Why the Canucks and Panthers are the exact opposite of NHL rivals
Photo credit:© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
7 days ago
Sports are fuelled by rivalries. What would baseball be without the Yankees and the Red Sox? Or soccer without Manchester United and Liverpool?
The Canucks have had their fair share of rivals over the years, from the Flames to the Avalanche to the Blackhawks. But can sports teams have allies too?
This tweet by @lowerbodyinjury spurred a great conversation about it.
A few candidates immediately spring to mind for the Canucks. The Buffalo Sabres are the 1970 expansion cousins who share an equally long Cup drought and have found some just as painful ways to lose. The Blue Jackets and the Senators could probably each make a similar case.
But none of those teams are the Canucks’ true reverse rival. That distinction belongs to none other than the Florida Panthers.
For two teams who couldn’t seem more different – especially right now, with the Panthers six wins away from a Stanley Cup – the truth is these two franchises are a perfect match for one another. They’ve shared a lot of players and management over the years, and the differences they have arguably only make them more similar.
Contempt is bred through familiarity, and the Canucks and the Panthers are separated by 4470 kilometres (2777 miles), the largest distance between any two NHL teams. Both teams come from distinctly different environments; the Panthers represent South Florida’s sunny beaches, palm trees and dense swamps with bright red and gold uniforms, while the Canucks pay homage to Vancouver’s giant blue mountains and evergreen trees with theirs.
Let’s look at how these two teams stack up with one another, and why that makes the Panthers the perfect bandwagon to jump on.
The Canucks and Panthers have been influenced by a lot of the same names. Roger Nielson led the Canucks to their first Stanley Cup Final in 1982, and twelve years later coached the expansion Panthers to 33 wins, a then-record for victories by a first-year team.
Pavel Bure has the distinction of being the first legit superstar for both franchises. After winning the Calder Trophy in 1992, back-to-back 60 goal seasons and a Stanley Cup Final berth in Vancouver, Bure found his way to South Florida. There he went on to win back-to-back Rocket Richard trophies and finish third in MVP voting in 1999-00.
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While Bure is the most prominent forward to play for both sides, he’s far from the only one. Todd Bertuzzi, David Booth, Jared McCann and most recently Juho Lammikko have all spent time with the Panthers and Canucks ranks.
On defence, Ed Jovanovski was the Panthers’ first overall pick in 1994 before being dealt to the Canucks as part of the Bure trade. Bret Hedican, Keith Ballard, Bryan Allen, Jason Garrison and Erik Gudbranson went on to continue the trend of blue liners playing on opposite coasts.
Even more so with the goalies. Seven goalies have donned both uniforms, including Kirk McLean, Jacob Markstrom and Alex Auld. But one stands above the rest as the franchise leader in wins for both teams: Roberto Luongo.
Luongo was already an NHL All-Star in 2006 when the Panthers handed him off to the Canucks in one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. In Vancouver, Luongo reached true league superstardom and became the face of a Vancouver franchise on the verge of greatness.
Luongo would eventually return to Florida under contentious circumstances with the Canucks front office, but getting back Jacob Markstrom in the trade helped set them up in net for years to come.
The Canucks even inadvertently gave the Panthers their first star netminder. In 1993, the Canucks had their goaltending tandem of the future locked into place, with Kirk McLean and his new young backup Kay Whitmore. In order to protect Whitmore during the upcoming expansion draft, GM Pat Quinn sent former captain Doug Lidster to the Rangers in exchange for another netminder.
That goalie was John Vanbiesbrouck. Florida took him with the first overall pick, and Vanbiesbrouck became the face of the Panthers’ Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996. Paying to give up a perennial All-Star goalie might’ve stung a bit, but considering the Canucks made the Final themselves in 1994, they probably never lost much sleep over it.
Besides, the Panthers made sure to return the favour in 2006.
The legacies of the Canucks and Panthers are ones without championships, but both are extremely weird.
Each club has their own rocky playoff history, tied together by surprise trips to the Stanley Cup Final, and both infamously created iconic playoff traditions out of them. Canucks fans have ‘Towel Power’, the white towel-waving craze in 1982 that’s become a staple for NHL teams today. Panthers fans have the ‘Rat Trick’, showering the ice with plastic rats after every Panthers playoff win, born out of their own Cinderella run to the 1996 Cup Final.
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After being swept by the Avalanche in the Final, the Panthers spent years as a non-factor in the postseason party, not winning a single round again until last season.
The Canucks have had a fair bit more success in the postseason, but not by much. In fact, even though the Canucks have won three times the number of playoff series the Cats have, Florida has a higher series winning percentage at .400 to Vancouver’s .391.
These two teams have always shown tendencies to come to life when you don’t suspect them, much like the Panthers have in this year’s postseason. The Canucks know a thing or two about surprise runs, after getting to within one win of the conference final in 2020.
The Panthers winning the Stanley Cup this year would erase years’ worth of postseason exits, embarrassingly bad seasons and years of relocation rumours. It only takes one championship to undo a losing reputation, and Florida is scratching and clawing their way there.
For the Canucks, a Panthers championship would also tie up a loose end from their own 2011 run. With Luongo now serving as a special advisor to Panthers GM Bill Zito, he would finally get to lift the trophy that eluded him and his Canucks teammates twelve years ago. His press box celebrations throughout the Panthers’ run have been half the playoff fun for Canucks fans living vicariously through their former Hall of Fame goalie.
Whether either team realized it or not, Vancouver and Florida have been tremendous allies for nearly 30 years. And if Florida can win, maybe someday the Canucks will too.
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