Before the Vegas Golden Knights hit the ice for their first season in the National Hockey League (NHL), the 1993-1994 Florida Panthers had the best start in the NHL. The Panthers entered the NHL when Blockbuster Video giant Wayne Huizenga was awarded a franchise for Miami in 1992. In the 1993 expansion draft, Florida took former Vezina winning goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck with the top pick. He went on to post a solid 2.53 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in the Panthers’ first season.
Their first-year success has been largely thought by hockey experts to the trap defense that Panthers’ coach Roger Neilson used which is a defensive strategy to prevent an opposing team from proceeding through the neutral zone to force turnovers.
The Panthers played their first game on October 6, 1993 which was a 4-4 tie to the Chicago Blackhawks. Scott Mellanby scored the first goal for the Panthers and went on to tally 30 goals to lead the team in their maiden season. The Panthers got their first win on October 9th as Vanbiesbrouck made 36 saves in a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Panthers had a chance to make the playoffs in their first season; however, they faded into an 8-game winless streak at the end of the season and was eliminated from the playoffs when the New York Islanders grabbed the last slot. The Panthers finished with a record of 33-34-17 for 83 points which, at the time, was an NHL record for points by an expansion team. They missed the playoffs by one point. Oddly enough, one single point in the standing kept them out of the playoffs again the next season.
After narrowly missing the playoffs in their first two seasons of existence, the Panthers finally broke threw in a big way as they made it to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals against the Colorado Avalanche. They were swept by the Avalanche in four games. They have not won a playoff series since that season.
The Florida Panthers had the best start of any NHL expansion team until this season when the Vegas Golden Knights took the ice for the first time. The Golden Knights have exceeded what the Panthers had accomplished and currently preparing to play in the Western Conference final in their first season.
Best NHL Expansion teams:
- Vegas Golden Knights (2017-2018)
- Florida Panthers (1993-1994)
- Philadelphia Flyers (1967-68)
- Anaheim Ducks (1993-1994)
- Columbus Bluejackets (2000-2001)
- Nashville Predators (1998-1999)
- Hartford Whalers (1979-1980)
- Minnesota Wild (2000-2001)