Quenneville sees Panthers roster with right ‘ingredients to win’

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As his new players watched from the back of the room, Joel Quenneville had a message to them during his introductory press conference as Florida Panthers head coach.

“I want everyone of you guys to remember where you’re at right now, and remember the feeling that you have today,” Quenneville said Monday. “Next year we want to be right now coming off the ice with our skates on and we’re preparing for our first-round opponent, and you’re going to know that when you’re on that ride it’s the ride of a lifetime and the memories are going to be ever-lasting.”

The Panthers, who have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the last seven seasons, hope that is the reality a year from now. The move to open up the wallet and splash the cash for Quenneville — a reported five-year deal worth north of $30 million — is the first step in an aggressive off-season for the franchise.

“We need to win now,” said team president and CEO Matthew Caldwell.

“This is a great start. This is a good kick off to it, I think,” said Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who added he was “giddy like I’ve never been before” after landing Quenneville. “We’re going to put our heads together and we’re going to come together with a great plan. We have a great core of young players and we’re going to take this to another level.”

Quenneville’s resume put him on a level where he would be sought after hard by NHL teams and would have his choice of where he coached next. So why the Panthers? He sees a parallel with his new team that he did in 2008 when Tallon promoted him to the Chicago Blackhawks’ head coaching job.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I believe that this team is close to winning,” said Quenneville, who was fired in November by the Blackhawks. “I was fortunate to be the 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 thing here now.”

The young talent is certainly there with Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad, plus the still-developing Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett, among others in the pipeline. Building around that group this summer in free agency could go a long way to realizing the playoff vision the franchise has for next season.

Quenneville has seen it from the outside, saying he believes the Panthers have the “ingredients to win” and that he wasn’t going to return behind a bench if didn’t believe the team was a Stanley Cup contender.

“I meant that, and I believe it,” he said.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Panthers land Joel Quenneville as next head coach

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The Florida Panthers are going big for their next head coach after they announced on Monday that Joel Quenneville will replace Bob Boughner behind their bench.

“Joel is a three-time Stanley Cup champion head coach who will be a transformative leader for the Florida Panthers franchise,” said Panthers general manager Dale Tallon. “We’ve seized the opportunity to add one of the most successful head coaches in hockey history and we’re thrilled that Joel has agreed to take on the challenge of leading our promising young team. I’ve worked with Joel previously and have seen firsthand how his passion for the game, head coaching experience and leadership can impact an organization. Joel will accelerate our growth into a club that qualifies for the playoffs consistently and competes every year toward our goal of winning the Stanley Cup.”

In a statement after relieving Boughner of his duties on Sunday, Tallon noted he was seeking a “transformative, experienced head coach with Stanley Cup pedigree to lead our team going forward.” That certainly fit Quenneville’s profile, and considering their relationship — Tallon was the Chicago Blackhawks’ GM when he hired Quenneville to replace Denis Savard — you knew the Panthers would be pretty aggressive in trying to persuade the three-time Cup champion to head to Sunrise.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Quenneville also won’t come cheap, which shows you how much Panthers owner Vinnie Viola views this off-season in terms of turning the franchise around. According to Pierre LeBrun, the deal is worth over $30M for five years depending on bonuses. That also means the Blackhawks are happy to see their former head coach, who had a contract through the end of next season, off of their books and into the Eastern Conference.

The addition of a successful, big-name head coach is to be the start of a busy summer for Tallon and the Panthers. They’ve made the playoffs once in the last seven seasons and they aren’t splashing the cash for Quenneville to not be a playoff team a year from now. The biggest question is what happens in net with Roberto Luongo‘s future. The 40-year-old has three years left on his deal and just finished a season where he was hampered with injury. James Reimer still has two years remaining on his contract. Then you have the rumors of a potential tandem free agent signing this summer of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, which could be a game-changer for the franchise considering the talent that’s already there.

However busy the Panthers’ off-season turns out to be, Monday was a great start in hopes to moving in a better direction.

MORE: Quenneville sees Panthers’ roster with right ‘ingredients to win’

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Panthers fire Boughner, seek ‘transformative’ coach

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The Florida Panthers fired head coach Bob Boughner on Sunday, not long after the 2018-19 season ended. The team also parted ways with assistant Paul McFarland.

GM Dale Tallon’s quote in the press release won’t exactly cut off speculation about interest in Joel Quenneville, as the phrase “transformative, experienced head coach with Stanley Cup pedigree” sure seems … on the nose? On the ‘stache?

