NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Florida Panthers.
The time is now for the Florida Panthers.
After an aggressive offseason, the Panthers are confident they will not only reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs but make a deep run. Florida hired three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville on April 8 and agreed to a seven-year contract with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on July 1.
[Panthers 31 IN 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Behind the Numbers | Fantasy breakdown]
The Panthers also signed defenseman Anton Stralman and forwards Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly, who bring playoff experience to a core led by forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck, and defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson.
The commitment to winning has energized the Panthers and their fans.
"What management did in free agency, you couldn't have asked for anything better," said Barkov, who is entering his second season as Florida captain. "We got a really good goalie, a defenseman and a couple of forwards. That's all we needed. I just can't wait to get back to training camp and start from there."
Video: Aleksander Barkov cracks the top five on the list
Neither can Bobrovsky, whose belief in the Panthers was strong enough to entice the 30-year-old seeking his first NHL championship to sign.
"It's all about the Cup. That's my main goal," he said July 2. "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."
The Panthers have missed the playoffs the past two seasons and 16 of the past 18, and they're without a series win since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.
Quenneville, who coached the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, cited the St. Louis Blues from last season as an example of how quickly a team can reach a championship level. The Blues missed the playoffs in 2017-18 and were in last place in the NHL on Jan. 3 before climbing to third place in the Central Division and going on to win the Cup for the first time in their history.
Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Huberdeau
"Everybody found out last year that anybody can win, and at any time of the season, anybody can get it together and get on a run," Quenneville said. "St. Louis proved that anything is achievable."
Barkov set a Florida single-season record with 96 points (35 goals, 61 assists) last season. He is one of three returning 30-goal scorers from last season, along with Mike Hoffman (36) and Huberdeau (30). Evgenii Dadonov matched his NHL career high with 28 goals last season, and Frank Vatrano broke out with 24 goals, one fewer than he scored in his first four NHL seasons combined.
Bobrovsky is coming off a season when he led the NHL with nine shutouts and was 37-24-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in 62 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Video: Bobrovsky on signing seven-year deal with Panthers
"He's not reached his peak yet," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "He's looking forward to getting better and helping us win."
Quenneville, whose 890 regular-season wins are second in NHL history to Scotty Bowman (1,244), said he sees similarities between the Panthers and the 2008-09 Blackhawks, who he was hired to coach four games into the season. Chicago reached the 2009 Western Conference Final after five straight seasons missing the playoffs and won the first of three Stanley Cup titles under Quenneville the next season.
"That's how we want to get this team established," he said. "We've got some guys who make one another better as well. I think some of the depth that we added is going to be beneficial as well."
The additions at defenseman should help the Panthers, whose 273 goals-against (28th in NHL) and NHL-high 1,234 giveaways negated an offense that averaged 3.22 goals per game (ninth in NHL). Stralman played in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals for the New York Rangers (2014) and Tampa Bay Lightning (2015), Connolly won the Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018, and Acciari helped the Boston Bruins reach Game 7 of the 2019 Cup Final.
Video: Looking at the potential for the Panthers
"You can't win without goaltending, and team defense is important as well," Tallon said. "We had to improve that, and I think we've done a decent job of that."
Now it's time to win, and the Panthers are confident their time has arrived.
"We feel that we've made some progress and we're looking to push through that hurdle and be a playoff team, and from there hopefully can get better off of that level and that experience as well," Quenneville said. "There's a lot to be excited about."
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