With the club currently floundering at the lower echelons of the Eastern Conference, I thought it might be interesting to—and perhaps cheer me up in the meantime—to have a subjective look at the teams history and try to pick the Top 10 All-Time Cats.
No doubt this is not only subjective but also controversial; nonetheless, I gave it a try, studied the stats, reminisced, and came up with this…
The Florida Panthers have a short but colorful history with some real characters that have graced the artificial ice in the Sunshine State.
The club was formed in 1993 and participated in that year’s expansion draft (in Quebec) together with fellow newcomers Anaheim.
The Panthers drafted successfully in that expansion draft and set the platform for a string of early triumphs—for the team that was based in Miami at that time.
Indeed, of the 24 players selected by the Cats; four of them would make their way onto this list and several others were in serious consideration for a spot on this Top 10.
Florida had the best first year in NHL history and only two seasons later the Panthers would storm through the Eastern Conference to claim a place in the Stanley Cup Final versus Colorado. The Avalanche swept the Cats 4-0 to end the Cinderella run—which saw hockey in South Florida reach fever pitch and the ice invaded by rubber rats upon goal celebrations.
Nevertheless, the franchise would after this climax—which was the “year of the rats”—start to fade and today the franchise holds the ignominious record of not reaching the playoff in 9 consecutive years and counting. The team has also moved out of Miami to Sunrise in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area.
Whilst those halcyon days of boisterous hockey sensation seem a distant memory these days, the Panthers have still had some accomplished players amongst it ranks and made this selection a very difficult one to make.
Names like: Bill Lindsay, Jay Bouwmeester, Ed Jovanovski, Jesse Belanger, Radek Dvorak, Gord Murphy, Nathan Horton, Ray Whitney, and Tom Fitzgerald—to just name a few—did not make the cut.
The competition, despite the short history of the franchise, was fierce.
And as a final note: With the “The Greatest Panthers” I mean the players that performed best with the Cats and do not judge the players upon their level of skill or success outside of this club. I only looked at what they achieved in South Florida—and nothing else.
No. 10 Viktor Kozlov, C
Born February 14, 1975, Tolyatti, Russia. Played for the Panthers 1997-2004.
Kozlov may not be the first player you think of in such a list as this, but fact is that his stats make a compelling argument for including him on this Top 10.
Viktor joined the Panthers in November 1997 from the San Jose Sharks and would go on to experience career years—in a Panthers jersey. No doubt this was in part due to the fact that he would center a Russian line with goal poacher Pavel Bure on his right wing.
His best season came in 1999/2000 when his 70 points helped the Panthers reach the playoffs. It was also the last time we would see a post-season in South Florida.
During his 7 years in the Sunshine State, Kozlov would amass enough points to place him in 3rd overall place—when it comes to points collected in a Panthers uniform—with a total of 291 points.
In 2004, Viktor was traded to the New Jersey Devils. And today, at the age of 34, he is playing in his native Russia with Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
Viktor Kozlov’s Panthers Career Stats:
414 GP (#9 on club’s all-time list), 101 goals (#5), 190 assists (#4), 291 points (#3), 118 PIM (#44).
No. 9 Rob Niedermayer, RW
Born December 28, 1974, BC, Canada. Played for the Panthers 1993-2001.
Drafted 5th overall by the Florida Panthers in the 1993 Entry Draft, Rob Niedermayer would become a staple in South Florida; playing some 8 years of hockey here.
The younger brother of Scott Niedermayer joined the Panthers immediately after the draft and quickly became a leading point scorer for the team. His career high season came in the 1995/96 season when he amassed a total of 61 points and helped the Cats on their improbably journey to the Stanley Cup Final.
Unfortunately injuries derailed Rob’s career after this high-point; specifically concussions in the following years made him unable to reach the same heights ever again in a Panthers jersey.
Nonetheless, Rob has remained an accomplished two-way forward that helped Anaheim win the Stanley Cup in 2007. Today, at the age of 34, he plays for the New Jersey Devils.
Rob Niedermayer’s Panthers career stats:
518 GP (#5 on club’s all-time list), 101 goals (#6), 165 assists (#5), 266 points (#5), 435 PIM (#8).
No. 8 Roberto Luongo, G
Born April 4, 1979, Montreal, PQ, Canada. Played for the Panthers 2000-2006.
Had the Panthers opted to keep Roberto in South Florida rather than trade him to Vancouver, in a deal widely seen as the worst in franchise history—if indeed not league history—the goaltender would undoubtedly be in contention for a much higher spot on this list.
However, Luongo may only have been with the team for 5 seasons, but during his time in Florida the goalie developed into one of the premier net-minding talents of the league.
Despite being a goalie, he ranks 16th on the club in games played (318) and holds most of the goaltending records with the club, including:
Most wins in a season (35), most shutouts in a season (7), all-time leader in shutouts (26), all-time leader in games played by a goaltender (318) and all-time leader in wins by a goaltender (108).