“We made a tough decision today and have relieved Bob Boughner of his duties as head coach,” Tallon said. “We didn’t meet expectations this season and share responsibility for that fact. After careful evaluation, we have determined that this is a necessary first step for our young team and we will seek to identify a transformative, experienced head coach with Stanley Cup pedigree to lead our team going forward. We’re grateful to Bob, Paul and their families for their hard work and their dedication to the Panthers organization and we wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.”

The Athletic’s George Richards reports that the Panthers want to talk to Quenneville “officially.” Hmm, interesting.

Tallon’s already called his shot about Florida aiming for the fences when it comes to using cap room, with many wondering if the Panthers might target both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky if the two prominent Blue Jackets indeed make it to free agency.

“We’ll be very aggressive after the season,” Tallon said on Feb. 25, via the Panthers’ website. “We have lots of room now. We have lots of picks. We’ll turn this into a positive thing. We had some bunt singles, to scratch and claw to improve our organization on a daily basis, and then we’ll eventually hit the home run.”

The idea of getting Quenneville and big free agents is alluring, and could represent a symbiotic relationship: getting Quenneville might make those free agents more willing to buy into Florida being legitimate as a contender, while potentially landing big names could make Florida a more desirable destination. This is a huge letdown for Boughner, of course, but it sets the stage for maybe the most interesting summer for the Panthers … ever?

Boughner, 48, coached the Panthers for two seasons. They were unable to make the 2018 or 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Boughner compiling a 79-62-22 record as Florida’s head coach. Considering some of the high-end talent on the Panthers’ roster, it was fair to wonder why the team couldn’t put it all together. If you believe that the Panthers underachieved because of Boughner, then you’re likely in favor of this decision.

Still, two seasons isn’t exactly a long leash for a coach, and this organization’s continued to change course. Richards points out that Jonathan Huberdeau is set to play for his sixth coach, and the 25-year-old has only played in the NHL for seven seasons.

The Panthers appear primed to go bold, and sadly that has already cost people jobs.

More on the Panthers

Is there an easy fix for their woes?

Why they were smart not to tear apart their roster at the trade deadline.

A look at their struggles back in November.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Joel Quenneville looking to offseason before deciding on NHL return

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Speaking for the first time since he was fired in November by the Chicago Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville said that while there’s an “appetite” to get back behind an NHL bench, he’s “in no hurry right now.”

Quenneville spoke to WGN TV’s Dan Roan during a Blackhawks alumni charity event on Sunday. The former head coach, who was replaced by Jeremy Colliton after a 6-6-3 start, said he wasn’t too surprised by the decision and appreciated his decade in Chicago.

“I think in our business there’s not too many surprises anymore,” said Quenneville, who led the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups during his tenure. “I was privileged to be in Chicago for 10 years. It’s part of the business, I understand all that. I know when I exited other places, the bitterness and the animosity was at a different level. And here the memories are so special and so good, and the people here are so special to me and our family that it was tough… I never [had the opportunity to] thank the fans since I left, but I’ve got nothing but appreciation and [I] admire all they’ve done and supported our team and our experience here in Chicago.”

The Blackhawks have gone 26-24-6 under Colliton and still cling to hopes of grabbing one of the two Western Conference wild card spots. As of Monday, they sit five points out with 11 games to go.

Quenneville said he doesn’t find himself watching his old team as much anymore, but has enjoyed their turnaround.

“I try to not watch as much Blackhawks as I used to, but I watch most of the games,” he said. “It’s been a great race and it’s going to be fun to see how it all plays out.”

Since Quenneville’s firing, five NHL head coaching jobs have opened up. He was rumored to be the one to replace Dave Hakstol in Philadelphia, but that never materialized. Still under contract to the Blackhawks through the end of next season with a $6M salary, once the offseason arrives and head coaching jobs open up, he’ll ponder his future.

“We’re in no hurry right now,” he said. “We’ll see how things transpire in the offseason. I think we’ll have to think about it and we’ll see.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Will Flyers’ disastrous road trip spell end for Hakstol?

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(UPDATE: It has. The Flyers announced Hakstol’s firing on Monday.)

To put things mildly, there are a lot of reports and rumors revolving around the Philadelphia Flyers possibly firing Dave Hakstol to make Joel Quenneville their new head coach.

