So, I conducted an interview with Panther fan Ray Haluska (Twitter user @CruisingRay) last weekend. He is the owner of jagrometer.com a statistics website dedicated to Panther player and NHL legend Jaromir Jagr. He will be coming down to Florida for the December 10th game. (I forgot to publish this interview so it is dated back to late November)
yes. I hang with them and I guess I could be described as a second-line TJ. They are from Canada and I’m from near Pittsburgh. My http://jagrometer.com page caught their eye and so when I’m in the same arena I’m on the team, at the edge of the photo (for cropping purposes, lol.)
SUPERK116: Are you in any way affiliated with the Travelling Jagrs?
RAY: Yes. I hang with them and I guess I could be described as a second-line TJ. They are from Canada and I’m from near Pittsburgh. My http://jagrometer.com page caught their eye and so when I’m in the same arena I’m on the team, at the edge of the photo (for cropping purposes, lol.)
SUPERK116: How did you become a Panther Fan?
RAY: 10 years ago I took interest in the team when I was in FLA and went to see first the stars and then the Penguins play against the Panthers. I was impressed with the passion of the fan base. Reminded me of the Pre-Mario Penguins. Games weren’t sold out but the people that went care very much and are like family. In the Penguins game Fleishman had four points in leading FLA to victory while Sidney Crosby was ineffective. There was such happiness, yelling and smiles as the fans left the arena that day, I was very happy for them and said when I come to Florida I’m going to games here and when I move I’ll get season tickets. I expected to be there this season but health issues have delayed that for a few more months. I’ve just got doctor’s clearance to fly for the first time since August. I became full time Panthers when they acquired Jagr, who I’ve followed since his first exhibition game in Pittsburgh. Got to know him because I covering the team and advised the author of his biography to the point that I was mentioned in the acknowledgements at the front of the book. I always support him but I’m a Panthers fan now and will continue to be after he leaves FLA for another NHL team or returns to Europe.
SUPERK116: Nice. Anyway, we have had a big discussion about the current state of the team on public twitter for the past 24 hours. How do you think the Panthers will finish the regular season?
RAY: Sitting out of playoffs now, Cats only need to make up four points to match Ottawa for Atlantic 3rd or 2 points to catch Columbus and New Jersey for wild cards, so 62 games is plenty of time to do that. As of now, the current pace projects to 84 points, when two years ago 96 left them outside in. Easy enough to make up. Remember last year MTL was well ahead of everyone. Price got hurt and they crashed out of the playoffs. I’m not sure how much more chemistry is going to develop with the news guys they brought in, so some more moves are probably necessary. I expect Marchessault to drop off a little but 16,18, 68, 36 and 27 must start firing on all cylinders. Even Trocheck, while doing better than those four, is below last year’s production. The only person that seems to have benefitted from all the changes is Yandle, but he’s still not producing at level of Ekblad and Campbell the last few years. Ek struggling, Campbell gone, so Cats worse off for present. Huby must return at some semblance of himself or this team is dead this year (and they need to collectively get better before then or it’s over before he returns). On the plus side, Malgin is making the best of his chance and Scevior has had some moments but none lately. I’m hoping three days of practice since Tuesday, a rarity in an NHL season, is giving the coaches a chances to instill some good adjustments with the current crew.
SUPERK116: I have heard from some long distance Panther fans that they may get harassed or teased about being a Panther fan. Has that ever happened to you in Pittsburgh?
RAY: Not in any games where I’ve worn my Jagr jersey, though I had the opportunity for a fight with some punk after the Penguins beat the Flyers in a playoff game and I wore my Flyers/Jagr t-shirt to the game. It was Flyers revenge a few days later as the Flyers ousted the Penguins. The Pittsburgh fans I run into know what it’s like to have a team that you have some concern about losing forever. There were multiple bankruptcies and the team almost left town a few times. So there’s not a lot of room for snobbery on their part, given the similar histories of the teams, especially the Penguins Pre-Mario.
SUPERK116: Pittsburgh sounds like a classy fan base. How did you feel when Pittsburgh won the cup in 2016?
RAY: It was well-deserved but Penguins aren’t my top priority any more so it wasn’t great joy. I like a well-played game regardless of who wins. I was more excited in 1991 when they won the Cup in Jagr’s rookie season and in 1992, when I was the hockey reporter for a suburban paper and got to go to all of the home games. Those wins were appreciated even more when they lost in first round to the Islanders with what was probably their best team ever. Until you’ve been in a locker-room you don’t how much the players care. Dead silence, tears, self-reflection. Kind of like a person would feel if they ran over their own dog that they loved so much. 2009 was a lot fun, first in 17 years and Sidney’s first. I get a little burned out on Sidney up here but right now he’s playing unbelievable. Oh, when Penguins signed a half-season wonder instead of Jagr when he came back from KHL, I divorced the Penguins. 🙂
SUPERK116: Yeah, the Penguins have been one of the teams in the east the Panthers have had trouble beating. Do you think that there could be a Panthers-Penguins series soon and who would win?
RAY: Sadly, the Penguins have given me many chances to realize games aren’t played on paper, and no lead is safe (they were up 3-0 to Islanders and became second team ever to blow that lead in 1975). I’m not a big series predictor. The health of the team is a significanct factor, and it goes beyond the guys that are scratched to injury. A lot of injuries are not reported until after a team is eliminated. So if it looks like a guy is not trying, he’s hurting and doing the best he can. Five months out I’d easily root for a Panthers upset. Still think a trade or two this season might help the team but not all trades work out.
SUPERK116: There have definitely been games especially recently where we have come away with wins thanks to goaltending. Do you think that the Panthers will have to keep relying on goaltending or will they pick up their scoring in order to make the playoffs?
RAY: Without rehashing Twitter arguments, the offense MUST pick up because the defensive game of this group of defenseman is not the kind you see on a team known for defense. A lot of forwards got paid in the off-season for the great work they’ve done, perceived potential and an expectation that they’ll be productive for the life of the contracts. They only scored one goal yesterday but the team looked smoother and I”m sure the three days without games, a rarity in-season, gave them a chance to bear down and work out some kinks. Yestreday Potvin said what I’ve been saying for weeks. You have to hit skating forwards with passes, not guys standing still.
SUPERK116: Yeah, that Saad goal was unreal. Very lucky shot for Columbus. Barkov has had shootout success recently but do you think he can transfer it over into regulation success as well?
RAY: I think he’s too good to keep down for much longer. If you believe things average out over time, then quite a few guys have had one or two slumps already and could explode in the next month. Otherwise, some trades will happen
SUPERK116: After 2 games what do you think about the 2016-17 Nick Bjugstad?
RAY: getting better every shift. He’s going from zero to 50 mph because the NHL doesn’t stop and let you get on. HOpe he can stay concussion free because he’s good for 25 goals a year. The move to wing gives him a chance to use his size along the boards/corners. I read that he knew this was coming and spent games concentrating on one particular wing so he could see different styles and how to fit them into his game. I’m surprised he was never tried on wing. It’s a good decision that should help him and the team.
Please check out his site which is jagrometer.com and I’m sorry for the delay.