John Vanbiesbrouck is a Florida Panthers legend who served as the team’s starting goaltender from their inception in 1993 until 1997-98. He led the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 1995-96 and another playoff appearance in 1996-97. Given the franchise’s early success led by Vanbiesbrouck, he will go down as not only one of the greatest players to be selected in an expansion draft but also one of the greatest players in franchise history.
Vanbiesbrouck was selected by the Panthers in the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft as a 30-year-old coming off a 20-18-7 record with the New York Rangers. In his last season in New York, he posted a .900 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.31 goals-against average (GAA). In his first season in South Florida, his stat line improved to a 21-25-11 record with a .924 SV% and a 2.53 GAA.
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He helped the Panthers to one of the most successful inaugural seasons in NHL history, with a 33-34-17 record and finishing just one point out of the playoffs. It was the best inaugural season in NHL history until the Vegas Golden Knights took the NHL by storm in 2016-17, with a 52-24-7 record and making it to the Stanley Cup Final before they lost to the Washington Capitals.
In 1994-95, the Panthers missed the playoffs by one point again, and Vanbiesbrouck finished with a 14-15-4 record, a .914 SV%, and a 2.47 GAA. However, he led the team to a deep playoff run the following season.
In the ‘Year of the Rat’, so-called after Vanbiesbrouck referred to Scott Mellanby’s ‘Rat Trick’ in the home opener – Mellanby scored two goals in the game and killed a rat in the locker room with the same stick, Vanbiesbrouck led the team to a 41-31-10 record and their first-ever playoff berth. He had a 26-20-7 record with a .904 SV% and a 2.68 GAA.
During the playoffs, he buckled down to become one of the team’s key leaders in their run to the Stanley Cup Final. In 22 starts, he had a 12-10 record with a .932 SV% and a 2.25 GAA. If the Panthers had won the Cup, Vanbiesbrouck would likely have also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP.
In 1996-97, Vanbiesbrouck led the Panthers to a 35-28-19 record and their second-straight postseason appearance. He had a 27-19-10 record with a .919 SV% and a 2.29 GAA. In their first-round series against the Rangers, he had a 1-4 record with a .929 SV% and a 2.25 GAA.
The 1997-98 season was his last in Florida, as his production dropped to the tune of an 18-29-11 record with a .899 SV% and a 2.81 GAA. He signed with the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent that offseason after the Panthers finished with a 24-43-15 record.
Vanbiesbrouck’s Panthers Legacy
Among goaltenders, Vanbiesbrouck ranks second in games played in franchise history (268), started the second-most games (260), and ranks second in wins (106), all behind Roberto Luongo – who played 572 games as a Panther. Of all Panthers goaltenders who played at least 100 games, he ranks third in save percentage (.912) and second in goals-against average (2.58.) His GAA is just 0.01 behind Tomas Vokoun as the best in franchise history. His 13 shutouts also rank third.
Vanbiesbrouck finished top-10 in Vezina Trophy voting four times in his career with the Panthers, including a second-place finish during the team’s inaugural season in 1993-94. ‘Beezer,’ as the fans called him, was one of the most iconic players in franchise history and led the team through one of its most successful eras. It’s been over 20 years since he left the organization, but he is still remembered as one of the greatest players to ever wear a Panthers jersey.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a football contributor, social media contributor and photographer for FAU Owls Nest.
Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press. You can find him on Twitter at @ColbyDGuy.