entire game, shouting horrible things at the Blackhawks, at the officials, at the world. I asked the Lightning’s media representative who this guy was and why he didn’t understand how to act more professionally in what passed for a press box in that old barn.

Mike Keenan reacts behind bench during his time as Florida Panthers coach in 2003 (Richard Graulich/Palm Beach Post photo)
Mike Keenan reacts behind bench during his time as Florida Panthers coach in 2003 (Richard Graulich/Palm Beach Post photo)

I was advised to stay quiet, stay calm and do everything possible to avoid further antagonizing the man, who turned out to be Mike Keenan, who was working in the Blackhawks’ front office that year.

Hockey fans already know about Iron Mike, but to the unitiated, and that’s what I was at the time, here is a description of Keenan by the great Jeremy Roenick.

“Playing for coach Mike Keenan in Chicago was like camping on the side of an active volcano,” Roenick wrote in an article for Deadspin. “You had to accept the reality that he erupted regularly and that there was always a danger of being caught in his lava flow.”

Keenan was a beast all right, but even he couldn’t light a fire under the Panthers. While serving as Florida’s coach from 2002-04, he never finished higher than fourth place and failed to make the playoffs.

Dwyane Wade’s 21.5-point average last season is a lot better than you thought

 

Did a little more digging to supplement a column I wrote on Dwayne Wade’s continued worth to the Miami Heat in the context of ongoing contract negotiations. Turns out his average of 21.5 points per game last season is even better than it looks.

Dwyane Wade (Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post photo)
Dwyane Wade
(Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post photo)

In the history of the franchise, only four other players have averaged 21.5 or more during a season.

LeBron James, of course, is one of them. He never averaged fewer than 26.7 points in his four years with Miami.

The others are Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Glen Rice.

So for anyone who thinks it would be easy to draft or acquire or develop a player capable of scoring the way Wade still does at the age of 33, here is the complete list of Miami players who have matched or exceeded 21.5 points per game in a season.

 

Player                                         Season                         Avg.

Glen Rice                                    1991-92                       22.3

Glen Rice                                    1994-95                       22.3

Alonzo Mourning                     1995-96                       23.2

Alonzo Mourning                     1999-00                       21.7

Shaquille O’Neal                      2004-05                       22.9

Dwyane Wade                          2004-05                       24.1

Dwyane Wade                          2005-06                       27.2

Dwyane Wade                          2006-07                       27.4

Dwayne Wade                          2007-08                      24.6

Dwyane Wade                          2008-09                      30.2

Dwyane Wade                          2009-10                       26.6

LeBron James                          2010-11                        26.7

Dwyane Wade                          2010-11                        25.5

LeBron James                          2011-12                        27.1

LeBron James                         2012-13                         26.8

LeBron James                         2013-14                         27.1

Dwyane Wade                         2014-15                         21.5

Sooner or later a college coach is going to work out in the NBA

If the Chicago Bulls close the deal on Fred Hoiberg as their new head coach, it won’t be the first time the franchise has turned to Iowa State for leadership.

Fred Hoiberg will leave Iowa State University to become head coach of the NBA Chicago Bulls, according to published reports June 1, 2015. This would be Hoiberg's first head-coaching job in the pros. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Fred Hoiberg will leave Iowa State University to become head coach of the NBA Chicago Bulls, according to published reports June 1, 2015. This would be Hoiberg’s first head-coaching job in the pros. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tim Floyd jumped right from coaching the Cyclones to running the Bulls in 1998 and it was a disaster. In four seasons of trying to win with a stripped-down roster minus Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and other championship pieces, Floyd was cut loose with a record of 49-140.

Among the other busts in making the leap from college coaching to the NBA are John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, Lon Kruger and Leonard Hamilton. Tark the Shark only lasted 20 games as coach of the San Antonio Spurs because he got sick of ownership trying to set his lineup.

So why the trend among NBA franchises to dip back into the college ranks with increasing frequency?

Billy Donovan to Oklahoma City makes some sense because he won a couple of national titles at Florida and was a Final Four regular but still it’s a gamble.

Brad Stevens, meanwhile, is gaining some traction with the Boston Celtics. He made the playoffs in his second season after making the jump from Butler. That’s encouraging, and follows with his pattern of efficiency in twice reaching the NCAA championship game with a mid-major team.

Hoiberg never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 in his five seasons as Iowa State coach but he did play 10 seasons in the NBA and later served as a vice president with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Put it all together and it looks as if NBA owners increasingly want coaches who are still willing to learn, who have sharp technological skills and who are willing to bend.

That means giving in to management in ways that Tom Thibodeau didn’t believe he should have to do after earning a .647 winning percentage in five seasons as the Bulls’ coach. It means giving in to veteran players on occasion, too.

The players, remember, are the real celebrities here. That’s how two rookie NBA head coaches – David Blatt and Steve Kerr – could wind up in the 2015 NBA Finals this week. That’s how Erik Spoelstra won two NBA titles in Miami.

__________________________________________________

Dan Jennings’ step from the front office to the dugout in Miami can still go in any direction. It was the same with Jim Fanning, who late in the 1981 season became the manager of the Montreal Expos after previously serving as the team’s general manager and director of scouting.

