Stephen Weiss enters his 11th season with Florida. No current Heat player, Dolphin or Marlin has been here longer. Weiss is the club’s all-time leader in games played. And yet he told me during last year’s playoffs, “There are days you go out and nobody recognizes you.”
Dineen acknowledged this week, “John Vanbiesbrouck’s name is recognized as much here as Jose Theodore’s. And that’s based on success.”
Theodore is the current goaltender. Vanbiesbrouck, of course, was the club’s 1993-98 goalie when the Stanley Cup Finals were attained, when rubber rats fell merrily onto the ice — when the Panthers moved beyond niche sport and seemed to capture our imagination for awhile.
Just as Dolphins fans forever are wistful over the team’s 1972-73 Super Bowl championships, Panthers fans tend to wax nostalgic over ’96 in large part because nothing since has been offered to replace it.
For the hockey team, that could be coming if last season proves to have been just the beginning and not some aberration.
Tallon remade the roster and brought in veterans like Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, but it is what’s next that should excite Panthers fans.
Erik Gudbranson, the 2010 top draft pick, has banked a season’s NHL experience and is ready to take off. Jonathan Huberdeau, the 2011 top pick, is set to make his debut with the big club, offering the tantalizing prospect of the offensive punch the team lacked last season. Young Jacob Markstrom, goaltender of the future, may be ready to blossom.
And behind them is a farm system that might be the most talented and fully stocked in the league.
“Were pushing from below,” as Dineen puts it, “with young players we drafted and are developing.”
For a lost decade it felt like the Panthers were pushing against themselves, stuck, going nowhere.
A franchise, pushing forward.