History Of Defence. Then & Now.

Erik Gudbranson. Is The Future Now?

In the short history of the Florida Panthers, many defencemen have come and gone like most other organ-eye-zations.  However it seems that down here in the hot bed of southern hockey, the Cats have had a few too many D-men that maybe have slipped through their fingers.  All of them for various reasons.  Dumb, slow, not ready, too mistake prone, poor hockey sense, can’t sign them, won’t sign them, don’t want to stay, and can’t interview well.  In any case I thought that since the past three drafts have yielded three defencemen in the first round, we should take a look at who’s been here and gone.  Careful, you might want to do this with one eye closed.

Robert Svehla.  This guy set the example of what a Panther defenceman should be.  Tough, skilled, hard working and a fan favourite Svehla had much success here in Florida.  A key member of the 1996 team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals, Svehla was one of the best defencemen to ever have put on a Panther sweater.  Robert played eight years for Florida, his best during the 95-96 campaign when he accumulated 57 points.  He played hurt, he played when he was beat up, and he played when he maybe shouldn’t have.  A lesson that some of our current players may want to learn from.  Svehla left it all on the ice, and his effort was always the best.  Svehla finished his career in 2002-2003 with the Toronto Maple Leafs as his rights were traded for Dmitry Yushkevich.  Yushkevich lasted 23 games till he was sent to Los Angeles for Jarslav Bednar and Andreas Lilja.

Ed Jovanovski.  Jovo Cop.  Drafted first overall in the 1994 entry draft, Jovo Cop’s first full season was the year that the Panthers went to the Finals.  Who could ever forget his bone crushing hit on Flyers forward Eric Lindros?  He also had some big hits on Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and many others throughout that playoff run.  Jovo was loved for quite some time for his big hits, his big shot, and they way he patrolled the blueline.  His start in Florida was much better than his finish, as he became for some reason a bumbling, fumbling lost sole.  The boo birds took it very hard on this kid and Florida was left with no other choice then to trade him.  You remember that trade don’t you?  January 17, 1999, the day that Pavel Bure came to town in a monster deal with the Vancouver Canucks.  Seven players were involved, but Bure was the main catch.  Jovo improved and had some really good years in Vancouver.  Ultimately becoming a free agent in 2006, when then GM Mike Keenan made a strong push to bring Jovo back.  But not at 7 million per.

Paul Laus.  “I fought the Laus and the Laus won”!  Who could forget that?  Another player that was a fan fave during the Cup run.  Laus would drop the gloves with anyone.  Laus played parts of nine seasons here in Florida and was the clubs enforcer, policeman, and good guy extraordinaire.  We all know he wasn’t known for his scoring or manning the power play, but me thinks that all the fighting ended up taking it’s toll.  Paul developed some wrist injuries that forced his retirement in 2003.  Laus was a player that to this day, every team still needs, not only for his toughness, but for his character.

Dan Boyle.  Yikes!  The surprising thing about Boyle is how good he became once he left.  Smallish for a defenceman, but he was offensively gifted.  Which caused the problems he had with then coach Mike Keenan.  The Panthers weren’t very good offensively and didn’t have the roster to be any good defensively at that time.  Boyle loved to join the rush, or start it.  He got caught many times and couldn’t recover.  Iron Mike talked to Boyle numerous times until he’d had enough and Boyle was sent packing.  Boyle was traded for a fifth round pick which turned out to be some guy named Martin Tuma, who never saw the NHL ice as far as I can tell.  This is one player that maybe the Cats screwed up on.  Mike wanted him to play a certain way, but Dan was young and wanted to create something.  I only wish that both sides could have worked together on this one.

Rhett Warrener, Filip Kuba, Jaroslav Spacek, Gord Murphy, and Mike Van Ryn.  Serviceable, good yet not great players.  Guys that could be solid defenceman on your second or third pair.  Each of them brought something different to the game.  But as usual they didn’t last.  I will say, trading Van Ryn, a player that I liked very much was the only thing Uncle Jack did that was smart.  Van Ryn has since retired, and we still have Bryan McCabe.  McCabe has escaped the wrath of the Toronto media, played very steadily here, and has actually provided some good moments.  He’s also become the team captain, has settled down with some of his misplays that he was known for in his previous stops.  He still has one hell of a slapshot too.  He’ll most likely be moved at the trade deadline, unless somehow he agrees to sign for a hometown discount.