With a lot of conflicting information in the air (things do seem dire for Hakstol in most scenarios), let’s consider how the Flyers got to this point.

Terrible road trip

Look, the Flyers weren’t exactly setting the world on fire before the disastrous five-game road trip, which concluded on Saturday with a 5-1 thumping by the Vancouver Canucks.

Optics obviously matter, though, and things really devolved as this went along.

After beating the Sabres 6-2 on Dec. 8, the Flyers suffered a four-game losing streak, only managing a single standings point in a 6-5 OT loss to Calgary on Dec. 12.

Three of those four losses were absolute blowouts; Philly fell 7-1 to the Jets on Dec. 9, then really stunk up the joint during the last two losses, falling 4-1 to the Oilers on Friday and 5-1 to the Canucks on Saturday. There was little denying the negative feelings about that team, and Hakstol drew a lot of the blame for seemingly tepid efforts.

After scrapping their way to a somewhat surprising berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers currently sit last in the Eastern Conference with 28 points in 31 games (12-15-4).

Good and the bad

If there’s one obvious tweak Hakstol made that produced huge dividends for the Flyers, it was moving Claude Giroux from center to the wing.

Heading into 2017-18, there were serious concerns about Giroux. It seemed like his offense was slowing down, possibly pointing to him hitting the dreaded low end of the aging curve. Instead, Giroux appeared to be liberated by the freedom of playing the wing, often ceding the center duties to Sean Couturier this season. Giroux enjoyed an MVP-like season, powering his way to career-highs of 34 goals and 102 points.

One can debate how Hakstol used younger players versus veterans. You could do that with many teams, not to mention other Flyers staffers, whether you’re pondering Carter Hart or, say, Travis Sanheim.

There have been some structural issues. Much like Todd McLellan in Edmonton, much of Hakstol’s tenure has been marked by a questionable strategy to lean heavily on shots from the point.

Sure, it’s nice to get the puck on the sticks of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere when it makes sense, yet you’re far more likely to hit paydirt if you generate high-danger chances from the slot. Easier said than done? Yes, but some teams emphasize shots from defensemen to the detriment of creativity, making things too easy for the opposition.

The fall of a great power-play unit and a generally terrible PK might explain some of Hakstol’s struggles.

Since Hakstol came into the league in 2015-16, the Flyers’ PK unit has killed 77.1-percent of penalties, the worst mark in the NHL. If Quenneville or another coach could find answers where Hakstol and his crew failed, that could be a nice area of growth.

On the bright side, the Flyers have often had a deadly power play, although their overall mark (19 percent) under Hakstol is actually just tied at 17th.

Some of that might be tied up in Philly’s steps toward adding more talent over the years, but either way, that unit hit a big wall in 2018-19. They’ve connected on just 12.9-percent of their PP opportunities, the third-worst percentage in the NHL.

Hakstol didn’t sign the Flyers’ goalies, and it wasn’t his final call to opt against getting someone more established to compliment Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. A new coach’s system could absolutely make life easier for whoever ends up in Philly’s net going forward, but that could still be an area of serious concern.

A new coach – if the Flyers were to make such a rumored change – might be able to install systemic changes that could help optimize this team. Some might come from finding more innovative special teams strategies, or maybe tweaking personnel decisions. Leaning on different players in different situations may also move the needle.

It’s not necessarily a matter of Hakstol being a terrible head coach, but rather that there could be areas of improvement.

Granted, the Flyers have dug themselves a big hole, so if they’re making changes, they might want to keep their expectations in check.

Big decision coming Monday, and more later this week?

Working past the understanding that people have been wondering about Hakstol for a long time, and beckoning for Coach Q to take over in Philly basically the second he was fired, things seemed to escalate on Sunday. Business picked up as the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac reported that the Flyers would make that decision. Things got blurry from there, with TSN’s Darren Dreger describing the situation as “status quo” and that “no decision has been made.” Crossing Broad’s Anthony SanFilippo reports that Hakstol’s firing could be announced “within 24 hours,” but an interim coach may be named, possibly because there might be some wrinkles to iron out with Quenneville. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi backs that up, noting no change officially happening Sunday night, yet to expect a “busy” Monday.

Maybe some of this comes down to semantics (official versus looming?), it all seems a touch odd, and a bit confusing.

A lot to take in, right? PHT will keep you updated, whether Monday ends up being busy or just … awkward for Hakstol and the team, if nothing is actually happening. Buckle up.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.