In a normal year, Stanley C. Panther would be busy practising dance moves, visiting schools or fighting Darth Vader in a promotional YouTube video. But the Florida Panthers mascot – or, rather, the man who dresses up as him – may instead be searching for a new job this week after the team reportedly handed him a pink slip.
The anthropomorphic feline is only the most visible casualty of a series of layoffs and other cutbacks by National Hockey League teams bracing for the revenue hit entailed by the player lockout that began over the weekend.
At a meeting Wednesday morning, meanwhile, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told head office staff they will move to a four-day work week next month. The shift is tantamount to a 20-per-cent pay cut. No further details, such as how many people would be affected by the change, were provided.
The league is headquartered in Manhattan, with offices in Montreal and Toronto.
The Ottawa Senators were the first team to announce layoffs Monday, shedding more than 10 full-time employees and moving the rest to a four-day work week.
"It's not good for anybody when we have a work stoppage, and the people most affected are our staff here," president Cyril Leeder told reporters. He suggested, however, that the laid-off workers would be recalled when the labour dispute is settled.
The picture looked somewhat bleaker in Sunrise, Fla. The president of the company that owns the Panthers said in a brief statement that layoffs were partly the result of changes to "normal business operations" – as opposed to the lockout – suggesting not all of the jobs lost would return when hockey does.
"We thank all of those former staff members for their efforts, while [the company's] human resources department has volunteered to work with these former staff members to assist them in finding new employment," said Michael Yormark.
The club refused to discuss specifics when contacted by The Globe, but the local Sun-Sentinel newspaper, citing anonymous team sources, said as many as 12 people had lost their jobs. Coaches, scouts and others directly involved with hockey were spared the axe.
The Miami Herald, meanwhile, said the man who has played Stanley C. Panther for several seasons was dismissed.
Stanley's cross-state counterpart, Thunderbug, was spared the same fate as the Tampa Bay Lightning said Wednesday the team had no plans to lay anyone off or cut back on pay.
Elsewhere in the sunbelt, staff with the Carolina Hurricanes were told their jobs are safe. A spokesman for the Dallas Stars said the organization is operating "business as usual" and has not laid off or cut back the hours of its employees.
In Arizona, the perennially cash-strapped Coyotes were keeping any cuts a secret.
"It's private information. We're not disclosing," said spokesman Rich Nairn.
Farther north, the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks are taking a similar tack to the NHL, putting all staff on reduced work weeks in hopes of avoiding job losses. The Minnesota Wild plan to cut the earnings of the highest-paid staff if the lockout goes on past mid-October.