While Roberto Luongo will officially become the first Florida Panthers player to have his jersey retired, the hope is it could open the floodgates. Luongo is obviously deserving having played 572 career games with the franchise (No. 1 among goalies). It’s commonly accepted that few other players best personify the franchise as a result.
Of those 572 games, 230 were wins (489 in his career, good for third-best in history). That obviously also ranks first for the franchise, but, for all Luongo has accomplished in his Panthers career, including those 230 wins, it must be said: He didn’t win anything in the postseason, aside from two games in 2015-16. That doesn’t even make a series.
That’s not a knock against Luongo. It’s more of an indication that, if Luongo is deserving of having his No. 1 jersey retired by the franchise, other ex-Panthers greats should be in line for the honor too. Which ones, though? Who else would be on the Panthers’ Mount Rushmore?
Ed Jovanovski (No. 55; 1995-1999 and 2011-2014)
There have admittedly been more prolific defensemen in Panthers history than Ed Jovanovski. Robert Svehla and Jay Bouwmeester spring to mind for two examples. However, Jovanovski simply springs to mind to a greater degree when one is asked who has had the most impact on the franchise.
Maybe all the empirical evidence says otherwise. After all, Jovanovski spent his best years elsewhere arguably as a Canuck (a la Luongo). However, the first-overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, who was dealt away in the infamous Pavel Bure trade at age 22, opted to return as a 35-year-old to bring his career to a close, serving as team captain by the end.
In effect, Jovanovski returned to the Panthers before Luongo made it cool, with the goalie joining him at the 2014 trade deadline. The only other difference? Jovanovski opted to sign with the Panthers to end his career, while Luongo, even if his heart may have theoretically been in the Sunshine State, had to be traded there. To make it happen, the Canucks even had to retain a portion of Luongo’s contract, which, by his own admission, sucked.
Luongo of course enjoyed a bit of a resurgence during his second stint with the Panthers. Without that last five-plus-season chapter of his career, it’s easy to believe this conversation doesn’t even take place. Since Jovanovski returned on his own, the debate as to whether he should have his jersey retired too is at least another that should take place.
Olli Jokinen (No. 12; 2000-2008)
Center Olli Jokinen actually joined the Panthers alongside Luongo in a trade for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. It was arguably then-New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury’s worst move, which is saying something. However, because of Luongo’s vast list of achievements, Jokinen sometimes gets overlooked. He shouldn’t.
For starters, Luongo got traded to the Canucks six years following the trade, just as he was entering his prime as a 27-year-old. He played the best hockey of his career as a Canuck. In contrast, Jokinen’s most productive seasons, including a 91-point campaign in 2006-07, came as a Panther.
Altogether, Jokinen played 567 career games with the panthers, scoring the most goals (188) and points (419) in franchise history. Other Panthers forwards may have had more staying power, like Stephen Weiss, with 654 games, the most played as a Panther. Others still may have had more star power, like Pavel Bure, who effectively re-wrote the single-season Panthers record book during his relatively short stint with the team.
Nevertheless, Jokinen, who bounced around from the point at which he was traded away, will forever be remembered as a Panther… and one of the best at that. Considering he played for 10 teams during his career, that’s also saying a great deal.
Scott Mellanby (No. 27; 1993-2001)
So far, Jokinen is the longest-serving captain in franchise history (2003-2008). Scott Mellanby is second, at least in terms of games played (263 compared to 256 for Brian Skrudland, who also served four seasons). Still, Mellanby arguably left more of a lasting impression on the organization than the Finnish center.
An original Panther, Mellanby not only scored the first goal in team history, but he is also credited with starting the iconic “Rat Trick” tradition. Even if he’ll always have a place in team lore as a result, he was no slouch when it came to statistics either. He ranks second in goals (157), fourth in points (354), and sixth in games played (552).
Even if Mellanby had some help reaching those heights, staying with the Panthers for eight seasons, it wasn’t like he was offensively incapable. Far from it. He led the Panthers in scoring with 60 points during their inaugural 1993-94 season. He replicated the feat with a 70-point effort in 1995-96. In truth, even if he flew under the radar, he was one of the Panthers’ very first stars, alongside goalie John Vanbiesbrouck.
While Vanbiesbrouck receives a great deal of the accolades for the Panthers’ early success as a franchise (and justifiably so), Mellanby was also there. Mellanby also stayed longer.
The mid 1990s represented the Panthers’ first few steps as a franchise, but in a lot of ways it was also their golden age. They jumped out of the gates as one of the most successful expansion teams in history with an 83-point season. They then made the playoffs in three of their first seven seasons, including their magical run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996. At least one player from that era (besides a just-drafted Jovanovski) must have their jersey retired. Mellanby makes the most sense as those teams’ heart and soul. Vanbiesbrouck has a case, having played the second-most amount of games in franchise history as a goalie, but considering he less than halves Luongo’s amount (268), the decision-makers obviously got it right with regard to who should go first. It just shouldn’t end there, is all.
The Panthers are undeniably looking to turn a corner and enjoy significantly more success than they’ve had up to now as a franchise. However, as the impending jersey-retirement ceremony will attest to, you can’t move forward without remembering and paying homage to the past. Luongo has meant a great deal to this franchise, but he’s not the only one.
It’s just that if the bar is set at Luongo, there are others who have already met the same criteria if not exceeded it. Any argument to the contrary is a slight to the quarter-century worth of seasons of Panthers hockey up to now. It’s a milestone that’s worth celebrating, sure. Start with Luongo, but, as if to open the door to the likes of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad in the future, he should be just the beginning.