Following another disappointing season, the Florida Panthers wasted little time getting started on changes for the 2019-20 season. On Sunday, general manager Dale Tallon announced the firing of head coach Bob Boughner, replacing him with Joel Quenneville the following day.
Quenneville, 60, was the most sought-after coach available. He guided the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups in six seasons before his firing last November.
Tallon has close ties to Quenneville, having hired him in 2008 while GM of the Blackhawks. It also didn’t hurt that the Panthers ponied up at least $6 million annually (not including playoff bonuses) on a five-year contract.
Quenneville takes over the coaching reins of a club that somewhat resembles the Blackhawks of a decade ago. The Panthers are loaded with good young talent, led by unsung superstar Aleksander Barkov, 92-point left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, skilled center Vincent Trocheck, and blueliners Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson.
The Panthers possess considerable scoring punch. Their power-play percentage (26.8) ranked second overall while their 3.22 goals for per game was ninth.
Aleksander Barkov collected his 95th point of the season to surpass Hockey Hall of Fame member Pavel Bure (94 in 1999-00) for the highest single-season total in @FLAPanthers franchise history. #NHLStats #NJDvsFLA pic.twitter.com/KHprJQeq7c
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 7, 2019
Five players — Barkov, Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov and Keith Yandle — exceeded 60 points. Winger Frankie Vatrano joined Barkov, Huberdeau, Hoffman and Dadonov in reaching 20 goals. Had Trocheck not been limited to 55 games by injuries, he would’ve been in both categories.
While the Panthers have no trouble scoring goals, keeping them out of their own net is another matter. They gave up the fourth-highest goals-against per game (3.33).
Oft-injured veteran starter Roberto Luongo, 40, had his worst season — 18 wins in 43 appearances, 3.12 goals-against average, .899 save percentage — since his NHL debut with the New York Islanders in 1999-2000. James Reimer, Luongo’s supposed heir apparent, sported a 3.09 GAA and .900 save percentage.
With the season already lost, the Panthers worked Sam Montembeault into 10 games down the stretch. While the 22-year-old showed promise, he finished with a 3.05 GAA and a save percentage of .894.
Quenneville’s coaching won’t turn back the clock on Luongo, make Reimer into a reliable starter or hasten Montembeault’s development. To become a regular playoff contender, the Panthers must bolster their depth between the pipes.
“It’s a huge resume and a big name to have in the locker room. Guys will look at that and respect what he has to say. He’s won and he’s proven that he know what it takes to win night in and night out in this league.” -Roberto Luongo on Coach Quenneville pic.twitter.com/ePXAxI2qLo
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) April 8, 2019
Late last month, Tallon told The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell he intends to be aggressive in finding ways to bolster his goaltending and defense. With over $61 million invested in 16 players, and his core players under contract through next season, the Panthers GM will have around $22 million to work with should the salary cap reach $83 million as projected for 2019-20.
Tallon’s priority must be addressing his current goalie tandem. Luongo ($4.5 million annually) is signed through 2021-22 while Riemer ($3.4 million) has two more seasons remaining on his contract.
Luongo still has a modified no-trade clause in his contract and probably intends to retire as a Panther. His injury history prompted recent speculation suggesting he could be placed on long-term injury reserve to start next season; however, that’ll only happen if he fails his training-camp physical. Retirement is an option but he recently said he’s open to returning as a backup.
Reimer has likely played his final game with the Panthers. The 31-year-old lacks no-trade protection and his affordable cap hit could make him enticing for teams seeking an experienced backup or clubs in need of reaching next season’s salary-cap minimum. The Ottawa Senators could fit the bill.
It’s expected Tallon will pursue a goaltender when the unrestricted free agent market opens on July 1. The Panthers GM is said to be interested in Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. Leading up to the February trade deadline, there was talk of the Panthers acquiring Bobrovsky and signing him to an eight-year deal. While that didn’t materialize, the Jackets goalie could still be on Tallon’s radar this summer.
He could also look toward free agency for an experienced top-four defenseman. Campbell doubted the Panthers can woo San Jose’s Erik Karlsson given the personal differences with Hoffman during their final season with the Ottawa Senators. He also doesn’t think Toronto’s Jake Gardiner would suit their needs.
Winnipeg Jets rearguard Tyler Myers could be a free agent option, but Campbell suggests Tallon attempt to trade for Myers’ teammate Jacob Trouba. He’s slated to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights and is a year away from UFA eligibility.
Given Trouba’s contentious contract negotiation history with the Jets, they could be willing to trade him this summer. Tallon possesses considerable depth in promising young assets that could prove tempting.