In the early 1990’s, the NHL made efforts to expand the league into southern North America. From that expansion the Florida Panthers were born. Unfortunately, for almost the entirety of the franchise’s history, the Panthers served as the NHL’s punching bag. Over 28 seasons, the club experienced far more low’s than high’s. Albeit, some of those highs really soared. That included a magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1995-96, in the young team’s third year of existence. However, even that story lacked any glimpse of a fairy tale ending; the Colorado Avalanche promptly swept Florida in four games, outscoring them 15-4 in the process. For a long time, that disappointing end ranked as the greatest era of Florida Panthers hockey history.
This is a franchise that has never qualified for the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. They do not own a postseason series victory since that 1995-96 run to the finals, either. In over 2,100 franchise regular season games, Florida has less than 900 victories. Simply put, there hasn’t been much to be excited about. Until right now.
Welcome to the Greatest Era in Florida Panthers History
For most franchises, it takes a hell of a lot more to deem any period as their greatest era. Not for Florida, though. This year will be the first time in their history that they qualify for postseason games in three straight seasons. They currently sit atop the Atlantic Division, in search of their third-ever division title. Should they finish first league-wide, it would be their first-ever President’s Trophy win.
But it goes beyond their record over the last few seasons. Jonathan Huberdeau just passed Stephen Weiss in becoming the franchise’s career leader in games played. That list features Aleksander Barkov in the top five, and Aaron Ekblad in the top ten. Both of them only need one or two healthy seasons to join Huberdeau at the top, in the mid-600s for total games played.
What’s most impressive, though, are all of the individual accolades the team is putting together statistically. Almost all the franchise leaders across all categories come from the active roster today, from players in the prime of their careers. Never has the club owned this kind of talent, depth, and optimism for the foreseeable future. For the first time in a very long time, the Panthers are turning heads around the league.
Florida Panthers Franchise Records
As far as Panthers record-setting goes, the games-played leaderboard is just the tip of the iceberg.
In goals, Barkov ranks first in team history, with Huberdeau second. In assists, Huberdeau sits first, with Barkov in second. Unsurprisingly, the duo also ranks first and second in all-time points for the club. (Also, Ekblad sits eighth in assists and seventh in points, respectively.)
Huberdeau, Barkov and Ekblad are the faces of the franchise and look destined to spend their entire careers as Cats. If that happens, they’ll push those records sky-high to really establish respectable totals for the Panthers as a team.
Greatest Florida Panthers Era – More Stats
Beyond just goals and assists, Florida’s seeing new names all over their record books across all categories. For career plus/minus, for example, eight of the top 11 represent the team today. Barkov needs just one game-winning goal to eclipse Olli Jokinen to set a new high for that record at 37. Sergei Bobrovsky continues climbing the goalie record book, sitting fourth in wins and games played. Roberto Luongo, at 230 victories, will certainly be difficult to catch. But Tomas Vokoun and John Vanbiesbrouck (101 and 106, respectively) only sit roughly 30 wins ahead of Bob in second and third.
Huberdeau, today, leads the entire NHL in assists and ranks in the top five in total points. He actually established a new single-season assist record for left-wingers, not just for Florida, but league-wide. With just under 20 games left on the schedule, he’ll pad that new total plenty, too. No Panther has eclipsed the 100-point mark; Huberdeau should be the first to do it this year.
Greatest Statistical Season in Panthers History
The 2021-22 regular season will go down as the team’s best in their history, too. They need only 48 wins to set a new season record for victories and sit only a few short of that number with almost a quarter of the season left to be played.
The club is scoring 4.05 goals per game. Yes, 4.05. That means on an average night, opponents need to rack up five goals to beat Florida. On average, they only give up 2.84, good for the 12th-best total league-wide. Combine the highest-scoring offence with the 12th-best defence and goaltending output, and it’s no surprise they win so often.
Special teams sit in good standing too. They sport the ninth-best powerplay and 13th-best penalty kill. Sure, those aren’t outstanding, but they’re good enough to mean this team doesn’t really have a weakness there, either. And after some rocky years to start Bobrovsky’s tenure in Florida, the club now boasts the ninth-best team save percentage. Basically, they sit in the top ten in every major category, top-half of the league in special teams, and number one in scoring. Never, ever, ever has Florida iced a team this good.
Greatest Era in Florida Panthers History Produces Highest Expectations, Too
Hopefully, when all is said and done, this era will see postseason success to couple with all these newfound regular season accolades. The team’s core is mostly signed for the future, too. Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Spencer Knight will need new (more expensive) deals after next season. Besides them, though, Sam Reinhart, Barkov, Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe, Anton Lundell, Ekblad, Bobrovsky, Brandon Montour, and Gustav Forsling are all locked up for the next two seasons and beyond.
Because of all this, the expectations surrounding the Panthers are higher than ever before. They have to qualify for playoffs on a regular, annual basis now. That goes without saying at this point (which, in and of itself, is a departure from the norm for this franchise). Now, they have to win a playoff series.
And it has to happen this year. The team had its most-aggressive trade deadline in their history this season, too, entirely because of this new expectation. Claude Giroux, Robert Hagg and Ben Chiarot all joined the franchise, at the cost of multiple prospects and draft picks. Florida only has one pick in the top two rounds of the entry draft between now and 2025. They are all-in, right now, and for the next few years.
Basically, this club knows they’re in the greatest era in Florida Panthers history. They’re aware of what has to be done, and they want to win. Attendance numbers are beginning to tick upwards too, as fans take notice. It’s an exciting time to root for this team.