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2024 Stanley Cup Champions

Trade Deadline Winner: Kyle Okposo Finally Gets the Stanley Cup

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Okposo cup
Kyle Okposo takes in the locker room celebration Tuesday morning after the Florida Panthers won the Stanley Cup with a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

SUNRISE — After 17 years in the NHL, Kyle Okposo is finally a Stanley Cup Champion with the Florida Panthers.

And it almost didn’t happen.

The 36-year-old pondered retirement following the end of the seven year contract he signed with the Buffalo Sabres last summer.

Okposo had not been to the playoffs since signing that deal — at the time, a key, top-six forward for the New York Islanders — and was close to giving up hope on reaching the ultimate goal.

But his family stuck with him when he decided to give it at least one more shot.

“I almost didn’t come back last year. I almost retired,” Okposo said. “They were a big reason why I didn’t. I wanted to have one more crack at it and I wanted to put myself in the best position to do this. The fact that they are here and they were able to experience it with me means everything.”

He set himself up specifically for that goal.

Okposo signed a one-year deal with the Sabres to remain their captain and try and win it there while adding a $500,000 bonus to it if he won the Cup to dissuade him from avoiding a potential move.

The Panthers will be paying that $500,000 bonus — and are happy to do it.

“The reason he came to us was for one last kick at the can,’’ Roberto Luongo told FHN. “It’s going to cost $500,000 in a cap hit next year, but it is worth it.”

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With the Sabres in the league’s doldrums at the NHL trade deadline, the Panthers were the team he chose.

Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams obliged and the rest is history.

“I can’t say enough Kevyn and what he did for me sending here,” Okposo said. “Just growing as a person in Buffalo. He entrusted me to be the captain of that team and I always tried to do what was right by them and he treated me phenomenal. The Pegulas, the coaches I had there, everybody.”

The prospect of playoff hockey was just too good for Okposo to pass up on.

“It’s been too long since I played in the playoffs,” he said at the time. “I was talking to my son the other day, and we were talking about the playoffs, and I just said it was the purest form of hockey, and I get butterflies thinking about it now.

“I haven’t had a taste of it in eight years, but I can still remember the feeling of skating out on the ice for a playoff game, and there’s nothing like it as an athlete.”

Was it worth it?

“Absolutely,” Okposo said. “It was everything I remember and it was just a phenomenal ride.”

That ride had some ups and downs for Okposo.

He spent most of the regular season as a healthy scratch earning his way into some playing time. He was then in and out of the lineup throughout the postseason run as Florida coach Paul Maurice shifted its fourth line around when it needed a bump.

Okposo played in six of the seven games in the Cup Final — being taken out for Game 6 before returning to the lineup in Game 7.

“I probably knew if the series went 7, I would be back in, so I was preparing accordingly,” Okposo said. “I just wanted a chance to affect the outcome of the game and I am happy I got to do it, but at the same time, I was happy for all of the other guys.

“We took a picture with all of the guys on the fourth line because we have a lot of guys that can play. It’s just a special group of guys that all want each other to succeed and I can’t say enough about all those guys.”

Okposo’s teammates recognized the sacrifices he has made throughout his career, too.

After receiving the Stanley Cup from Sasha Barkov and getting his lap in, Sergei Bobrovsky handed Okposo the Cup, making him third in line.

“He’s had a long career and he’s worked hard for this moment,” Bobrovsky said when asked about the decision. “He deserved it.”

Okposo appreciated the gesture given the fact he is the newest player on the roster.

“I didn’t need it third or anything, but for them to recognize how long I’ve been around, it’s pretty special,” Okposo said. “I tried to add something to this group and I hope I did that. It’s just a really special group of guys and they were able to recognize the career I’ve had. It’s pretty cool.”

Is this it for Okposo?

“No, I’m just going to take some time and enjoy this one and figure it out,” Okposo said. “We’ll see.”

For More FHN Coverage of the Stanley Cup Champion Florida Panthers:
UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS
  • Stanley Cup Championship Parade, Fort Lauderdale: Sunday, 11 a.m.
  • NHL Draft, Las Vegas: Friday-Saturday
  • NHL Free Agency: Monday
  • Florida Panthers Development Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Early July
  • Florida Panthers Training Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Mid-September
  • Florida Panthers Preseason: Late September
  • Florida Panthers Opening Night/Banner Unveiling: TBA

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