Coach Q(uenneville)Is The Answer To Panthers’ 7 Year Playoff Drought
By Brock Banner | STLFanReport.com.
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven seasons, the Florida Panthers were desperate for some leadership. Enter Joel Quenneville, a three-time Cup champion they hired to be the man on their bench.
“It’s exciting,” forward Jonathan Huberdeau told NHL.com. “Enough is enough. At last, he’s going to be the coach that’s going to bring us to the Cup.”
“I believe this team is close to winning,” Quenneville told NHL.com upon taking the job in Florida. “I was fortunate, luckiest guy in the world, when I walked into the Chicago situation there, a team ready, sitting on go to win. I feel the same here now.”
The Panthers have not qualified for the playoffs since 2016, and last won a postseason series in 1996, when they reached the Stanley Cup Final and lost to the Colorado Avalanche. Ironically, Quenneville was an assistant with the Avalanche that season.
Quenneville’s introductory press conference at BB&T Center was attended by every current Panthers player, NHL.com reported.
“He’s won multiple Cups with the Blackhawks; that’s a huge resume and a big name to have in the locker room, a good presence,” now-retired goalie Roberto Luongo told NHL.com when Quenneville was hired.
His NHL coaching record is 890-532-137 with 77 ties in 22 seasons with the Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, and Colorado Avalanche; only Scotty Bowman (1,244) has more wins. Quenneville was fired by the Blackhawks on Nov. 6, 15 games into his 11th season with them. According to NHL.com, he was the longest-tenured coach in the NHL before being fired by the Blackhawks, who hired him on Oct. 16, 2008.
The Panthers are an impressive 35-14-5 this season for 75 points, just two points behind the Central Division-leading Carolina Panthers. The ‘Canes are led by Rod Brind’Amour, a former top draft pick for the Blues. The Panthers are eighth in the NHL in goals for with 158, and 14th in Goals Against with 133.
Florida has gotten production from winger Jonathan Huberdeau who has 61 points. Aleksander Barkov leads the team with 26 goals.
The bet Quenneville made on the Panthers a couple of years ago seems to be on the cusp of a big-time payoff, according to a March story on NBCSports.com
“Florida — a franchise that has made missing the playoffs an art form, with no series wins since 1996 — is at the midpoint of this season, Year 2 of the Quenneville era, tied for the most points in the NHL,” NBC wrote. “At 19-5-4 (earlier this season), the Panthers are off to the best 28-game start in their history in terms of points and winning percentage.”
And for the first time in a quarter-century, the Panthers might be a true contender for the Stanley Cup, NBC reported.
“There are plenty of reasons why: Barkov is playing like the best in the game, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is back in top form after a down year, and (injured) Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar might be the top defenseman duo in the league,” NBC wrote. Ekblad was lost for the season with a broken leg on March 29.
“The biggest reason, though, might be Quenneville, the mustachioed guy behind the bench. He preaches simple hockey, tough hockey, team-first hockey. The Panthers are soaking up every word,” NBC reported.
Colby Guy covers the Panthers for The Hockey Writers. He said Coach Q’s ability to unite the locker room and put everyone on even footing has done wonders for the young team. This year, Florida has been a tough opponent.
“The moment he stepped into the locker room he had every players’ respect and attention,” Guy said.
After being let go by the Blackhawks, Coach Q took some time to evaluate what he wanted to do.
“Quenneville took some time figuring out what to do next. He saw the young core in Florida, the team that was being run then by his longtime friend Dale Tallon, and decided that would be his next stop. The Panthers have reaped the benefits ever since.” (‘Picking a winner: Coach Quenneville has made Panthers into a contender,’ South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/17/21).
“In Chicago, I was lucky at that time to grab a team that was as talented and deep as they were,” Quenneville told the Sun-Sentinel. “This team’s a little different in some ways, but at the same time, the development, where we’re at, it kind of reminds me of those days. And I came here with the thinking that it’d be a fun place to win.”
Barkov, Quenneville star this season, is impressed with the man who could be mistaken for Mario of Mario Brothers fame.
“Everyone is having fun on the ice,” Barkov told the Sun-Sentinel. “And that’s when everyone starts to notice you. Half of the season done, we’re in a good spot.”
Florida has stars on the ice, without question. But it’s Quenneville who is pushing all the right buttons, the paper reported. “He’s cut down on practice time this season because of the compressed schedule and the demands on players’ bodies, choosing to do more work in the video room instead. The result has been fresher legs, and Florida’s 36 third-period goals entering Tuesday was tops in the NHL — a big part of all those comeback wins.”
The 62-year-old Coach Q is still working his magic, and he has no plans to stop any time soon. “That silver chalice, the one Florida has always chased and the one Quenneville has already hoisted three times, is still very much on his mind,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.
“When you win a Cup, you can’t wait to do it again. And that’s the thing,” Quenneville said. “It’s everything. That’s why we do it. The process of trying to win the Cup is the best part of winning a Cup. And that’s what you look forward to.”
When the Blues fired Mike Yeo and were searching for a head coach, Coach Q’s name was mentioned by media and fans as a candidate for a possible reunion. The Seattle Kraken were also rumored to be in on Quenneville. So, when he signed with Florida to be their coach, people were taken aback.
Not everything has been rosy for Coach Q this year. What keeps him up at night are Brind’Amour’s Canes, who secured 14 of a possible 16 points from division-rival Florida this season.
“It’s almost impossible to be upset with the Hurricanes going through Florida against the teams they’re neck-and-neck within the Central Division and go 2-0-2. That’s six out of a possible eight points, Carolina’s SB Nation Cane Country reported.
“On that subject, how about 14 of 16? That’s how many points the Canes got in their head-to-head matchups with the Panthers during the regular season,” Canes Country wrote.
“Quite simply, Carolina had (Florida’s) number. This isn’t a fresh hot take from me; Florida’s captain has said it multiple times. The Hurricanes outscored the Panthers 29-19 in their eight matchups and never lost a game in regulation,” Canes Country added.
According to the website oddshark.com, the Panthers have a +2400 odds to win the Stanley Cup this year. The Colorado Avalanche have the best odds to win at +350. The Blues are in the middle of the pack at +3000.
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A St. Louis Blues blogger, NHL podcaster, and writer, and contributor for the STL Fan Report.