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Which Veterans Will Be Left To Aid Tallon’s Young Guns?

April 14th, 2014 Comments off

In General Manager Dale Tallon‘s end of year press conference he concluded that the veterans on the team did not live up to expectations. Some veterans where traded at the deadline (Goc, Weaver), some demoted to the AHL (Whitney, Gilroy) and a couple remain on the active roster. At the same time Tallon was positively surprised by the contributions by some of the up-and-coming young stars on the team (Bjugstad, Barkov).

As the Panthers continue to expect growing pains, as youth is seasoned in to the sharp learning curve that is the NHL, the role of mentor of the veterans of the team becomes crucial. They need to set the example of hard work and professionalism, a mentality of “never say die” and “only winning is good enough” as well as little tidbits of wisdom and tricks of the trade that can be invaluable to a budding career.  The question then lends itself to be posed: “Who are these veterans that will bring all this to the table?”

Tallon did mention in his presser that he wants the addition of up to five veterans to next years line-up. If chosen carefully they could have a crucial role in Florida’s revival. However, it his hard speculating as to who these five players might be. More useful might be to look what we have and which we’d like to retain.

Starting with the Captain of the team Ed Jovanovski. Who better to personify perseverance, hockey wisdom and love of the game? To anchor the team and help in the development of youth, Jovocop must surely be essential – especially if you consider he still has a year left on his contract. However, Tallon did not seem convinced Jovanovski had overcome his injury woes and would be ready for another grueling season, stating: “There’s a lot to discuss there as far as his conditioning, his fitness and his health.” It could be that Ed is bought-out of his remaining year on the contract to make way for youth and the veteran signing Tallon wants to bring in on defense. Personally I think it would be a huge mistake. Better to keep Jovocop around for his last year as a 7th defenseman. He might get limited games but would still be useful in his role of guiding the young defensemen.

Another key defenseman and veteran head on the back-end is of course Brian Campbell, who had a good season – playing top-minutes with a solid production and good plus/minus to boot. Maybe not the most vocal leader, but he will continue to be a key performer and someone who can lead by example while his huge contract winds down. 

On the forward side Scott Gomes seems to fill a similar role as Jovanovski on the back end. The difference in my mind is Gomes’ lackluster point production and the fact that the Panthers are brimming with talented centermen that have proved to be better than the wily former Devil. Other veterans on the forward side have shown greater ability and could help fill the void with the possible aid from off-season acquisitions. Players such as Brad Boyes and Scottie Upshall have the potential to be key veterans on the team. I do see a need to add someone here that can perhaps bring the intangibles of a Scott Gomes to the locker-room but with greater production. Hopefully there is such a player available this summer that wouldn’t mind coming to Florida.

In goal, the return of Roberto Luongo gives some credibility to the franchise as well as much needed consistency between the pipes. Tallon hopes Luongo’s name and profile can help attract other big names to South Florida which will be key if the rebuild is yield any success in the near future. He will also be a good voice to have in the dressing room, even if there is no heir-apparent to groom in the system (with Jakob Markström having gone in the opposite direction to Vancouver).

While this low-down shows that there are veterans that can be instrumental in helping the promising youngsters of the Panthers to find their way into the big time. It also highlights the need to add a couple, especially if Ed Jovanovski and Scott Gomes head for the exits this summer. If so, we need veterans equal or better to aid the young guns at this critical time of transition. Tallon as much said so in the press conference when stating that the talented kids are the bright future of this franchise but “we also have to have people around them that are going to help them find their way”.

Without these savvy veterans there is a risk that the right mentality will not spread through the system and no matter of raw talent can trump experience and mental approach in the cutthroat competitive environment that is the NHL.

The Top 10 All-Time Greatest Florida Panthers

December 4th, 2009 Comments off

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…

Background

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).

Jay-Bo and the All Stars

January 26th, 2009 1 comment

I’m not normally overly interested in the All Star weekend and game; simply because when you extract the competitiveness from Hockey – it’s just not Hockey is it? Yet, I must admit the event lived up to its billing this year; with nice tricks, camaraderie and even some thrills in the All Star game itself.

The two first periods followed well accustomed patterns of high scoring bonanza – a goaltenders worst nightmare. But in the third period the goalies were Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas; two great competitors who didn’t want to let in just any goal. Especially Tim Thomas put on his own show of acrobatic, yoga fuelled saves to delight the crowds. And as the netminders stepped up their game – so did the players.

Toward the end the players’ competitiveness started to show through and as the clock counted down – it became clear – no one wanted to lose this game. Especially not the goaltenders. And it was a patented Jay Bouwmeester step-up that tied the game at 11 and brought on overtime. Bo got three points in the game, and while defenders don’t really get the opportunity to shine in this event, he did just that.

In the ensuing overtime there was even a penalty called – the first one since year 2000 and the tempo picked up another notch. In the shootout it was Thomas that won the contest for the East All Stars and perhaps should have been given the MVP –award for his game winning display, but to the cheers of the Montreal crowd it was home favorite Kovalev that picked up the accolade. A good choice as well, considering he got a couple of goals and looked dangerous on numerous occasions – and scored a beautiful penalty shot.

Jay BouwmeesterFor Bouwmeester the game was all smiles and he really looked like he was enjoying himself, perhaps more so even than last time around. He generally looks more confident in his ability now; as was evident when he scored the late equalizer in the contest – an assured wrister inside to the top netting. A fine way to cap his weekend before returning here to South Florida for a couple of tough and important games; against Philadelphia and Montreal on Tuesday and Thursday respectively.

Another great experience for Bouwmeester and a good way for him to showcase his considerable talent. Although as a Panther fan you do hope Jay can settle back here in Florida, so we can sign him to another contract soon. While many seem to have given up hope on retaining his services beyond the trade deadline, I refuse to surrender my hopes.

There are some positive signs; he speaks highly of his coach Pete DeBoer, seems to have more belief in the team being able to compete and overall a more optimistic outlook from Bo – when it comes to Florida Panthers Hockey. From this to a new contract being signed there are miles to go, but, at least all is not doom and gloom and let’s not give up on Jay-Bo quite yet.