For some NHL franchises, a Cinderella run to a Stanley Cup finals sweep would be a prelude of better things to come. For the great ones, it would possibly be a little bit embarrassing. For the mediocre ones, it might be a vibrant memory in a montage of occasional playoff appearances.
Yet for a moribund franchise such as the Florida Panthers, the 1996 out-of-nowhere run was almost a mirage. Fueled by great goaltending by John Vanbiesbrouck, scrappy players such as Rob Niedermayer and the sparse bit of starpower from a young Ed Jovanovski, the Panthers shocked the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr on their way to a brick wall in the form of the Colorado Avalanche. In the mean time, fans would serenade opposing goalies with those infamous, time-sapping plastic rats.
It was a strange anomaly of a summer, but it seems like new GM Dale Tallon isn’t afraid to echo that isolated bit of history. George Richards of On Frozen Pond reports that the team is bringing back Brian Skrudland and Gord Murphy – a couple of the most popular players from that era – to work in Florida’s front office.
The Panthers are going back to their roots and bringing back two of their former players back into the fold as Brian Skrudland and Gord Murphy are on their way back to South Florida.
GM Dale Tallon officially announced Tuesday than Skrudland will become the Panthers director of player development, with Murphy replacing Mike Kitchen behind the Florida bench as an assistant coach.
Both were part of the Florida’s 1996 Eastern Conference championship team, Skrudland being the team’s first captain.
It’s been a busy summer for the normally dormant Florida hockey franchise. Can they make good on Tallon’s changes or are they really just running in place? A few years might go by before those questions can truly be answered, but we’ll start to see if some progress has been made next season.
From the NHL:
Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.
Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.
PITTSBURGH — When Pete DeBoer was hired to coach the San Jose Sharks, he wasn’t totally cognizant of how much heartbreak the fan base had experienced throughout the years.
Now he knows.
“First year in the community, I didn’t realize kind of the baggage that was carried around,” DeBoer said this morning ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Twenty-five-year season-ticket holders coming up to you with tears in their eyes and crying.”
The Sharks, of course, have never been this far in the playoffs. Prior to this year, they’d made it three times to the Western Conference Final, losing each time.
More painful were the first-round exits. Like in 2009 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and got knocked out by the Ducks, and two years ago when they led the Kings 3-0 before dropping four straight.
It was only after the Sharks beat the Blues that DeBoer fully realized the “gravity of what they’ve been through” as fans in San Jose, and “how important this is to them.”
Not that he’s satisfied with getting this far.
“The business at hand now is to get off on the right foot, plant the right seeds for this series, impose our game,” he said. “Every series is the same — it’s whatever team can impose their game on the other team the quickest and for the longest. That’s our goal here tonight.”
Related: For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot
Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar will spend part of his offseason trying to help Slovenia qualify for the Olympics.
RTV Slovenia has the story here.
The qualification games will be played September 1-4 in Minsk. Slovenia is in a group with Belarus, Denmark and Poland. The winner of the group will qualify for the Olympics.
The NHL reportedly has no issue with Kopitar’s participation, even though the league has yet to commit to sending its players to Pyeongchang.
Slovenia made its Olympic debut in ice hockey at the 2014 Games in Sochi.
Kopitar will also represent Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup later in September.
Related: Slovenia beats Slovakia for historic win
PITTSBURGH — Matt Nieto is healthy, and ready to go.
But it doesn’t look like he’ll go tonight.
The San Jose Sharks are unlikely to make any lineup changes for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh — at Monday’s optional morning skate, Nieto stayed out late with the extras while the guy he’d (presumably) replace in the lineup, Dainius Zubrus, told NHL.com he was in.
Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wouldn’t reveal any lineup decisions during his morning media availability, instead talking up both Nieto (for his speed) and Zubrus (for his “heavy” game), adding he liked the versatility the two give the club on a night-by-night basis.
Nieto suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of the Nashville series, and missed all of the Western Conference Final.
Prior to getting hurt, he had three points in 11 games — this after a regular season in which he scored eight goals and 17 points in 67 games.