Now why did we trade him again…?
Too big contract demands, you say? Well, one might be able to put together a compelling argument—based on his performances in Florida—that no contract could have been too big to keep him on the team…
Today Roberto, at the age of 30, captains the Vancouver Canucks. He is the only current goaltender to be captain of his team and seventh overall in league history.
Roberto Luongo’s Panthers career stats:
318 GP (#16 on club’s all-time list), 7 assists, 26 shutouts, 108 wins.
No. 7 Brian Skrudland, C
Born July 31, 1963, Peace River, Alberta, Canada. Played for the Panthers 1993-1997.
On this list it would be hard to overlook the first Florida Panthers Captain—between the years 1993-97—who led his team all the way to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
It could be argued that the inspirational captain should be higher up on this list, but the stats don’t quite support that idea.
Of course Brian was mainly a defensive forward and widely seen as one of the better players in this role during his time here in Florida—and so the stats can also be a bit artificial in this respect—and fail to showcase his true greatness.
Nonetheless, Skrudland was a finalist for the Selke Trophy in 1994 and led the Florida Panthers as the team captain for 4 years; playing 256 games.
Skrudland left the Panthers in 1997, and two years later he was instrumental in helping the Dallas Stars lift the Stanley Cup.
Brian Skrudland’s Panthers career stats:
256 GP (#28 on club’s all-time list), 32 goals (#31), 67 assists (#21), 99 points (#26), 401 PIM (#10).
No.6 Pavel Bure, RW
Born March 31, 1971, Moscow, Russia. Played for the Panthers 1999-2002.
The Russian Rocket was undoubtedly the most gifted player to ever wear the Panthers uniform. Had he only played for more than the 3 seasons that he did with the Cats, he would undoubtedly have made the podium of top three all-time Florida players.
However, if Bure’s stay in Florida was brief—it was also sweet and greatly laden with individual achievements from the Russian.
During the 1999/2000 season, Pavel led the league in goal scoring with his 58 goals— winning the Rocket Richard Trophy. His offensive efforts helped propel the Panthers into the playoffs; in what would be their last appearance for nine years and counting.
Bure topped his previous record by scoring 59 goals the next season and again winning the Rocket Richard Trophy. Unfortunately his efforts were not enough and the Panthers failed to make the playoffs that season.
With no secondary scoring, not even Bure could single-handedly take Florida through to the playoffs. He did however set an impressive NHL record by scoring some 29.5% of his team’s total goals that season.
Bure was the Panthers co-captain in the 2001/2 season, before being traded to the NY Rangers at the March trade deadline that same campaign.
Pavel, who had been one of the most feared Soviet forwards during the eastern empire’s final death throes, retired from hockey in Moscow in November 2005.
Pavel Bure’s Panthers career stats:
223 GP (#31 on club’s all-time list), 152 goals (#3), 99 assists (#12), 251 points (#6), 134 PIM (#39).
No. 5 Robert Svehla, D
Born January 2, 1969, Martin, Slovakia. Played for the Panthers 1995-2002.
For pure longevity alone, the Slovakian defender deserves a place on this list’s upper echelons. During his eight years in Florida he played no less than 573 games—making him the player with most all-time appearances in a Panthers jersey.
The fact that Robert was a defenseman didn’t stop him from racking up the points either. He recorded 229 assists during his time in South Florida, making him second overall in the assist-department as well.
During the 1995/96 season he reached career highs in assists (49) and points (57) as Svehla was a driving force behind Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.
However, Robert Svehla was not just an offensive defenseman that could rack up the points—he was also an accomplished defenseman when it came to the defensive and physical side of the game as well.
Apart from his 8 years with the Panthers, Svehla only played one more season in the NHL—with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2002/03 season.
Robert was a very durable player that only missed six games in his 9 year NHL career.
Robert Svehla’s Panthers career stats:
573 GP (#1 on club’s all-time list), 61 goals (#11), 229 assists (#2), 290 points (#4), 603 PIM (#5).
No. 4 Paul Laus, D
Born September 26, 1970, Beamsville, Ontario, Canada. Played for the Panthers 1993-2002.
A fan favorite, the hard-hitting Paul Laus takes home the unofficial price of having spent most time in the penalty box—by a wide margin—with his impressive one thousand and seventy-two penalty minutes.
The gritty defenseman and enforcer was a determined and hard working player that became a workhorse in the Panthers defense over the years.
Playing for a record nine season’s in Florida, Laus spent his entire NHL career with the club.
It is easy to understand why the fans loved Paul Laus, who suited up for the Panthers 530 times in his career; which unfortunately came to an end after a couple of injury plagued years prior to 2002.
