Top 5: Players You Forgot Were Florida Panthers

Joining the league in 1993, the Florida Panthers were one of the more successful expansion teams of the era. Making it to the Stanley Cup Final in their third season of existence, they spent much of the next twenty years at the bottom of the NHL standings. The franchise often became a salary-dumping grounds while simultaneously trying to right the ship and put a competitive team on the ice, it lead to some obscure players suiting up in Panthers red over the years.

Number 5- Sandis Ozolinsh

After spending the first nine years of his career in the Western Conference with the Sharks and the Avalanche, Sandis Ozolinsh was traded at the 2000 entry draft from Colorado to the Carolina Hurricanes for a trio of draft picks. He signed a five-year extension with the Hurricanes, a deal they almost immediately regretted. After failing to help the Hurricanes make it past the first round of the playoffs in 2001, he was dealt to the Florida Panthers on January 16, 2002. Ozolinsh played 37 games with the Panthers to finish out the 2001-02 season where he recorded 29 points. He started the 2002-03 season with the Panthers and played 51 games before again being traded just over a year after the last on January 30, 2003. Ozolinsh was sent to the Mighty Ducks in exchange for Matt Cullen, Pavel Trnka, and a fourth round draft pick.

Number 4- Joe Nieuwendyk

Best known for his long tenures with the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars, by the time 2005 rolled around, Joe Nieuwendyk was already a veteran of 1,177 NHL games. Nieuwendyk originally signed a one-year extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2004-05 season, but the lockout ruined that, and made him a free agent for the summer of 2005. Even though he considered retirement, he opted to sign a two-year deal with the Florida Panthers, who also signed his longtime friend and teammate Gary Roberts. Nieuwendyk suited up for 65 games in 2005-06 scoring 26 goals and 56 points, but the Panthers missed the playoffs by eight points. The following season, he only managed to play in 15 games before a lingering back injury forced him to announce his retirement on December 7, 2006.

Number 3- Dmitri Yushkevich

Dmitri Yushkevich had all the makings of a superstar defenseman who was blossoming with the Toronto Maple Leafs. A blood clot forced him to miss most of the 2001-02 season. He did not return in time for the 2002 playoffs and in the offseason was dealt to the Florida Panthers on July 18, 2002 in exchange for Robert Svehla. Yushkevich played just 23 games for the Panthers before he was traded yet again, this time to the LA Kings in a deal for Jaroslav Bednar and Andreas Lilja. He was dealt yet again at the 2003 trade deadline to the Philadelphia Flyers, the team he started his career with.

Number 2- Ed Belfour

After reviving his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2002 to 2006, the 17-season NHL veteran wanted to test himself and play one more season, signing with the Panthers. Belfour found himself seeing the lion’s share of the starts as his counterpart Alex Auld saw multiple stints on IR. At one point starting 27 games in a row, he finished the season with a 2.77 goals against average and .902 save percentage in 58 NHL games. Belfour played 20 more games in Sweden’s HockeyAllsvenskan before retiring for good in the summer of 2008.

Number 1- Todd Bertuzzi

After sucker punching Steve Moore late in the 2003-04 season, the media frenzy surrounding Todd Bertuzzi became a distraction to the entire Vancouver Canucks organization. After the lockout ended, he was dealt to the Florida Panthers, whose General Manager at the time was Mike Keenan, who was Bertuzzi’s first coach with the Canucks. He debuted for the Panthers on October 6, 2006 and scored four points in his first game. Bertuzzi only played in seven games before a herniated disc put him on the sidelines for five months. During his time on IR, he was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings, ending his short stint with the Panthers after just seven games.

Honorable mentions

Steve Eminger

After a famous disaster of a trade in the summer of 2008 when he was shipped from the Capitals to the Flyers, Philadelphia was quick to move on from Eminger, trading him after just 12 games of service. He was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning where he would spend the bulk of the 2008-09 season, but at the 2009 trade deadline he was once again traded, this time to the Florida Panthers. Eminger played nine games for the Panthers, scoring one goal, but Florida missed the playoffs due to a tie breaker with the Canadiens. The Panthers did not re-sign Eminger, who instead signed a two-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks.

Mike Foligno

Best known for his decade-long stint with the Buffalo Sabres throughout the 1980’s, Mike Foligno was in the twilight of his career by the time the 1993-94 season came around. Starting the season with the Maple Leafs, a broken foot just four games into the season kept him on the shelf for multiple months. While recovering he was dealt to the Florida Panthers on November 5, 2003 in exchange for cash considerations. Upon his return, Foligno suited up for 39 games in Florida, scoring just four goals and nine points, though racking up 49 penalty minutes. After the season ended he retired and a few years later became a coach in the AHL.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

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