Panthers get Stanley Cup winning coach Joel Quenneville
Only two teams fell one point short of the 2018 NHL playoffs, including the St. Louis Blues, who on Wednesday won the first Stanley Cup title in their 52-year history.
The other team coming up just short of the playoffs in 2018 was … the Florida Panthers.
St. Louis’ championship ended the longest wait ever for a first-time Cup winner. But the Panthers have been checking their watches for more than a quarter-century, still waiting since 1993 for their first Cup title.
“You’ve got to adapt and be committed,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said when asked what he learned from the Blues’ triumphant run. “The Blues were last in the NHL standings on Jan. 2, and they won the Cup. Never give up.”
The mantra, Tallon said, is to “just get in” to the playoffs, and that is verified by the fact that all four wild-card teams this year advanced past the first round, which is a first in NHL history.
Beyond the Blues, here’s what else Tallon said on Thursday, when he fielded questions from the Herald:
Q: Only two teams allowed more goals than the Panthers this past season. How do you assess your goalie situation with veterans Roberto Luongo, 40, and James Reimer, 31, and rookie Sam “Monty” Montembeault?
A: “I don’t know if it was just an off year, but I think we have to get better or play better. We plan to add pieces to that position. … Monty has a bright future, but we need to stop more pucks, and it has to be a team concept with all six guys on the ice.”
Q: The NHL Draft begins June 21. If you had the No. 1 pick, who would you take, Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko?
A: “[Laughs.] They’re both pretty good. I would take either one.”
Q: The Panthers haven’t selected a first-round defenseman since Aaron Ekblad in 2014. What do you think of the 2019 crop of d-men?
A: “It’s pretty good. There are a lot of good ones in Western Canada and in Europe and sprinkled throughout the top 50 prospects in the draft. It’s exciting to see. We will have an interesting decision to make because this draft is wide open after the first two picks. Usually we go for the best player available in the first round and then look at need after that.”
Q: Several national writers are predicting the Panthers will sign two huge free agents, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Artemi Panarin. What impact will new Panthers coach Joel Quenneville — who has won three Stanley Cups – have on the pursuit of free agents?
A: “He gives us credibility, and we’re going to do our best to procure the top free agents available.”
Q: Vincent Trocheck went from 31 goals in 82 games in 2017-2018 to just 10 goals in 55 games during an injury-plagued 2018-2019. His shooting percentage has gone down from 14.4 percent in 2016 to 10.8 percent in ’18 and just 6.3 percent this past season. What do you expect from Trocheck this season?
A: “I think he will come back with guns blazing. He’s excited about our new coach, and he has always been a passionate leader.”
Q: Center Henrik Borgstrom, Florida’s first-round pick in 2016 (23rd overall), had eight goals and 10 assists as a rookie this past season. What are your thoughts on his performance?
A: “I was encouraged. Maybe we could have kept him in the minors a little longer, but, overall, it was positive. He needs to mature physically and emotionally. He’s still a kid. He needs to believe in himself.”