The Florida Panthers aren’t exactly your model NHL franchise. Early in their history, they looked to be the better bet to have success over expansion brother Anaheim, but 1996 proved to only be a mirage. Since then, Anaheim has made two appearances in the Cup final, winning one, and acquiring future Hall of Famers such as Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne. Meanwhile, the Panthers have a grand total of four playoff wins since ’96. Nothing ever seems to go right for this franchise. Whether it’s been cursed by the Rat King or whether it’s had plain old bad management, we expect the worst from Florida now. Here are 10 times the Florida Panthers were the Florida Panthers.
10. Luongo Trade Return In each of Roberto Luongo’s five seasons as the starting goalie in Florida, he was top 10 in save percentage. The team never made a playoff appearance in front of Luongo, but that was hardly the fault of the goalie – it probably had more to do with the fact the Panthers core consisted of Olli Jokinen, Viktor Kozlov and Kristian Huselius. But when the team figured it was time to trade the best part of their franchise, GM Mike Keenan could not have bungled it any more. Luongo was traded along with Lukas Krajicek to Vancouver for slow-footed Bryan Allen, backup Alex Auld and Todd Bertuzzi, who played all of seven games for the franchise. This is the same off-season during which the Boston Bruins were able to turn Andrew Raycroft into Tuukka Rask. Heck, the Minnesota Wild got a first round pick for Dwayne Roloson, which would have been a better return for Florida. Keenan stepped down as GM three months later. Yipee.
9. This T-Shirt As part of their 20th anniversary celebration this year the Panthers teamed up with Guy Harvey, a marine wildlife artist, and came out with this t-shirt for sale. Now this is a true Panthers fan collectible. Just look at this thing. It’s mesmerizing.
I wanted one for Christmas, but don’t seem to be able to acquire it from Canada. So, this is a two-for-one Panthers being Panthers.
8. Drafting Alex Ovechkin before his draft year As we all know, Alex Ovechkin was drafted first overall by the Washington Capitals in 2004. But did you know the Panthers tried to pick him in the 2003 draft? Florida GM Rick Dudley tried to make the case that Ovechkin, who missed the draft eligible cutoff date by two days, should be made available because of leap years. Obviously, that didn’t work. The team ended up with Tanner Glass as its final pick in the draft. I suppose it was worth a shot.
7. Tim Thomas and Scott Gomez The Panthers had to do some more roster padding last summer and did it with Gomez, who had scored four goals in his past 71 games before signing the deal, and Thomas, who had taken 2012-13 off at 38 years old. Both signings, in a way, were kind of funny for a team that a) had not even a glimmer of a playoff hope and b) has a young core it wants to see more from. Thomas has been a pleasant surprise who may actually be playing his way on to the American Olympic team, but still, will Jacob Markstrom’s day ever come?
6. Trading Dan Boyle…to Tampa Bay The current San Jose Sharks defenseman was never drafted into the NHL, but Florida signed him as a free agent out of Miami University. Over four seasons, Boyle played 129 games with the Panthers, scoring 39 points. On Jan. 7, 2002, Florida dealt the 25-year-old blueliner to cross-state rival Tampa Bay of all places. In return, the Panthers got a fifth round pick, which became Martin Tuma, a Czech national who never played in the NHL. Meanwhile, Boyle would go on to win a Stanley Cup and score a pile of points in Tampa, before becoming a Canadian Olympian with the San Jose Sharks.
5. Acquiring Michael Grabner, losing him to waivers In the summer of 2010, the Panthers traded Keith Ballard (and Victor Oreskovich) to the Vancouver Canucks for a killer deal. They actually won this one! Florida picked up Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and a first-rounder they used to take Quinton Howden. No way they could mess this one up, right? Sigh. Grabner was lost to waivers before he even played a game for Florida and Bernier was lost to free agency after one season. Howden is a nice prospect for them and all, but he’s a long-term project and far from a sure thing. Say what you will about Grabner’s struggles with the Islanders this season, but he was the best player in that deal. Based on what he posted in New York, he would have been Florida’s top goal scorer in two of the past three seasons.
4. Tossing out the one playoff team they had OK, so Florida backed into a playoff spot like no other in 2011-12, but still: they made it to the post-season for the first time 12 years. Their top line was Tomas Fleishmann, Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss, which scored way more than anyone expected. Its top defense pairing was Jason Garrison and Brian Campbell, a deadly offensive combination, it turned out. And their starting goalie was Jose Theodore, who nearly took them into the second round. The Panthers have played 80 games since that playoff series against the Devils and only Fleischmann and Campbell remain from that group. All but Versteeg were lost for nothing to free agency, so the team has only Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen to show for it. Coach Kevin Dineen has also been fired since. I’m not going to say that was the most secure core in the league, but it did get the team to the post-season – and Florida lost almost all of it for nothing in short order.
3. Rick Nash fiasco It’s the 2002 draft and the Florida Panthers have the first pick overall. Perfect. Pavel Bure had just been traded to the Rangers that season, so Florida could start again with a young sniper…
aaaand it’s gone. In a mess of a decision, the Panthers dealt the first pick to Columbus for the No. 3 pick (plus the option to swap picks the following season, which wasn’t exercised since Florida’s pick was higher anyway), then gave Atlanta a third and fourth round pick for the assurance the Thrashers wouldn’t pick Jay Bouwmeester at No. 2. So, in essence, Florida traded Nash, a third round pick and a fourth round pick for Bouwmeester. What the…?
2. Barkov over Jones This one may actually turn out OK in the end, but it’s Florida, so probably not. Sitting with the No. 2 selection in the 2013 draft, Florida had the option of picking star American defenseman Seth Jones, who all season long was neck and neck with Nathan MacKinnon in draft rankings. Then, out of the clear blue sky, Florida took Aleksander Barkov, who many had ranked behind even Jonathan Drouin. You’d hope they would have traded down a couple spots to get Barkov a little later if the opportunity was there, but, again, remember who we’re taking about here. Nothing ever comes easy with the Panthers. And they rarely play it by the book.
1. Glass obstructed view Aw hell. I give up.