Florida Panthers

Need to cool off? Hockey returns to the South Florida ice

Florida Panthers forward Dereck Mckenzie during the team's first practice of the season at the IceDen in Coral Springs on September 23, 2016.
Florida Panthers forward Dereck Mckenzie during the team's first practice of the season at the IceDen in Coral Springs on September 23, 2016. pportal@miamiherald.com

are The Florida Panthers really want to put the past week behind them, not to mention forget last season ever happened.

All is fresh and new in Coral Springs come Friday morning when the Panthers return to the ice for the first time since a disappointing season ended in triumph with a victory in Washington.

Oh, but so much has changed since then.

When the Panthers kick off their 2017-18 season as training camp opens at the IceDen, they’ll have a new coach in Bob Boughner, a new coaching staff, new players, no Jaromir Jagr and even a new general manager.

Well, Dale Tallon is no stranger to the Panthers but at this time last year, he had all been pushed to the side.

The team has gone to great lengths to let everyone and anyone know that Dale is back and he’s in charge again.

“We have been dying for these guys to get back on the ice,” team president and CEO Matt Caldwell said Thursday morning. “Obviously last year was a disappointment; we want to turn the page on last year. We have made it very clear Dale is in charge, we signed a coach we think is perfect for the way we want to operate. He’s very progressive, great for our culture.

“We made some moves ... we think we have great pieces and it’s time for our young guys to take over this team.”

Things were bad with the Panthers from the start last year. Firings of off-ice staff and the reshuffling of the front office didn’t sit well with a number of players and when the team famously fired coach Gerard Gallant in Carolina after a 11-10-1 start, things didn’t get any better.

Although Florida showed signs of life with a five-game road-trip winning streak in February which put them right in the thick of the playoff race, the team hit the skids by losing eight of nine to fall out of contention.

General manager and interim coach Tom Rowe wasn’t asked to return — he remains with the organization — and more changes followed.

“It was a strange year to say the least with everything that happened,” goalie Roberto Luongo said. “I think guys just want to focus on playing hockey and worrying about what we do.

“There was a lot of stuff going on last year that maybe — not voluntarily but subconsciously — affected some guys mentally. We just want to focus on what we can do to win hockey games. We don't care about anything else.”

The Panthers didn’t offer a contract to Jagr as they stressed they want to get faster yet also shed some money by shipping Reilly Smith and his $25 million contract to the expansion Vegas team coached, incidentally, by Gallant.

Florida brought former prospect Evgenii Dadonov back after a successful stint in the KHL and also grabbed veteran Radim Vrbata.

Old friend Brandon Pirri — who was discarded during the 2016 playoff run and struggled with the Rangers last year — is in on a try-out deal and will battle a bunch of young kids (including rookies Henrik Haapala, Owen Tippett, Maxim Mamin, Juho Lammikko and Jayce Hawryluk) for a opening night roster spot.


What’s the same? Florida core group of talented young players —Sasha Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Matheson, Alex Petrovic, Denis Malgin, Mark Pysyk and Nick Bjugstad among them — are all back.

So, too, are veterans such as captain Derek MacKenzie, Keith Yandle, Colton Sceviour and Jason Demers.

In goal, Luongo and James Reimer may split playing time; Luongo says he feels great after missing the final six weeks of last season due to complications from last summer’s hip surgery.

Florida Panthers new coach Bob Boughner with GM Gale Tallon and CEO Matthew Caldwell, the team held a press conference to announce the new coach at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL, June 12, 2017. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A long summer, a new look and all that rain that pummeled Coral Springs may have washed the stink off of last season.

At least the Panthers hope it has.

"With new coaches in place and some new faces on the team, hopefully we can come together and do some good things,” Luongo said. “The core of the team is still together, the talent is still here that we've always had.”

George Richards: 305-376-4995, @GeorgeRichards


▪ When: Friday-Monday.

▪ Where: Florida Panthers IceDen, 3299 Sportsplex Drive, Coral Springs.

▪ Admission: Free.

▪ Schedule — Friday-Sunday: 10:25 a.m.-1:15 p.m.; Monday: 10:30-11:45 a.m.; Tuesday: Preseason doubleheader at Nashville Predators, 4:30/8 p.m.