Not that the Panthers are expecting much from 21-year-old
goaltender Roberto Luongo, but.... "He's the guy teams have to
have to win the Stanley Cup," says coach Terry Murray. "He's
going to be a top goalie who can play here 12 or 15 years." Adds
general manager Bryan Murray, "He's a franchise guy."
Such assessments explain why the Panthers made the draft-day
decision to acquire Luongo and developing center Olli Jokinen
from the Islanders for two of Florida's best young forwards, Mark
Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. Great expectations have caused many a
green goalie to wilt like steamed lettuce, and Luongo's NHL
pedigree consists of a 7-14-1 record with the lowly Islanders
last year. Yet that came on the heels of a spectacular junior
career, and scouts across the league gush about Luongo's great
elasticity in the net as well as his cool head.
That last attribute may be tested immediately. Incumbent
netminder Trevor Kidd went 13-4-2 last season before dislocating
his left shoulder in December, and coach Murray characterizes
Florida's state of goaltending as a "1A and 1B situation." Kidd
sees it otherwise. "I don't look at it as a 1A or 1B situation,"
says the eight-year veteran. "I look at it as my job."
Available to help ease any tension is Florida's other off-season
pickup, Igor Larionov, the sagacious 39-year-old center who
signed as a free agent. Nicknamed the Professor, Larionov will be
an educator in the dressing room, and his intelligent passing
could spur Pavel Bure, the game's best pure scorer, to an alltime
The Panthers have enough skill up front to approach last season's
franchise-record 43 wins. To succeed in the playoffs, however,
they'll need consistency from a thin group of defensemen who were
exposed as the team got swept by the Devils in last year's first
round. Florida is counting on 6'6", 212-pound Mike Wilson, 25, to
emerge on the blue line--an expectation, of course, that pales
next to what they're expecting from young Roberto.
Center Igor Larionov is the only active player to have won two
Stanley Cups (1997 and '98 with Red Wings) and two Olympic gold
medals ('84 and '88 with the Soviet Union).
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 4 Bure is the league's No. 1 sniper
DEFENSE 15 Unit needs more consistency
GOALTENDING 14 Youngster Luongo and vet Kidd make solid
SPECIAL TEAMS 8 Power play is among the best in the NHL
MANAGEMENT 12 Murrays have done a good job collecting