SUNRISE, FL. (AP) – It was April 8, the first Monday after the NHL regular season. As 16 teams were preparing for the playoffs, the Florida Panthers – as usual – were preparing to start a off season. And while the workers were crushing the team's homemade ice to prepare the arena for the summer, the players were gathered in a large conference room.
They heard Joel Quenneville speak as a Florida coach for the first time.
His message could not have been clearer: in the future, things must be different.
"I want each of you to remember where you are now and to remember the feeling you have today," Quenneville said. "Next year, we want to get off the ice now with our skates and getting ready for the first round opponent."
Playoffs or bust.
It's a very interesting marriage – a team that almost never goes to the playoffs and a coach that almost never misses them. Quenneville has won three Stanley Cups as a coach, his 890 wins are the second in NHL history and he is inheriting a Florida core that has seen its potential been praised for years but has yet to play a title.
"He's energetic, easy to talk to and means business," said Vincent Trocheck, Panther striker. "He's in, he's setting an early precedent and he's catching the guys' attention – which is great."
Quenneville's hiring in Florida met him with Panthers general manager Dale Tallon. Together they brought together most of a team that would win three Stanley Cups in Chicago. Tallon was not around when he was dismissed by the Blackhawks, although Quenneville insists that he should be considered a massive part of these titles.
In Florida, they want to revive this magic and have one of the best NHL lines to lead the way in Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov.
"It's a special line," Quenneville said. “They do a lot of good things together. They know where the others around the ice are. Your patience and game recognition are top notch. They had such a strong year together and did some good things in the power game as well. So it works. "
Quenneville's signing was just one of the Panthers' many great moves in the off-season – the biggest highlight being the signing of goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky, who will replace now-retired Roberto Luongo as Florida's top netminder.
Tallon said he thinks Bobrovsky is the best goalkeeper in the game.
"We're happy to have you," Quenneville said.
Here's what you should know about the Florida Panthers 2019-20:
Coach Joel Quenneville, G. Sergei Bobrovsky, D. Anton Stralman, F. Noel Acciari, F. Brett Connolly.
G Roberto Luongo (retired), G James Reimer (negotiated for Carolina), coach Bob Boughner (fired after two seasons).
The hope for change depends mainly on Bobrovsky, a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy, which has signed a seven-year, $ 70 million contract and will carry the load on the network. Florida's top six top scorers last season – Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, Keith Yandle and Frank Vatrano – have all scored career highs for points, and have not yet been enough for a post-season spot. The Panthers will need your offense, and maybe even more.
The first 20 games can tell the story. Over the past 19 years, the Panthers have averaged just 17 points from their first 20 games – meaning they almost always fall behind early playoff placement, and hardly ever recover. This year, 13 of Florida's first 20 games are against teams coming out of Stanley Cup playoff matches. Survive them, and the Panthers may be in full swing.
The Panthers came out and took what they consider to be Quenneville's best coach, who they consider Bobrovsky's best goalkeeper, added more points and found that they supported a defense that was too porous last season. No more excuses. Not only will Florida come to the postseason for the third time in the last 19 seasons, but the Panthers will win a series for the first time since 1996.
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