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FHL: Florida funk

Updated: March 7, 2006, 11:20 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN Fantasy Games
It's a good thing South Florida has the Miami Heat, because without its basketball team, which reached the conference finals last season, the fans would have little to get excited about in the professional ranks. The NFL's Miami Dolphins have failed to reach the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, and while they did qualify five straight years before that, they failed to advance to the conference championship. The Florida Marlins have two world championships to their credit, but following a winter payroll purge, they're a consensus pick for worst big-league team, a certain 100-loss franchise.

Then we turn our attention to the NHL's Florida Panthers, perhaps the most frustrating, futile franchise of them all. Sure, they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in their third year of existence in 1995-96, but they were promptly swept. In fact, in 12 seasons, Florida has never won a division title, has qualified for the playoffs only three times and advanced beyond the first round only once. Perhaps it's fitting that a team whose home city averages an annual temperature in the mid-70s has hockey as its least successful sport.

That's why it's no surprise to find the Panthers' two best all-around players among the most rumored names on the trade block as the trading period enters its final days: goaltender Roberto Luongo and center Olli Jokinen. In Jokinen's case, he and the Panthers are a reported $2 million apart in contact talks; he's an unrestricted free agent this summer. Luongo, meanwhile, is a pending restricted free agent, but he recently turned down a reported five-year, $30 million contract offer because he wants to ensure the team is willing to build a contender around him. It's pretty likely Jokinen's status is closely linked to that of Luongo, so it makes sense that if one player is moved, both might be.


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