Panthers' veteran forward Martin Gelinas has managed to have an uplifting effect on every team he has played with throughout his career. The left wing is like poetry: Get Gelinas, Get better.
All right, it doesn't rhyme but not all poetry does. Oh, and scansion shows the meter stinks.
The important thing is that it's accurate. Teams get better when they get Martin Gelinas and front-office types have known that for a decade or longer.
The Florida Panthers are a case in point. They signed Gelinas, now 36, as a free agent in 2005 and he promptly broke the franchise record with a plus-27 rating last season. He tied for fourth on the Panthers with 17 goals and had 24 assists, seventh for Florida, for 41 points. Three of his goals were game winners and he had four power-play scores.
Florida has struggled in recent seasons, but one year and a few months after signing Gelinas, the Panthers are in the hunt for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. While you may not see the direct cause-and-effect, it's a typical upswing for a team that Gelinas has joined.
It's been that way for a long time. Gelinas was the Canadian Major Junior rookie of the year in 1987-88 when he helped lead the Hull Olympiques to the Memorial Cup tournament. Hull didn't win, but Gelinas was voted most sportsmanlike player and earned a berth on the QMJHL First All-Star Team. He also won the Michel Bergeron Trophy as the QMJHL's top rookie forward. He had 63 goals and 68 assists that season for 131 points. After another strong junior season, Gelinas played six games for the Edmonton Oilers at the end of the 1988-89 season.
Gelinas was the Los Angeles Kings' first pick, seventh overall, in the 1988 Entry Draft. He never played for Los Angeles because six weeks after the Kings drafted him, they sent Gelinas with Jimmy Carson and three first-round picks to Edmonton on Aug. 9, 1988, for Wayne Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley.
Gelinas had 17 goals and eight assists in 46 games for Edmonton in his rookie season of 1989-90. He was a solid role player on the last Edmonton Oilers team to win a Stanley Cup, adding two goals and three assists in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games that season.
While Gelinas has never won another Stanley Cup in the following 17 seasons, he was with the 1994 Vancouver Canucks, who lost the Stanley Cup in seven games to the New York Rangers and the 2004 Calgary Flames, who lost the Stanley Cup in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If there is a low point to his fine NHL career, it had to be "scoring" what appeared to be the winning goal in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. With seven minutes left in a tie game, Gelinas crashed the net as Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin kicked out the rebound of Oleg Saprykin's shot. The puck hit Gelinas' skate and appeared on some camera angles to cross the line. The referee ruled Khabibulin made the save and Tampa Bay went on to win.
Gelinas had already had an amazing playoff run. He scored in overtime to eliminate the Canucks in the first round and scored again in overtime to eliminate the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semifinals. Gelinas also had the winning goal in the Western Conference championship against the San Jose Sharks and scored Calgary's first goal against Tampa Bay.
"It's been quite a nice ride, 18 years," Gelinas said recently. "Every year has been a great year. It started in Edmonton, where I played with some great leaders, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glen Anderson. Winning the Stanley Cup in my first year was the ultimate. You can take it for granted when you are 18 or 19 years old. Then you move on and it's tougher and tougher to reach the finals. It makes you appreciate it a lot more."
Gelinas was signed to complement team leaders Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk as the Panthers introduced a slew of younger players. Like Roberts and Nieuwendyk, Gelinas has an air about him that commands respect. He also knows when to push and when to back off, when to tease and when to protect a teammate. The Panthers signed him to play hockey but they also knew his work habits and demeanor would rub off on the kids, like defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
"Marty is one of the best-conditioned athletes in the National Hockey League," Roberts said. "He works his butt off every day. At the same time, he is a fun guy to be around."
"Marty sets a great example with his hard work," Bouwmeester said. "You look at him and realize how long he has been around the game and this is what it takes to be successful. I take a lot from watching him."
"When you win at a young age -- I won at 20 and had a win and a loss by 23 --- you think, guys, it was tough but, hey, I've already won one," Gelinas reflected. "I thought I'd have lots of opportunities. Here I am at 40 and I haven't won another. For anybody who has won, you appreciate those times and remember how hard you worked to win. Plus, you have to have a team that really is a team. That's what we're striving for here, a team that plays together, for each other, and has real unity."
Panthers coach Jacques Martin recently reunited Gelinas with first-line center Olli Jokinen and passer extraordinaire Jozef Stumpel. They played together part of last season and enjoyed success.
"It's a great line. I had a chance to play with them last year," Gelinas said. "Olli is not only a great leader but a great player. He plays a very productive game, a very technical game. He plays a very skilled game with Josef Stumpel."
Jokinen was glad to see Gelinas return, although he and Stumpel have also had success with Roberts on the wing.
"The line worked well last year," Jokinen said. "We know what Marty brings. He's a hard-working player who will go to the net. He's a proud player. With us, he's the first player in on the forecheck. Stumpel and I play the way we can, trying to move the puck and keeping the game simple. For the three of us, there's nothing special. It's all about hard work."
With Gelinas, it always has been about hard work ... and making teammates better.