All but the most casual of Florida fans know that former Senator defenseman Filip Kuba was signed by the Panthers this summer to help fill the void left by Jason Garrison. Fans new to the team might not realize this won't be the first time Filip puts on a Panther uniform. Kuba was drafted in the 8th round, 192nd overall by then Panther GM Bryan Murray during the 1995 Entry Draft held at Edmonton's Rexall Place. The Czech born Kuba stayed home the next season, appearing in 19 games with Vitkovice of the Extraliga, where he picked up one assist.
The 1996-97 season saw Kuba make the move over to this side of the pond to get accustomed to the North American style game. Filip suited up for the AHL's Carolina Monarchs, appearing in 51 games and posting 12 assists along with 38 PIM. The Monarchs were supplanted in Greensboro by the Carolina Hurricanes and became The Beast of New Haven for the 1997-98 season. Kuba continued to hone his game with the club, scoring 4 goals while adding 13 assists and picking up 58 PIM. Kuba also scored a goal and added an assist during a three game playoff series loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack. During the 1998-99 season Filip would wrap up his time in the AHL by scoring 2 goals and 8 assists in 45 games with the Kentucky Thoroughblades . He would also make his first appearance on the Panthers roster, playing in five games for the big club, contributing one assist against the Montreal Canadiens on April 14th.
Kuba would play thirteen additional games for the Panthers during the 1999-2000 season. He scored his first career NHL goal, a game winner against the New York Islanders on October 27th, and added five assists during the stint. On March 16th, 2000 he was traded to the Calgary Flames for tough RW Rocky Thompson. The deal was a bad one for the Panthers as Thompson would end up playing a total of ten games for Florida while Kuba's career was about to take off. Filip never suited up for the Flames. He finished off the 1999-00 season with the Houston Aeros, appearing in 27 regular season games and 11 playoff contests for the IHL team. The Flames left him unprotected during the 2000 Expansion Draft where he was snapped up the newly minted Minnesota Wild.
Getting chosen by the Wild was the break Kuba needed to jump-start his NHL career. He would play 75 games for the new club in 2000-01, providing a spark from the blue line with 9 goals and 21 assists, finishing tied for fourth on the team in scoring. After the season he was a member of the Czech Republic's gold medal winning entry at the IIHF World Championships. During the 2001-02 season he again provided much needed offense from the back end by picking up 24 points in 62 games. He repeated as a member of the Czech team at the World Championships after the regular season as the Wild missed the playoffs again. Kuba put together a third straight solid season for the Wild in 2002-03, leading the team's defensemen in scoring. He netted 8 goals and added 21 assists while posting an even +/- rating. The Wild made the playoffs for the first time and advanced all the way to the Western Conference finals where they were swept by Anaheim. Filip picked up 8 points in 18 games during the playoff run. The Wild took a slight step back during the 2003-04 season and it was reflected a bit in Kuba's numbers. He scored 5 goals and 19 assists in 62 games and again was the team's top scoring defenseman but his +/- rating fell to -7. Filip would represent the Wild in the 2004 NHL All Star Game, played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Kuba returned to the Wild after the lockout for the 2005-06 season. He posted another rock solid 25 point season and got back up to an even +/- rating but the Wild finished in last place in their division which meant another season with no playoffs. Kuba did however pick up a bronze medal that season playing for the Czech team at the Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.
On July 2nd, 2006 Kuba returned to the sunshine state by signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He posted career highs with 15 goals, 22 assists and 37 points to go along with a career low -9 rating. The Lightning made the playoffs and Filip did well, contributing 5 points in a 4-2 series loss to the New Jersey Devils. The 2007-08 season saw the Lightning fall to last place in the Eastern Conference but Kuba remained consistent, producing a strong 31 point season while appearing in 75 games. He would again play for the Czech team at the World Championships after the conclusion of the regular season.
On August 29th, 2008 Kuba was traded along with Alexander Picard and a 1st round pick in 2009, to Ottawa for Andrej Meszaros. During his first campaign with Senators, Kuba broke an NHL record for defensemen with an assist against the Toronto Maple Leafs, on October 25, 2008, giving him at least one point in each of the team's first eight games of the season. He finished his first season in Ottawa with only 3 goals but set career highs with 37 assists and 40 points while posting a +4 rating. Ottawa signed him to a three year contract extension on March 4th, 2009. Kuba's production would take a small step back during the 2009-10 season. He compiled 28 points in only 53 games, missing the last eleven regular season contests and the playoffs with a broken right leg. The highlight of season for Kuba was a second Olympic appearance for the Czechs in Vancouver. Both the Senators and Kuba would have poor seasons in 2010-11. The Senators fell to 13th in the Eastern Conference while Filip posted a meager 2 goal, 16 point season with a horrible -26 rating. In 2011-12, Kuba reversed his +/- rating by posting a career high +26 to go along with a return to his usual offensive output of 32 points in 73 games. In a tight seven game playoff loss to the New York Rangers he picked two assists while posting a +1 rating.
On July 1, 2012 the Florida Panthers signed Kuba to a two year, $4 million dollar deal to, in large part, replace the departed Jason Garrison. With 323 points in 792 regular season NHL games Filip has the experience and offensive ability to ably fill the gap. If Kuba can deliver another steady 30 point season or two on the blue line, it will be money well spent as we await the arrival of prospects like Alex Petrovic and Colby Robak. The circle is now complete, let's welcome back Filip Kuba to South Florida.