Fanning, whose easy manner and courtesy made lots of friends back when the Expos trained in West Palm Beach, didn’t bother giving a pep talk when he first stood before the team as manager.

“I gave them a fact talk instead,” said Fanning, who shockingly replaced Hall of Famer and

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library
Generated by IJG JPEG Library

two-time World Series champion Dick Williams. “I told them they had 27 days to win it.”

That’s how many games remained in the regular season and Montreal won 16 of them. How much or how little Fanning had to do with that is difficult to tell. He was, however, the only manager in Expos history to reach the playoffs, losing in the 1981 National League Championship Series when Rick Monday of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a home run in the ninth inning of the fifth and deciding game.

Fanning, who died April 25 at the age of 87, had managed 20 years earlier in the minor league system of the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves.

Jennings’ story is still being written, but if he can match Fanning’s 116-103 record as Expos manager, that would be far more than anyone expects.

 

 

Top Ten list of reasons Nick Saban probably never watched David Letterman Show

In tribute to David Letterman and his farewell season on CBS:

David Letterman ends his final broadcast of the "Late Show With David Letterman" on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. (Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS/TNS)
David Letterman ends his final broadcast of the “Late Show With David Letterman” on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. (Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS/TNS)

Here is my Top Ten list of “Reasons why ultra-disciplined football coach Nick Saban has probably never wasted a moment of his ultra-programmed time watching a single episode of Dave’s show.”

10. Dave can’t run 40 yards at any speed

9. Dave interrupted and made goofy faces when entertaining guests. Not the Bama way.

8. Dave was smart-alecky while interviewing Bill Belichick after the Super Bowl, accusing the coach of “horseplay.” Not the Patriot way.

7. Dave did not begin his show with a coin flip.

6. Dave’s show came on after bed check and light’s out.

5. People didn’t drive RV’s into Manhattan and park them around Dave’s theater when they came to see the show. Where’s the passion?

4. When you draw up a bunch of X’s and O’s for Dave, he automatically thinks hugs and kisses.

3. Dave’s musical director and sidekick Paul Shaffer looks and acts more like a sideline mascot than an actual person.

2. When you fly a blimp over Dave’s theater, all it sees are a bunch of dirty buildings.

1. Dave consistently was No. 2 in the late-night ratings but he seems happy anyway.

____________________________________________________________

Marshall fans cheer during first half action during the Boca Raton Bowl between Northern Illinois University Huskies and The Herd of Marshall in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014.  (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Marshall fans cheer during first half action during the Boca Raton Bowl between Northern Illinois University Huskies and The Herd of Marshall in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

The Boca Raton Bowl has announced a Dec. 22 date for this year’s game at FAU Stadium.

The American Athletic Conference is expected to be represented this year against a MAC team. UCF and USF are in the American, which could increase local interest in the game.

UCF played in the St. Petersburg Bowl last year, losing 34-27 to North Carolina State. USF missed out on the bowls at 4-8 but with a little improvement could be in the running for the Boca Bowl, which is on the lower rungs of AAC tie-ins.

Here’s hoping Boca Raton Bowl officials play a little straighter with us in the run-up to the game. Last year’s inaugural event, a 52-23 Marshall win over Northern Illinois, was announced as a sellout but there were huge gaps of empty seats.

________________________________________________________________________

I’m taking a break for about a week. Hoping you’ll come back in June to see my vacation photos.

Only kidding. Just more dopey blogs.

Ryan Tannehill will earn that franchise-quarterback extension if Dolphins ever learn to protect him

Dan Marino was sacked six times during the 1988 season. Ryan Tannehill was sacked seven times in a single game at Buffalo a couple of years ago.

That’s a stark reminder of how little help Tannehill has gotten from his constantly-changing offensive line these last three seasons, and how deserving he actually is of the $45 million in guaranteed contract-extension money that the Miami Dolphins gave him the other day.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) scrambles away from Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Corey Wootton (99) and Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (93) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 21, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) scrambles away from Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Corey Wootton (99) and Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (93) on December 21, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

As many times as he’s been sacked, it’s fairly amazing that Tannehill hasn’t missed a start, and even more so that his passing numbers have risen at such a rapid pace. He’ll never come close to Dan Marino in production, but if a guy can earn franchise-quarterback money for toughness alone, Tannehill has done it.

Here is a chart that shows the most passing yards ever thrown in the first three seasons of an NFL quarterback’s career. Match that with the number of times those quarterbacks were sacked over the same period.

 

Player                                       Passing Yds                   Times sacked

Andrew Luck                           12,957                             100

Peyton Manning                     12,287                               56

Dan Marino                             11,431                                41

Andy Dalton                             11,360                               99

Cam Newton                           11,299                               114

Ryan Tannehill                         11,252                             139

 

Will Tannehill be around to collect all his contract-extension treasure if this kind of punishment continues? Is it realistic to expect him to lead the Dolphins anywhere important if his blockers can’t keep him from being crushed?

It’s an interesting debate, but I’m optimistic he has more to show us. For a guy who only started 19 games at the position in college, Tannehill’s first 48 starts as a pro have probably gone better than they should.