Bob Boughner wasn’t the problem, but Joel Quenneville may be the solution anyway. One day after the Florida Panthers fired Boughner as coach, they hired his replacement in Quenneville, the legendary bench boss who led the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups between 2010 and 2015.
“I’ve worked with Joel previously and have seen first-hand how his passion for the game, head coaching experience and leadership can impact an organization,” said GM Dale Tallon. “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.”
Tallon worked with Quenneville in Chicago and the new coach may not be the only former Blackhawk that the GM is trying to bring down to Florida. Star left winger Artemi Panarin is expected to leave the Columbus Blue Jackets as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and Florida looks like a top destination for the talented Russian.
The Panthers play near a major city (Miami, about 30 miles away from the rink in Sunrise) on the ocean and the team also has the assets to surround Panarin. Aleksander Barkov is one of the best young centers in the game, while Jonathan Huberdeau hit a career-high in points this season when he notched 90 on the wing. Vince Trocheck is devastatingly effective when he’s healthy, giving the Cats a 1-2 punch down the middle, with promising Henrik Borgstrom behind them.
Really, the Panthers’ problem this year was goaltending, as veterans Roberto Luongo and James Reimer struggled throughout. Reimer’s .900 save percentage ranked 50th in the NHL amongst goalies who played at least 20 games, while Luongo was 52nd with an .899 mark.
The obvious solution at this point is to bring in another pending UFA from Columbus: Panarin’s buddy, Sergei Bobrovsky. Neither player will come cheap, but Florida does have a good amount of cap space. Trading Reimer and using young Samuel Montembeault as the backup for 2019-20 would alleviate some pressure, but it’s also worth asking when Luongo will retire. If the franchise legend does decide to hang up his pads at age 40, most of the salary cap recapture penalty would be foisted on his previous team, the Vancouver Canucks. So cap-wise, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the Panthers.
As I said before, Boughner wasn’t a bad coach in Florida. Heck, he only had two years with the whistle around his neck and that’s not much time to establish a culture. He got the short end of the stick here and if the Panthers had brought in another newbie, it would have been a slap in the face. But Quenneville is a proven winner and in terms of coaches, he was the biggest free agent on the market. Coach ‘Q’ comes into Florida as a guy who brings instant credibility and a winning attitude that will help a franchise in need of some confidence.
Given his trophy case, Quenneville doesn’t need to re-establish his bona fides at this point: he is clearly taking the Florida job because he sees the potential in this roster in the short-term. The fact he coached Panarin in Chicago is a huge bonus and is a great reason for the left winger to sign on in Sunrise this summer. Either way, Tallon got his man in Quenneville and that hire alone puts Florida on another level.