Three years ago, Florida Panthers goalie Chris Driedger was at the low point of his hockey career.
Cut loose by the Senators after four years of bouncing between Ottawa and various minor league outposts, Driedger had so few options, he was thinking about giving Europe a try.
Manny Desousa, Driedger’s agent, told him to hold on. The Panthers had an offer. It was a minor league contract with the likelihood Driedger would be the No. 5 goalie within the organization.
It definitely wasn’t much, but it was something.
“I knew at the time that the NHL wasn’t going to be an option,” Driedger told Florida Hockey Now on Wednesday.
“Maybe I should just cut my losses and see what Europe has to offer. My agent talked some sense into me. I was 24 at the time. He was telling me I was still a young man and I should stick it out. I reluctantly agreed. He had my best interest at heart. He was really positive and had to listen to me moan and complain about what was going on.”
Driedger, as we all know by now, took that minor-league lifeline thrown out by the Panthers.
It has worked out pretty well for both sides.
Today, Driedger is an established NHL goalie, the owner of 21 wins over the past two seasons with the Panthers and a big reason Florida is in the spot it is right now.
In 23 games as the “1-B” option to Sergei Bobrovsky, Driedger has gone 14-6-3 with three shutouts.
Driedger’s 2.07 goals-against average and .927 save percentage are both ranked fifth in the league among regular goalies. His goals-saved above average ranks eighth at 11.78.
He will also be a free agent again this offseason. Unlike in 2018, Driedger and his agent will have plenty of options.
Driedger perservered and turned his career around. He has gone from floating around six different minor league towns with the Senators and two with the Panthers to become a legitimate NHL starter.
Soon, he will be paid like it.
On Monday, Driedger was announced as the nominee of the Florida chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
The award goes to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
“It is great he is getting recognition for the Masterton,’’ Florida GM Bill Zito said. “He is a deserving candidate.
“As an ambassador for all that is good about our sport as far as perseverance and respect for the game … he’s a first-class person, teammate and representative of this organization. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”