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Joel Quenneville Brings His Stanley Cup Pedigree to Florida


Joel Quenneville wanted to make it clear: He did not take the job as coach of the Florida Panthers because he wanted to be closer to South Florida’s many golf courses.

“Oh, I’m a big hacker, not a golfer,” he said recently, a twinkle in his eye. “I play, but I don’t golf.”

The golfer on the Panthers is Dale Tallon, the president of hockey operations and the general manager, who hired Quenneville in April to bring the team out of mediocrity.

Quenneville is second on the career wins list with nearly 900 in his 22 years as a head coach, and his Chicago Blackhawks claimed the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

But he was fired 15 games into last season, with the Blackhawks coming off a last-place finish the previous year.

Quenneville, 61, still wanted to coach, though, and the Panthers needed his help.

Since advancing to the Stanley Cup finals in 1996 and losing to the Colorado Avalanche in four games, the Panthers have qualified for the playoffs just four times and have been eliminated in the first round all four times.

The Panthers last appeared in the playoffs in 2016, when they lost to the Islanders in six games. The Panthers’ home attendance spiked that year to 15,584, 24th in the N.H.L., but drooped to 13,261 last season, ranking 30th out of 31 teams.

But Quenneville said he took the job because he thought the Panthers had established a foundation for success. Four players, including the elite center Aleksander Barkov and forward Jonathan Huberdeau, scored at least 28 goals last season.

“It was an opportunity to come to a team that has a lot of assets that you look for in a team that has a chance to win,” Quenneville said. “They had some young guys with high-end talent, who had the ability to lead in the right way. They’re all at the point of their careers that they’ve been getting pretty close to the playoffs the last couple of years. Now, it’s getting in.”

Quenneville added that the Blackhawks were in a similar position when he arrived in Chicago in 2008. “We’re at that stage, ‘Let’s see how good we can be,’” he said. “I was fortunate to be in Chicago when they were sitting on ‘go’ when I came there. I feel like this team has a real chance.”

Tallon was the general manager of the Blackhawks from 2005 to 2009, helping to assemble the team that Quenneville took to the three Cups. He said hiring Quenneville was a message to fans that the franchise was committed to winning.

“They’re still learning the game,” Tallon said of the Panthers. “Our players are not aware of what it takes. He is.”

John Hynes, the Devils’ coach, said after a recent loss to the Panthers that Florida resembled Quenneville’s Chicago teams, with defensemen moving around to flood the offensive zone. Keith Yandle, a veteran defenseman, said the Panthers had tried under Quenneville to become much more of a puck-possession team.

“With the guys we have in this room, it’s more beneficial for us to have the puck,” Yandle said. “And when you have the puck and can play around with it, that’s when it’s fun.”

Strategy is a only part of the overhaul — and probably not even the most important part. In July, the Panthers signed the free-agent goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, to a seven-year, $70 million contract. But the most critical move was hiring Quenneville.

Defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said he was “a little bit star-struck” when Quenneville started leading practices.

“We know he has lots of experience,” forward Evgenii Dadonov said. “We trust in him.”

Vincent Trocheck, the veteran center, said he was “ecstatic” when he heard Quenneville had been hired.

“He comes to the rink and he means business,” Trocheck said. “When we’ve lost, it’s not just, ‘O.K., we’ll take this one on the chin.’ It’s, ‘It can’t happen again. Go out there with urgency the next game, the next period, the next shift.’ He brings a lot of intensity, and that’s something that’s important, especially with a young team like we have.”

Hockey players like to say they listen to all of their coaches, but after leading three Stanley Cup champions, Quenneville commands a special level of attention.

“When you have the best coach of all time, there’s going to be no questioning him,” Yandle said. “It’s kind of his way. That’s a good thing to have in our room.”

Trocheck said: “Any time you see a guy with his background and his pedigree, you know what you’re getting — you know he’s a good coach. He’s won with a lot of different players. He was in Chicago a long time. You respected him as soon as he walked into the room.”

The Panthers started the season slowly, losing four of their first five games, two in shootouts on the road. They were 5-3-4 after a 7-2 loss Monday in Vancouver.

After the Panthers overcame a 4-1 second-period deficit to beat the Devils on Oct. 14, Quenneville said at his postgame news conference, “It’s a learning curve for us, and we’ll learn more as we move along here about key situations.”

Quenneville’s new players acknowledge that they are still learning about him personally. As taciturn as Quenneville appears while standing behind the bench, and as piercing as his blue-eyed stare can be, the Panthers can see that he is approachable, positive, enthusiastic and supportive.

“He’s full of energy,” Weegar said. “He likes it when everybody’s excited and having a lot of fun together. I think he’s going to develop us, whether we’ve played for 10 years or one year. I think he’s going to make everybody a better player.”


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