Hockey 101: What you Need to Know about the Panthers’ New Season
By Lane Nieset
Congrats to the Florida Panthers for winning their home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 5. What a great start to the season, a moment they’ve been prepping hard for as one of the National Hockey League’s most active teams in offseason.
The Panthers will ring in a franchise-record, nine-game holiday homestand against the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks, Lightning, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators and Dallas Stars from Nov. 30 to Dec. 20. And, in addition to last year’s fan favorites like $5 Beer Thursdays, Star Wars Night and Military Appreciation Night, this year will include another concession stand special: Nacho Tots Tuesday, $7 loaded nachos on Tuesday home games.
Last season, the Panthers placed fifth in the Atlantic Division, and while they may have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs (they were 12 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets), the Panthers have a new game plan for this year. In an interview with The Athletic, defenseman Aaron Ekblad said that “maybe in the past people overlooked us, but we go into this year as the team to beat.”
First order of business: replace coach Bob Boughner with three-time Stanley Cup winner Joel Quenneville. The Panthers also added four new players to the team: two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky (who signed a seven-year contract); defenseman Anton Stralman; and forwards Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly. The Panthers went through four goalies during the 2018-19 season, so bringing on board someone like 31-year-old Bobrovsky, who led the NHL with nine shutouts, is a huge leap forward for the team. In a press conference, general manager Dale Tallon said they, “feel very positively about him.” “He has an unbelievable attitude and his work ethic is second to none. He'll fit in nicely with [center Aleksander Barkov] and what our guys do as far as on-ice training and dedication to the game," he said.
As for the new coach, Quenneville helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup three times (in 2010, 2013 and 2015), and throughout his eight seasons with the team, they never placed lower than fourth in the division. Since the Panthers had the most giveaways in the NHL (1,234) and placed 28th last season in goals-against, Quenneville says “it’s going to be a work in progress, but we feel it’s an area we can improve upon.”
With his 20 seasons of experience coaching in the NHL, Quenneville (who counts 890 regular-season wins and 118 playoffs) has ushered his teams into postseason 18 times. According to NHL.com, he returned to coaching after leaving the Blackhawks so he could work with promising younger players like Barkov and defenseman Aaron Ekblad. “It's all about the Cup. That's my main goal,” Bobrovsky said at a press conference in July. “That's what I want to do, so that's why I am here now. I believe in this team, I believe in this group, and I really think that we can do something special in here.”
Bobrovsky, meanwhile, is considered the “best goaltender on the free agent market,” and has appeared in 457 career regular-season games in his time with the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus. Over the last three seasons, he counted 115 wins. But he’s filling shoes that are just as legendary. Roberto Luongo retired this summer after 19 seasons in the NHL—11 of which were with the Panthers. And, for the first time in team history, Florida is retiring his number 1 jersey on March 7, 2020.
With these exciting new additions, the season ahead looks promising. “No more excuses," Barkov told NHL.com. “I think we're not going to need them. We're going to do some damage in the regular season and hopefully make the playoffs and go deep there.”