Together with Pavel Bure, he captained the side in 2001/2, but his greatest moments came when plugging the defense in the 1995/6 run to the Stanley Cup Final and eating up big minutes in defense.
The Panthers have since Paul Laus retirement never had a player with his hard-nosed characteristics combined with his defensive nous and know-how. He is missed.
Paul Laus’ Panthers career stats:
530 GP (#4 on club’s all-time list), 14 goals (#56), 58 assists (#25), 72 points (#37), 1702 PIM (#1).
No. 3 John Vanbeisbrouck, G
Born September 4, 1961, Detroit, MI, USA. Played for the Panthers 1993-1998.
A possible bone of contention is where to place the Panthers first No.1 goaltender Vanbeisbrouck. It is always hard to compare goalies with forwards and defenders, but John should definitely be somewhere here or about—when making the final judgment.
Not only did he become an early fan favorite and backstop the Panthers run to the Stanley Cup final, but he also arguably had his best years of his career with the club.
Posting a club record, all-time 2.58 goals against average, Beezer was unyielding between the pipes. During the inaugural season he played some 60 games and had the second best save percentage in the league.
The following season was equally impressive as John earned himself runners-up honors for the coveted Hart and Vezina Trophies. In the run for the Stanley Cup during the 1995/6 season he was third choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Beezer continued playing for Florida until he was traded in 1998 to the New Jersey Devils. He would again come close to winning the Stanley Cup, but would ultimately never lift the coveted trophy.
He finished his career with the Devils and hung up his skates in March 2002.
John Vanbiesbrouk’s Panthers career stats:
268 GP (#22 on club’s all-time list), 8 assists, 13 shutouts, 106 wins.
No. 2 Olli Jokinen, C
Born December 5, 1978, Kuopio, Finland. Played for the Panthers 2000-2004; 2005-2008.
The Panthers’ leading point-man of all-time, Olli Jokinen would be the No.1 on this list if only he would have achieved as much on the team-front as he did individually.
The big Finn was synonymous with the Panthers for several years during a difficult time when the club had no successes whatsoever on the ice.
Unfortunately for the player it is this lack of success—combined with his lazy-looking appearance—that he’ll typically be remembered for in Florida.
He captained the side during his time in Florida as well and was its franchise player up until he was traded to Phoenix in the summer of 2008.
Jokinen is easily the most impressive player in franchise history when looking at stats alone. In total, Jokinen played only six games less than Robert Svehla and scored a club record 188 goals, whilst assisting on another record 231 occasions.
However, when judging the greatness his team contributions must be weighed in as well—and here they run embarrassingly dry for Olli.
Whilst struggling a bit in his last season with the Cats, Jokinen still managed a team leading 71 points. The memory of Olli’s spell in Florida was unfortunately marred further by the accident he was involved in that almost cost fellow teammate Richard Zednik his life.
Fortunately that incident had a happy ending and eventually Olli was sent packing the following summer. His stay in Phoenix didn’t last long and now the—soon to be 31 year old—plies his trade in Calgary with the Flames.
Olli Jokinen’s Panthers career stats:
567 GP (#2 on club’s all-time list), 188 goals (#1), 231 assists (#1), 419 points (#1), 597 PIM (#6).
No. 1 Scott Mellanby, RW
Born July 11, 1966, Montreal, PQ, Canada. Played for the Panthers 1993-2001.
Scott Mellanby became in many ways the face of the infant Florida Panthers franchise and was an informal leader that helped bring success to the budding hockey market of South Florida.
He scored the first goal in the club’s history on October 9, 1993. He went on to score another 29 goals in that inaugural season and a total of 157 goals in his 552 games in 8 seasons with the Panthers. He was also the club’s second captain; between the years 1997-2001.
He became an early fan favorite in Florida with his solid and gritty two-way play. He was also the one whose rat killing knack spawned the famous rubber rat goal celebrations—that rained down on the ice—all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in the 1995/6 season; which henceforth became known as “the year of the rat” in South Florida.
The Cinderella run wasn’t followed up by continued on-ice success and eventually the failures of the franchise in the league would leave fans dejected and frustrated.
Scott Mellanby however continued his goal scoring exploits, although never surpassing his 1995/6 70 point total, until eventually he was traded to the St. Louis Blues in February 2001.
Mellanby went on to have several more successful seasons in the NHL before retiring in April 2007. Today he works within the Vancouver Canucks organization.
The trade of Mellanby in 2001 signaled the end of an era in Florida Panthers history. And while his franchise records have since been surpassed (by Olli Jokinen), no one can surpass him when it comes to overall importance to the club, the creating of Panthers folklore, or popularity with the fans.
Scott Mellanby’s Panthers career stats:
552 GP (#3 on club’s all-time list), 157 goals (#2), 197 assists (#3), 354 points (#2), 953 PIM (#3).