Bill Lindsay Q&A: The ice-level perspective on Panthers’ improvement

Florida Panthers Jussi Jokinen (36) has been a steady contributor this season.

Gary Wiepert/AP

SUNRISE, Fla. — A Florida Panthers mainstay both on and off the ice since the organization’s inaugural season in 1993, Bill Lindsay is currently in his sixth season as the team’s television analyst on FOX Sports Florida, after spending the last two years serving as the club’s color commentator.

Lindsay, a 14-year NHL veteran and member of the 1996 Panthers Eastern Conference Championship team, spent 506 of his 750 career games with Florida, recording 67 goals and 165 points.

Working between the benches during each broadcast, he has the advantage of seeing each night’s action unfold through the eyes of  the players at ice level. So far this season, he likes what he sees.

Prior to embarking on the team’s season-long six-game road trip, FOXSportsFlorida.com‘s Jameson Olive caught up with Lindsay to discuss topics ranging from the Panthers’ early success, to the lasting effects of the team’s historic 20-round shootout victory.

FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: First off, how are you enjoying your new position between the benches for the FOX Sports Florida broadcast?

BILL LINDSAY: It’s fun. Interviewing the players and having different roles has been a bit challenging. I’m having fun with it and I enjoy it. It’s broadened my perspective. I like being at ice level and seeing some of the stuff and being right in the mix of the game.

FSF: Do you ever have any flashbacks to your playing days being that close to the action every night?

LINDSAY: You get some flashbacks. It’s good to be that close to the action to see how special the game is and how quick it is at that level. I’m amazed, sometimes, to look back and think that I could play this sport, when you watch how fast it is and how good the athletes are. You get a new kind of appreciation for the game when you watch it that close.

FSF: From your perspective at ice level, what have you seen from this Panthers team in the early goings of the season?

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LINDSAY: Consistency, not a lot of drop off and good team chemistry. I think that’s what’s working well for this team. They haven’t scored a lot of goals. They’ve been able to do it with really solid goaltending, and I think that’s been the backbone of the team. Good structure, good defensive hockey and there hasn’t been a lot of drop-offs between periods. Bad play has really been limited. The consistency has been there and allowed this team to be in close games. Most of the games have been one-goal games and they’ve faired well in them. Staying in games, being able to be consistent, and a mental fortitude has really paid off for this team.

FSF: How much credit do you give the group of veteran players that were acquired during the summer for the team’s quick turnaround and newfound consistency? 

LINDSAY: Willie Mitchell, Shawn Thornton and Derek MacKenzie, I give them a lot. They’ve come in, they’re used to winning and they’ve kind of changed the culture in the dressing room. Jussi Jokinen also is a player who has been around and is experienced. They’ve really been able to lead our young players. It’s also been our young players, too, that have taken the reigns. You’re starting to see them mature, and I think part of that has to do with Gerard Gallant and the veteran players helping these players along. You’re seeing the maturity of the young players, and I think that’s really helping the growth of the team.

FSF: At this point, it really feels like the historic 20-round shootout victory over the Washington Capitals in December was a turning point for this team. How much does it help to have a moment or a game like that during the season to feed off of throughout the year?

LINDSAY: I think there are certain games you look back at if you do make the playoffs or if you do make a run in the playoffs. You look back at certain games in the regular season as games that pushed your team and moved you forward. We’ve had a couple shootout victories since then, so I think it’s catapulted that. You need those extra points. I do believe that you look back at certain games that you’ll remember as games that really helped you get in the playoffs and change your momentum.

FSF: Speaking of the playoffs, no team in franchise history has made a deeper postseason run than your team did in 1996. Do you see any similarities between that Eastern Conference Championship team and these current Panthers?

LINDSAY: I think so. The connections are there and it starts in goal. Not a lot of superstars as far as forwards and defenseman go, but there is a superstar in Roberto Luongo. We had that in ’96, our superstar was (John) Vanbiesbrouck. The rest of us were just kind of plugs, or hackers, or grinders, whatever you want to call us. This team has a lot of that. They might have a little better younger talent than we had back then, but this team scores by committee, wins committee, wins as a team and that’s the only way they’re going to get it done. There’s no (Sidney) Crosbys, no (Patrick) Kanes on our team. They’re going to have to get it done as a group.

FSF: Just for fun, what current Panthers player would you most want to have on that 1996 Stanley Cup Finals team to help push you guys over the edge?

LINDSAY: To add a big centerman like Nick Bjugstad would have been a big advantage to go up against some of those big centermen that we faced. We did pretty well against some of them, but we didn’t have a real big scorer in the middle back then. I think we had (Rob) Niedermayer and Tom Fitzgerald playing center, so we had some decent centermen, but I think Nick Bjugstad would be a player that would really have helped that team.

FSF: As someone who’s been a part of the organization for such a long time, what has it meant to you to see the Panthers become relevant in the Eastern Conference again?

LINDSAY: The losing hurt, the 12 or 13 years. I played for a number of NHL teams, but this is the team where my heart is and where I grew up. It means a lot to me and I always kept my home here in South Florida. To see this team get back to being relevant and to maybe be back in the playoffs is something you long for, you desire, you want extremely bad. I’ve become more of a fan since I retired. I’ve really become a fan and it’s harder when you don’t have control. As a player you feel that you have control on the outcome, but watching from the outside you really root for this team and pull for this team. It’s a special place for me and it always will be.

You can follow Jameson Olive on Twitter @JamesonCoop or email him at JamesonOlive@gmail.com.