For the past two years, Panthers General Manager and head coach Jacques Martin has preached to South Florida what it takes to build a winning franchise. Martin does not want to have one successful season in Florida. He wants sustained success, playoffs every season and eventually a Stanley Cup.
Six months ago, Martin contracted one of the best builders in the business in current Panthers Assistant General Manager Randy Sexton. Both Martin and Sexton laid the foundation for a current team that will compete for the Stanley Cup.
For nine seasons under Martin as head coach, the Senators drafted Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, Chris Phillips and Jason Spezza. They also acquired Wade Redden and Peter Schaefer. And while he never got a chance to play directly for Martin, Ray Emery was drafted while Martin was still the coach in Ottawa.
“When I was there, Ray [Emery] was developing in Binghamton (AHL),” Martin said “You have to give the right time for your players to develop properly.”
Panther fans must look at all the work done in Ottawa under Martin and grin from ear to ear. Martin found a way to make Ottawa a constant in the playoffs, and the process in Florida is already underway.
“I feel good about where the organization is, where the team is now because I was part of it for nine years,” Martin said about Ottawa. “The challenge now is to build our organization to have the same kind of success as Ottawa is having. You want to be in the playoffs every year, and have a chance to win the Stanley Cup every year. That’s our goal here.”
While some of the names Panther fans hear over the next two months might not be known to you, just remember it was the same way in Ottawa. No one knew who Ray Emery, Chris Kelly or Chris Neil was, but Martin knew. He let the process run its course.
When Sexton took over the Assistant GM position, he said the difference between Ottawa and Florida was that Florida was already two or three years ahead of where Ottawa was when it began the building process. Sexton, who is a co-founder of the Ottawa franchise, saw the Senators build from the ground up. He knows what it takes to build a winner, which is why Martin hired him.
Prior to joining the Panthers in May 2004, Martin guided the Ottawa Senators to a 43-23-10-6 mark during the 2003-04 campaign earning 102 points. For his career with the Ottawa, he posted a 341-255-96 regular-season record in nine seasons. He stands as the franchise's all-time leader in games coached (692), regular-season wins (341), playoff wins (31) and playoff games coached (69).
Under Martin's guidance, the Senators earned their first President's Trophy, posting a 52-21-8-1 mark upon completion of the 2002-03 campaign. He led Ottawa to its first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils.
“Ottawa just shows how long a process it can be. This is a team that has been able to stay at the top of the league the last six years. This team was built and consistently improved with some tweaking here and there. I went through growing pains with those players.”
In his first two full seasons with Ottawa, the Senators were a below .500 team, finishing with 77 points in 1996-97 and 83 points the following season. It wasn’t until Marin’s third season as the leader of the Senators that Ottawa became one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams. During the 1998-99 season, Martin led Ottawa to a 103-point season. In his last six seasons as Ottawa head coach, the team had over 90 points each season.
Now Martin is entering his third season with Florida. His 85 and 86 point totals in with the Panthers are more then the first two years he had with Ottawa. But if history shows us anything, it is that the Panthers under Martin are due for a breakout 2007-08 season.