The Florida Panthers have rarely worried about goaltending.
More often than not, the Panthers have a history of suiting up well-decorated netminders. There have been numerous all-stars, Vezina Trophy winners (John Vanbiesbrouck) and a couple who have captured the Conn Smythe Trophy (Tim Thomas). Florida can even stake claim to a former Hart Trophy winner (Jose Theodore) and a Hall of Famer (Ed Belfour).
The Panthers have even produced the occasional surprise — such as Trevor Kidd, who opened the 1999-2000 season with a sizzling 13-4-2 record before dislocating his shoulder during a team skills competition.
But over 20 years, there have been only a few to rise above the others during their stints in the Sunshine State.
Based on their performance as Panthers, we count down Florida’s top 5 goaltenders of all-time:
5. MIKE VERNON
Vernon was the most effective goaltender who spent a year or less with the Panthers.
In terms of points percentage, no Panthers goaltender with at least 30 games to his credit bested Vernon, who posted a .559 mark. (Belfour finished a close second at .552.) Vernon’s 2.47 goals-against average still ranks No. 1 among Florida’s all-time starting goalies.
Acquired on Dec. 30, 1999, the Calgary native was brought in to secure the crease after the team lost Kidd to injury. Vernon won five of his first six starts before Florida began to sputter in mid-January and February. But the veteran never went more than three games without helping the Cats register points in the standings.
During the final three weeks of the season, the 37-year-old collected points in eight straight games (7-0-1), ensuring what would become a rare playoff berth for the Cats.
Vernon finished the regular season with an 18-13-2 record and a .919 save percentage. But his season-ending loss to New Jersey was a sign to come. The Panthers were swept by the Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Florida left Vernon exposed in the 2000 Expansion Draft that offseason. He was selected by the Minnesota Wild and later traded to the Calgary Flames, the franchise which drafted him in 1981.
4. CRAIG ANDERSON
Another short-tenured Panther, Anderson was one of just four goaltenders to play multiple seasons in Florida and finish his Cats career with a winning record. That’s a claim even our top three choices cannot make.
First drafted by Calgary in 1999 and re-drafted by Chicago in 2001, Anderson underperformed in the Blackhawks system. The Panthers acquired him for a late-round draft pick in 2006 to provide depth in the team’s minor-league system.
Anderson only appeared in five games during the 2006-07 season. What at best can be described as dysfunction that season between Belfour and Alex Auld led Florida to overhaul its goaltending situation the following summer. With Tomas Vokoun taking over as the team’s No. 1, Anderson earned a promotion as the veteran’s backup.
Anderson played sparingly at the start of 2007-08, and his performance warranted it — the Illinois native lost his first five starts. But Vokoun went cold for the second time that season in late February, and Anderson dazzled in relief.
On March 2, he set an NHL record for most saves in a shutout with 53 in a 1-0 win against the New York Islanders. (The record has since been broken by Phoenix’s Mike Smith, who bested Anderson by one in 2012). Two nights later, Anderson registered 40 saves in a 1-0 overtime win against the Boston Bruins, giving him yet another NHL record with most saves in consecutive shutouts (93).
Anderson appeared in 31 games for the Panthers the following season and never went more than one contest without collecting a point.
His impressive development made him the heir-apparent for the Cats’ starting role. But it also coincided with the expiration of his contract in July 2009. Florida had two more years and $12 million committed to Vokoun and was unable to compete with free-agent suitors. Anderson inked a two-year, $3.625 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche.
Anderson finished his Panthers career with a 24-14-7 record. Of Florida netminders with more than one game to their credit, his .928 save percentage ranks first all-time, while his 2.52 goals-against average is third.
3. TOMAS VOKOUN
One season removed from trading future star Roberto Luongo, the Panthers found stability in net again by acquiring Vokoun from Nashville for a first-round and two second-round choices at the 2007 NHL Draft.
In terms of single-season numbers, Vokoun is all over the Panthers record books, often ranking second to only Luongo in terms of wins, saves, save percentage and shutouts.
Although the Czech netminder never delivered the Panthers to the postseason during his four-year stint, it certainly was not for lack of effort. He never played fewer than 57 games for Florida and in three of his four seasons, Vokoun finished among the top 10 in shots faced. He represented the Panthers at the 2008 All-Star Game.
Vokoun’s 23 shutouts and .923 save-percentage are second all-time in franchise history.
He also had a knack for picking up points on the scoresheet. Vokoun’s 10 assists are the most among Panthers goaltenders all-time.
