O Captain! My Captain! – Words not uttered often in and around the Florida Panthers’ organization last season. Throughout the entirety of the 2011-2012 season, the Panthers were the only NHL club without a captain and instead decided to go with four alternate captains. While the quartet of Stephen Weiss, Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Kopecky and Brian Campbell did a fine job last season while sharing the leadership role – the time has come for the Panthers to decide on a singular voice to lead the Panthers on the ice and into the future. Here’s a closer look at the top candidates to wear the “C” in South Florida this season.
The longest tenured Panther on the roster, Weiss has been a mainstay of the Florida Panthers since being selected in the first round (4th overall) by the club in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Although he never reached the superstar heights that were expected of him, Weiss became a fan favorite and a staple of stability for the club as it went through numerous losing seasons while constantly trying to figure things out.
On February 23, 2012, Weiss set the Panthers’ franchise record for games played when he laced up his skates for the 614th time in a Panthers’ jersey. While on the ice, Weiss puts everything on the line to win. His tough play and leadership capabilities are best represented in his toothless grin that can be seen after any Panther goal.
The main thing holding back Weiss from being the obvious choice to become captain is fact that he is in the final year of his current contract and possibly his final season in South Florida. While the Panthers’ would love to keep Weiss on the roster, the price will have to be right. At 29 years old, Weiss could demand upwards of $4.5 million per year on the open market – a price too high for a Panthers’ team looking to rebuild under a new lowered cap. Even if Weiss chooses to take a hometown discount and stay in Florida for less than he could receive elsewhere, the uncertainty of his future with the club will most likely keep him from becoming captain this season.
A shining relic from the Panthers’ glory days of the 1990’s, Ed Jovanovski’s veteran leadership and charisma could lead to him being a top candidate to become the Panthers’ captain this season. Even though Jovanovski left the Panthers after the 1999 season, his return to South Florida this past year was welcomed and praised by fans of the club. Over ten years later and the endearingly nicknamed “Jovo-Cop” is still a fan favorite among Panthers’ fans.
The 36 year-old Jovanovski is coming off an underwhelming season where he only accumulated 13 points (3G 10A) through 66 games played and was
held scoreless in the Panthers’ first round playoff exit against the New Jersey Devils. Surrounded by young talent, the aging Jovanovski’s contributions won’t show up much on score sheets, but his on ice leadership and veteran presence is invaluable to a young Panthers’ squad.
As much as Jovanovski’s leadership and veteran presence is appreciated by the Panthers, his time on the team’s roster could be coming to an end in the near future. With the inclusion of compliance buyouts in the new CBA, Jovanovski could potentially be bought out following this season’s end. His $4.25 million cap hit could be seen as detrimental to a young Panther squad, especially with the upcoming reduction of the salary cap. Upstart prospects like Colby Robak, Alex Petrovic and Keaton Ellerby could push Jovanovski out the door earlier than expected.
One potential option for the Panthers would be to take a page out of the New York Islanders book – crazy I know! Much like the Islanders did in 2009 with veteran center Doug Weight, the Panthers could name Jovanovski team captain knowing that his term would be short. Then, after a season or two as captain, Jovanovski could retire and join the Panthers organization in the front office or as a potential coaching assistant.
As one of several members of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks now on the Panthers, Kopecky brings championship experience to a rebuilding Panthers’ club. Kopecky, known for being a tough gritty player on the ice, was an integral part of the Panthers’ success last season as the Panthers capture their first ever Southeast Division title.
While Kopecky won’t ever be near the top in team scoring, he has great leadership qualities and leads by example while on the ice. Although he only totaled 32 points (10G 22A) last season, Kopecky was on the ice during many key situations for the Panthers’ and was able to come up big in the team’s biggest moments.
Signed with the Panthers for the next 3 seasons, Kopecky’s future in Florida seems fairly solid and he could definitely flourish in a leadership role if it were presented to him. The main detriment to Kopecky’s captaincy will be the fact that he is not a flashy name, nor does he see the ice as often as other worthy candidates Brian Campbell and Stephen Weiss.
Coming off an astounding season in which he took home the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy and just nearly missed a Norris Trophy nomination,
defenseman Brian Campbell is my choice to become the next captain of the Florida Panthers.
Campbell’s numbers during the 2011-2012 were nothing short of staggering. A beacon of reliability, Campbell was able to play in all 82 of the Panthers’ regular season games last season and was able to total 53 points (4G 49A) while only accumulating 6 penalty minutes.
Campbell’s ability to “quarterback” the Panthers’ power play last season was one of the biggest reasons they were able to take home their first ever Southeast Division title last year. An astounding playmaker and fantastic leader, Campbell is possibly the most important player on the Panthers’ roster.
Like teammate Tomas Kopecky, Campbell brings Stanley Cup championship experience to the Panthers as well as veteran leadership. Signed through the 2016 season, Campbell is in a perfect position to lead the Panthers for the next several years. In an ideal scenario, Campbell would retire as captain after the 2016 season and in doing so; make room for Jonathan Huberdeau to start his term as the Panthers’ team captain.