A six-pack of Florida Panthers notes on a Thursday:
▪ For Panthers players, the appeal of having Joel Quenneville as their new coach goes beyond his gravitas and his impressive resume that includes 18 playoff appearances in 20 seasons.
It also involves his system.
The defensive system he has implemented is conducive to the team’s talent and a departure from previous coach Bob Boughner’s approach, according to a veteran Panther.
“Joel’s system defensively is structured freedom,” defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “We did really well under Gerard Gallant with that structured freedom, the ability to go in the offensive zone and have the green light as a defenseman to get up in the play.”
Gallant, fired by the Panthers in 2016, is in his third year coaching Las Vegas, which he guided to the Stanley Cup Finals as an expansion team.
Offensively, Quenneville said his system is “fun for the players to play. We want the puck. We want to play offense; we want to keep it. If you check well, you will be able to have the puck more and play to your strengths.”
Quenneville spoke in recent days of being “predictable and consistent,” of players adapting to a new system and sticking to it, and being “relentless.”
Forward Vincent Trocheck said “the excitement is through the roof to have him behind the bench. He’s proven how good a coach he is and how good a hockey mind he is. It can have a massive effect on a lot of players. Q has done a great job from other teams adapting to players he has.”
Forward Sasha Barkov said: “I know a lot of players who used to play for him and they have only good things to say and how professional he is and how he does everything so well to prepare a team to win. Once he signed with the team, he’s been at the rink every day” since April.
▪ Trocheck said having an elite, in-his-prime goaltender, as the Panthers have now with Sergei Bobrovsky, “gives you a little confidence, that you can make plays you want and he’ll be back there. One mistake doesn’t necessarily end up in the back of the net. It gives you a little more leeway to be creative. Obviously nothing stupid but you’re not too worried about making big mistake and it ending up in the back of the net.”
▪ Bobrovsky said he could see himself playing 60 to 65 games. (Sam Montembeault is his backup; he was 4-3-2 with a 3.04 GAA after his promotion from the AHL.)
What got Bobrovsky excited about signing here?
“The team,” he said. “They have a real talented group and signed a legendary coach. Those things are very important to me.”
Bobrovsky is glad that Roberto Luongo is expected to remain in the organization in an undetermined role.
“I met him [last week] and it’s great to have a legendary goalie in the organization. Just having him around is so good for the organization. I am looking forward to spending some time with him [to talk about] life inside and outside hockey.”
▪ One value of new forward Brett Connolly: He had 21 goals for Washington last season in 5 on 5 situations. So this is a player who doesn’t need to be on a power play to be dangerous offensively.
Connolly said 10 to 15 teams called him in free agency and “it came down to three serious teams I was really considering. This team is a lot closer to being a solid playoff contender than the others ones - so this was a no-brainer.”
The value of the Panthers’ four additions (Bobrovsky, Connolly and Noel Acciari and defenseman Anton Stralman) extends beyond their talents and experience.
Stralman points out that it’s four players with playoff experience and “all of them are straight out pros. Experience or no experience, you need pros who can prepare and do all the work.”
▪ Panthers CEO Matt Caldwell, asked if this is an opportunity to seize on struggles of some of the market’s other teams: “We always talk about one territory and supporting other teams so we don’t want to play off problems they’re having. But it’s hard not to notice. It’s right there for us.”
Panthers season ticket sales of 7500 are the highest in 10 years.
▪ The last word from two of the Panthers’ best players:
Team MVP Barkov, who last season won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for the player judged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability: “Everything [management] did this summer was perfect. All we needed, we added. There is nothing you could have asked for [general manager] Dale [Tallon] and the owner to do. We appreciate how much the organization wants to win. There’s no more excuses. We are a really good team.”
Trochek: “We’ve taken pretty big strides this summer to put ourselves in position to be the team we expect to be. It’s a matter of us realizing you can’t keep saying we’re a young team or age is why we keep making mistakes. We’re veterans and need to take ownership to take that next step and be a team everyone doesn’t want to play against.”