The Florida Panthers were a popular sleeper team pick when we surveyed a number of NHL players at the Player Media Tour in Chicago last month. Adding Joel Quenneville, Sergei Bobrovsky, Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman, and getting a full season from a healthy Vincent Trocheck would certainly raise expectations heading into the 2019-20 NHL season.
Having made the Stanley Cup Playoffs just once in the last seven seasons would up the urgency to turn things around. Owner Vinnie Viola didn’t invest to build a loser, and the expected aggressive off-season from the Panthers’ showed they’re ready to win now. So while some may label them a sleeper team, Jonathan Huberdeau isn’t expecting to surprise anyone.
“I don’t think we are a surprise team anymore,” Huberdeau told NBC Sports. “Obviously, we know our lineup. Our lineup has changed, but not drastically, so we know we are a good team and I am going to follow my teammate Aaron [Ekblad] and say we are the team to beat.”
“Maybe in the past people overlooked us, but right now, I would say we go into this year as the team to beat,” Ekblad told The Athletic in August. Installing Quenneville behind the bench was a good first move to reaching that goal. With a successful history coaching in the league, the expectations to win and play the right way won’t just be coming from outside the dressing room, the head coach will demand that as well.
“He brings a lot,” Huberdeau said. “Winning culture, he has won, he has made the playoffs, he is a guy that lets his players play. We saw Chicago, their system, it looked like they were having a lot of fun, so that is what we want, to have a lot of fun and win some games.”
The Panthers are off to a 1-1-0 start following a home-and-home split with the Lightning. Bobrovsky is known to be a slow starter and the offense outside of Mike Hoffman, who has four of the team’s six goals, is still getting going. The schedule the rest of October isn’t exactly a friendly one with games against the Predators, Avalanche (two), Flames, Hurricanes, among others, coming up.
There are no more excuses, however. The job of building a winning roster is not complete, but positive steps have been made. The Panthers know it’s time to meet expectations
“Right now I think we know we have to make the playoffs and we are going to make the playoffs,” said Huberdeau.