According to Webster’s Dictionary the term “Captain” can be defined as, “One who leads or supervises.” This definition is spot on when referring to the world of sports, especially in the NHL, as a team captain is not only depicted as a guy who can put the puck in the net, but a guy who can stand up and be a true leader night in and night out.
Where it all began
When the Florida Panthers joined the NHL back in 1993 one of their first duties was to name a team captain. For this role they made sure to select somebody who could lead this newborn team each game and guide the ship in the right direction from the get-go. For this they chose none other than Brian Skrudland.
For those of you too young to remember (including myself) Skrudland was a hardnosed, blue collar player who played the game of hockey on the edge. Though he was no 100-point man – In fact he didn’t even crack 50 – he was a guy that stood up and bled for his team. Skrudland wore the “C” on his jersey for the Panthers from 1993-1997, most importantly when the team made the run to the Stanley Cup final in 1996. Over 256 NHL games as team captain, Skrudland tallied 99 points and 401 penalty minutes.
The Rat Trick
In 1997 Skrudland left the Panthers – signing with the New York Rangers – meaning the Cats had to fill the captaincy role. They accomplished this by choosing one of the best players in franchise history – Scott Mellanby. Mellanby was one of the best players to ever pull a Panthers Jersey on over his head. He was a well-rounded player, as he could put the puck in the net, set up a beautiful play, or start a big fight to fire up his team.
During the 1996 run to the Stanley Cup Final, Mellanby led the team in scoring with 70 points in 79 games, accompanying his 160 penalty minutes. Hard work, grit, and leadership lead to Panthers management easily selecting him as the new captain.
The iconic term “Rat Trick” which is known throughout Panther land was first brought about by Mellanby before the team’s home opener in 1995. Mellanby killed a rat with his stick in the locker room and went on to score 2-goals in the game to which Florida Panthers netminder John Vanbiesbrouck coined the term “Rat Trick.” This term is still a big part of the Panthers history today as rubber rats could be seen all over the ice during the Panthers 2012 Playoff run. In 8 seasons with the Panthers, Mellanby scored 157 goals and 354 points with a whopping 953 penalty minutes.
Following two seasons where Pavel Bure and Paul Laus shared the captaincy followed by a non captain season, the Panthers then named a guy who many of us young people may refer to as the best captain in club history – Olli Jokinen.
Just like a bottle of wine, Jokinen proved to get better with age during his tenure with the Panthers. After two good seasons with the Panthers, Jokinen was named team captain in 2003, and held that title until he was joined the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008. Jokinen enjoyed his best season in 2007 when he put up 39 goals and 91 points for the Panthers. Jokinen proved to be one of the most durable players for the Panthers, willing to battle night in and night out for the Cats. In 7 seasons, Jokinen missed just 7 games in total as he put up 419 points.
Make Way For McCabe
In 2008, the Panthers named Bryan McCabe team captain, a role he would fill until 2011. McCabe would do an adequate job filling this position as his leadership role on defense provided the Panthers with the grit the team needed. Despite not having the ability to produce as well as a Scott Mellanby or an Olli Jokinen, McCabe proved he was willing to lay down his body in front of the puck, and do anything within his power to secure a victory for his team. Having a big slaphot on the power play helped as well.
Since the departure of Bryan McCabe, the Panthers have yet to fill the Captaincy role. Despite many rumours on who should be captain last season, the Cats decided to leave the position vacant while the club made the postseason for the first time in over a decade.
Looking ahead, the Panthers will more than likely look to fill this role, and in my opinion nobody is more deserving than Stephen Weiss.
Weiss was drafted 4th overall by the Panthers in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft and has spent his whole career with the Panthers. Weiss went 11-seasons without post-season play – something which no Panther has ever experienced before.
To date, Weiss is currently 2nd in points all-time as a Panthers (390), 4th in goals (144) and has the most assists as a Cat (246).
If the position was awarded tomorrow, you can sure bet your bottom dollar that this guy will get the nod as he bleeds Red, and battles hard for this team night in and night out. Weiss would ultimately be the best selection by management as over his 11-seasons he created a franchise-player status, something which is needed in South Florida by the Panthers as this guy is nothing short of a fan favourite as is more than deserving of the prestigious title.
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