Jay Bouwmeester.  Finally a player that was drafted that appeared to be able t0 fill his promise.  then he opened his mouth.  When I saw this guy skate at the very first rookie practice in the year he was drafted, I thought we had someone special.  I’ll never forget a skating drill that they all did on one skate.  Forward and backward.  Everyone but Jay struggled.  But it was all for not.  Jay a big man, behaved like a boy with zero confidence.  Sure he could play 28 minutes a night, sure he could pass, score some points, but his positioning, and physicality was missing.  For a guy as fast as he was and as big as he was, something is/was missing.  And then he became disenchanted with the circus atmosphere in Florida.  Six years of no playoffs and Jay would never sign a long term deal.  Always saying something along the lines of I’m not in a hurry, or let’s wait and see.  Well, for almost two full seasons the Panthers knew he wanted out.  I remember hearing about a deal on the table where Jay was going to Edmonton for Chris Pronger.  The Panthers ownership said no.  Think about that for awhile.  All you Keenan haters would have loved him then huh! Then they continued to hope that they could change is mind during the rest of his time here, until George Costanza, aka Randy Sexton unloaded him to Calgary for Jordan Leopold and a third round pick.  I could have friggin’ done that!

Dmitry Kulikov.  A very special and gifted player that the Florida Panthers took at 14th last year.  Everyone said this kid was good.  He could skate, he could shoot, he could score and was good positionally. He looked a bit overmatched at times in the beginning last season, but finally settled down and seems to be the real deal.  The concern was sending him back to juniors wouldn’t help and it was better for him to stay here.  Ultimately it seems the right move was made.  Will they do it again?  See the next player.  This kid has a chance to be here for a ling time.  If Florida turns things around soon it could be, otherwise, he’ll want too much money, he’ll never sign a long term deal, and we’ll trade him to Toronto for some slop like Jeff Finger.

Erik Gudbranson.  Yea, the man crush I have on this kid gets worse, or stronger every day.  I have read a lot about this kid, and all of it, and I mean all of it is good.  He’s big, quick, nasty, smart, and can skate.  And he’s sooooo good looking!  Wouldn’t you let him date your daughter?   I know I would.  Ok, enough of that.  He’s not afraid to hit either.  Something that’s missing from this team.  The only knock on him is that he’s 18.  Well so was Kulikov, and Kulikov was drafted 14th, Gudbranson was drafted third.  How can you not keep him?  If he keeps playing the way he did Tuesday night, and in Sunday’s scrimmage, I can’t see how he can’t be on this team.  I would find it hard to believe that Mike Weaver, and or Keaton Ellerby are better than this kid.  He plays and speaks with the confidence of a veteran, and has indicated more than once, that the NHL is where he wants to be.  I hope so, my daughter’s home coming dance is in October, and he can’t take her if he’s sent back to juniors! Seriously, I haven’t been this excited about a player coming to Florida since Gary Roberts signed here as a free agent.

The one’s we’d like to forget:  Mike Wilson, Brad Norton, Lance Ward, Mathieu Biron, Branislav Mezei, Eric Cairns, Cory Murphy, and Darren Van Impe.  Now I could go on some more with both this list and some others that we’d like to remember, but you’re head probably would have hit the keyboard from boredom.  Plus I have to leave some room for someone to comment and say, hey what about Lance Pitlick!

As you can see,  good defencemen are not a dime a dozen.   Sometimes it boils down to the atmosphere, the players around you, and your personal makeup.  It would seem to me that the Florida Panthers have misjudged many of these players that are mentioned here.  One thing for sure though, Kulikov and Gudbranson have very bright futures.  They will make a solid pair someday.  Provided the Panthers don’t figure out a new way to scew it up.

Thanks for reading.

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Cheers

Topics: Dan Boyle, Defencemen, Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers, Jay Bouwmeester, Matin Tuma, Mike Keenan, Robert Svehla

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