The Franchise Best Series comes to you to dive into the all-time best single season for every organization. This, of course, includes post-season results. Join us for a look back at some of the most memorable moments in each franchise’s history. Here is the Florida Panthers Best Season.
Florida Panthers 1995-1996 Season
Previous Year and Off-Season Addition
In the 1994-95 season, which was shortened due to the NHL lockout, the Florida Panthers finished with 20-22-6 record, amassing 46 points. Florida’s struggles to put the puck in the net (115 goals, dead last in the league), combined with the Panthers horrible powerplay (13 percent, 24th of 26 in the league), were just too big for Florida to overcome and they missed the playoffs by one point.
Heading into what still is their greatest season ever, Florida added two key pieces. First overall pick Ed Jovanovski, from the 1994 draft, joined the team after returning to the OHL for the 1994-1995 season. But Florida needed to add some offensive punch and the Panthers found that with the 10th overall pick in the 1995 draft, Radek Dvorak.
They didn’t make any trades that offseason, but two trades from the 1994-95 season would prove to pay big in the 95-96 season. On September 29th, 1994, Florida traded a 1996 third round pick and a 1997 fourth round pick to Calgary for defensemen Robert Svehla and Magnus Svensson. Svensson didn’t have much impact, but Svehla was a key piece in Florida’s success in 95-96. The other trade was on March 3rd, 1995. Florida traded a 1998 5th round pick to San Jose for Johan Garpenlov. Garpenlov finished the 94-95 season with Florida, but his first full season as a Panther in 95-96 was instrumental to their season.
A Positive Regular Season
The Panthers came out flying to start their best season ever, winning 14 of their first 20 games with one tie. They never looked back, amassing a 41-31-10 record, good for 92 points. The two parts of Florida’s game that held them out of the playoffs in 1994-95 were their goals for and powerplay. In 1995-96, the Panthers improved both significantly. They went from 2.39 goals for per game to 3.10 goals for per game, and their power play went from 13 percent to 17 percent.
A Third Season Leap
Rob Niedermayer was drafted fifth overall in 1993 by Florida, but in his first two seasons, he only scored 36 points in 113 games. But in his third season, Niedermayer took major strides forward scoring 61 points (26 goals, 35 assists). Niedermayer finding his scoring touch in the NHL was a crucial step in Florida’s success.
Finding a Hidden Gem
As previously mentioned, Florida traded for defensemen Robert Svehla and the trade turned out to be key in their season. After playing 1994-95 in Sweden, Svehla joined Florida after the trade from Calgary, and his 57 points in 81 games as a rookie was outstanding and instrumental in Florida’s success.
Late Season Deal
With the playoffs on the horizon, Florida made a deal with San Jose on March 16th, 1996. Sending a 1996 second round pick and fourth round pick to the Sharks, the Panthers acquired Ray Sheppard and a 1996 fourth round pick. Sheppard had 46 points in 51 games for the Sharks, so Florida found yet another offensive weapon. In the 14 regular season games he played with the Panthers, Sheppard scored 10 points (eight of which were goals). But in the playoffs, Sheppard shined with eight goals and eight assists in 21 games.
Quest For Their First Stanley Cup
The Panthers finished fourth in the East and met the Boston Bruins in the first round. They made quick work of the bean-town boys, beating them in five games. In the five-game series, Florida scored 22 goals and only scored less than four in one game.
In the second round, Florida met the best team in the east but again came out on top, beating Philadelphia in six games. The Flyers had the fourth most goals in the regular season but the Panthers managed to hold them to just 11 goals in the entire series.
In the Eastern Conference Final, it took seven games but the Panthers managed to upset another team, this time the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the regular season, the Penguins were the top scoring team in the NHL amassing 362 goals and yet the Panthers only gave up 15 goals over the seven games.
So Close Yet So Far
Florida’s run came to a crashing halt in the Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche. Down three games to none, Florida played for their season in Game 4. In triple overtime, Uwe Krupp scored his second goal of the series to end Florida’s improbable Cup run and the Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup in their first season since moving from Quebec City.
To this day, Florida hasn’t made it back to the Stanley Cup Final and the current state of the Panthers isn’t very good with only two playoff appearances in the last 17 seasons.
The offence for Florida’s improbable playoff run was spearheaded by two veterans, Dave Lowry and newly acquired Ray Sheppard. Lowry had 17 points (10 goals, seven assists) in 22 games and Sheppard added 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 21 games. Rookie, and former first overall pick, Ed Jovanovski, led all Florida defensemen with nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 22 games.
The Panthers were treated to outstanding goaltending in the playoffs. Veteran netminder John Vanbiesbrouck had a .932 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average. That season in the NHL, the top save percentage was .920 and the average save percentage of the top 10 goalies was .913, so Vanbiesbrouck’s numbers really were impressive.
No Panthers player won an individual award that season, but the team won the Prince of Wales Trophy as champions of the Eastern Conference.