Dec 21, 2011; Dallas, TX, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Andreas Lilja (6) skates through the Dallas Stars zone during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Flyers defeated the Stars 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

The Ex-Panther Factor: Andreas Lilja

With games coming up against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight and the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night, the pickings were slim on who would be the subject of my weekly post.  You have to go back almost 10 years for the details on defenceman Andreas Lilja’s time as a Florida Panther.  Yes, he was here, and yes it was uneventful.  Raise your hand if you remember him.  Yea, thought so.

Lilja was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings in 2000.  Born in Sweden, the 6′ 3″ 220 lb defenceman certainly had size, but while we had him there wasn’t much else.  Lila played 45 games for the Kings over three seasons before he was traded to the Panthers in November of 2002.  The Panthers sent Dmitri Yushkevich and a 5th round pick  to the Kings for Lilja and Jaroslav Bednar (prounounced Bednash).

Lilja played the balance of the 2002-2003 season and the 2003-2004 season for Florida during a time when the Panthers were bad.  Really bad.  Lilja found himself in Mike Keenan’s doghouse a few times, and as a young defenceman had a lot to learn, yet the Panthers really had no one to show him the ropes.  Look at the roster that Keenan had to deal with in 02-03, as well as the brief part of 03-04 that Keenan was coach.  Some brilliant names on defence that were here at that time.  Players like Igor Ulanov, Branislav Mezei, and who could ever forget Mathieu Biron. Remember Ivan Majesky?  Good grief, when I look back at some of those names my brain starts to hurt, and my left eye twitches.  How did we win any games with these players?  No wonder Keenan was always shouting.

As for Lilja I don’t remember much about him other than he never developed into the big defenceman that the Panthers thought he could be.  He was basically a turnover machine with ill advised passes, who seemed to always take penalties at the wrong time.  And as you saw by looking at those two rosters, these teams were not equiped to kill many penalties.

Fortunately we put Lilja out of his misery, as we seemed to do with many players back then by letting him go as a free agent.  He would sign with the Nashville Predators in the summer of 2004, but that was the year of the lockout, and he became a free agent again, and somehow convinced the Detroit Red Wings to sign him in August of 2005 after the lockout had ended.  What luck.  You struggle to play with any kind of consistency here in Florida, play in Sweden during the lockout and find yourself a member of the Detroit Red Wings.  Lilja would play for five years (YES 5) with Detroit and was a member of their Stanley Cup Winning team in 2007-2008.  Again, what luck.

To his credit though, and Panther fans will never know how it happened, Lilja became a serviceable and dependable defender with the Wings.  It must be their system, and their coaching that somehow changed his play.  Can’t fault a guy for improving, but it makes you realize just how bad the Florida Panthers were during his time here.

After his time with the Wings, Lilja has played with the Anaheim Ducks for one season, and this year signed on with the Philadelphia Flyers.  He’s been injured for a portion of this season playing only 35 games after missing time with ankle injury that found him out of the lineup for two separate stints.  He has just recently returned playing the the two most recent games on the Flyers schedule.

Memorable moments?  I will bet you don’t remember this fight between Lilja and Ed Jovanovski when Jovo was a member of the Vancouver Canucks.  Or how about the time that Lilja decided to take on tough guy Eric Godard.  Good times.

And just to prove that he didn’t learn how to fight any better as a member of the Red Wings, here Lilja tales on Shea Weber. Another bad decision.

He’s obviously served some purpose lasting this long, and his time in Detroit was likely the best run he’d ever have in his career.  As a 5th or 6th defencemen with the Wings, he did his part, and fortunately for him he experienced some success.  Which is something that many former Panthers from that awful era didn’t.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

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Tags: Andreas Lilja Detroit Red Wings Florida Panthers Mike Keenan Stanley Cup

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