Although Vokoun won 30 games in 69 appearances — both personal bests with Florida — in 2007-08, the Cats missed the postsesaon by nine points. The following year he posted another 26 wins in an injury-shortened season, and the Panthers missed out on their first postseason berth since 2000 by the slimmest of margins. Though Florida tied Montreal in points and wins, it was the Canadiens who clinched the eighth spot in the standings on the NHL’s second tiebreaker — a better record in a season series.
Over the next two seasons, Florida underwent numerous changes on and off the ice, and never contended for a postseason berth. When Vokoun’s contract expired in 2011, Panthers GM Dale Tallon opted to pursue a different strategy in net. Vokoun signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Washington Capitals that summer.
He finished his Panthers career with a 101-108-30 record and 2.57 goals-against average.
2. ROBERTO LUONGO
When assessing Luongo’s career as a Panther, there are an inordinate number of achievements to account for. He is the franchise leader in 10 single-season and eight all-time goaltending categories. Among those in which he holds both: games played, wins, shots against, saves, shutouts and minutes played.
Luongo represented Florida at the 2004 All-Star Game. He was twice nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender, and once for the Lester B. Pearson award, given to the league’s most valuable player as voted on by players. He captured second-team all-star honors in 2003-04.
He’ll be forever linked to the best trade in Panthers history — acquired with Olli Jokinen from the Islanders for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.
If talent and promise were the only factor in ranking Florida’s netminders, his position would undoubtebly be No. 1.
But with positives come negatives, and for Luongo, there was a lot during his tenure in Florida.
He’s also the single-season and all-time leader in losses — overtime included — and goals against. And despite his brilliance, Luongo never led Florida to a playoff berth in his five seasons with the Cats. On average, the Panthers missed the postseason by 17 points in the standings. Florida never finished better than 21st overall in the NHL.
Even during the 2005-06 season, when Luongo played a league-high 75 games and annihilated the franchise record for wins with 35, the Panthers were still eight points out of the final playoff berth.
When it came time to re-sign the restricted free agent in the summer of 2006, conflicts between Luongo and then-GM "Iron" Mike Keenan emerged quickly. Florida offered Luongo a five-year, $30 million deal. He rejected it. Then-owner Alan Cohen stated he would give the goalie whatever it would take to lock up the netminder long-term.
Luongo presented the Panthers with unfulfillable demands: That backup Jamie McLennan be re-signed, the Panthers hire goaltending coach François Allaire (who was under contract with the Anaheim Ducks at the time) and Keenan release a public statement saying the Panthers would not trade Luongo before a no-movement clause took effect.
Rather than have a player dictate the club’s future, the Cats GM traded Luongo to Vancouver in what most consider the worst deal in franchise history. Sent to the Canucks with Lukas Krajicek and a draft pick, the Panthers received Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and Alex Auld in return.
It’s bittersweet for Panthers fans to look back at Luongo’s time with the Cats, especially given his success in the Pacific Northwest. But had he remained in South Florida, a tense situation may have kept him from reaching his potential.
As a Panther, Luongo finished his career with a 108-154-41 record, a 2.68 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
1. JOHN VANBIESBROUCK
Although many of Vanbiesbrouck’s records were shattered by Luongo, the veteran’s consistency turned the Panthers into playoff contenders early in their history, and his efforts earned plenty of accolades.
In 1993-94, Vanbiesbrouck finished third among nominees for Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player and runner-up for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top netminder. The first-year Cats finished as the most successful expansion franchise in NHL history.
Florida missed the playoffs by a single point in each of the Beezer’s first two seasons.
But in 1995-96, the veteran not only guided Florida to the postseason, but carried them to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Colorado Avalanche. He led NHL netminders with a .932 save percentage and held opponents to less than four goals in 20 of his 22 starts. Vanbiesbrouck finished third in Conn Smythe Trophy voting as playoff MVP.
He continued his impressive tear the following season, starting with an 11-3-5 record.
Vanbiesbrouck’s three All-Star Game appearances (1994, 1996, 1997) are still the most in team history.
But more importantly, without the netminder’s success in only its third season, Florida may not even have a hockey team today. Threatened with a move to Nashville, the Panthers ended up inking a deal with Broward County which would result in a new arena and keep the franchise in South Florida for the foreseeable future. The BB&T Center might as well be called the house that Beezer built.
As a bonus to his on-ice effort, Vanbiesbrouck can be credited with introducing Florida’s lore of the rat, when he coined Scott Mellanby’s two goals and a dead rat hockey’s first "Rat Trick."
Florida struggled in the goalie’s final year with the team, posting what was then its worst season in franchise history. Vanbiesbrouck signed with the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent during the summer of 1998.
Vanbiesbrouck finished his Panthers career with a 106-108-43 record, a 2.58 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.