On the first day of the rest of his life, Sergei Bobrovsky awoke in a hotel in South Florida. He ate breakfast outside and sipped coffee in the sunshine, looking at the Atlantic Ocean.
"It was a beautiful morning," he said Tuesday.
The Florida Panthers sent a limo bus for Bobrovsky and three other unrestricted free agents who agreed to contracts Monday: defenseman Anton Stralman and forwards Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly. They whisked them to BB&T Center, their new home rink, with a police escort.
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Each player had his image in a Panthers uniform on the wall, welcoming him by his last name, and the four were together in a mural, welcoming them to "PANTHERS TERRITORY." Their new sweaters hung in the locker room, where they signed their contracts officially.
In a press conference with general manager Dale Tallon and coach Joel Quenneville, Bobrovsky made one thing clear.
"It's all about the Cup," Bobrovsky said. "That's my main goal. 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."
Video: Bobrovsky on signing seven-year deal with Panthers
Yes, he said it's all about the Stanley Cup.
Bobrovsky landed a massive contract and chose to live in a sunny locale. But after making the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times in 25 seasons in the NHL, including once in the past seven, the Panthers appear poised to contend.
"I agreed to seven-year deal," Bobrovsky said. "It's a long time, and I want to surround myself with winners."
Tallon called Quenneville the clincher for the way he recruited Bobrovsky and the others during the free agent interview period last week.
Quenneville has more regular-season wins (890) than any coach but Scotty Bowman (1,244) and more playoff wins (118) than any coach but Bowman (223) and Al Arbour (123). He won the Stanley Cup three times with the Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015).
But the reasons he gave the free agents to come to Florida were the same reasons he came himself, starting with 26-and-under players like Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Matheson and Vincent Trocheck.
"The clincher was the young guys that are on the team and the excitement of wanting to win," Quenneville said.
The Panthers ranked second in the NHL on the power play (26.8 percent) and ninth in goals (3.22 per game) last season. The problem was keeping the puck out of the net, especially at even strength. Though they were 10th on the penalty kill (81.3 percent), they were 28th in goals against (3.33 per game) and tied for 29th in 5-on-5 save percentage (.907).
Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie twice (2013, 2017) with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Over the past seven seasons, his save percentage is .921, second in the NHL among goalies who played at least 250 games. His even-strength save percentage is .929 in that span, first in the NHL using the same criteria.
Video: Sergei Bobrovsky, Panthers agree to seven-year deal
"He wanted to come to South Florida," Quenneville said. "I think he feels that we have a young group that's ready to go to the next step, and we know that goalies are huge in our game as far as getting the team in front of them to be comfortable playing the right way."
Bobrovsky said the Panthers had all the ingredients.
"It's a really young …" he said, stopping himself. "Not really young. Really talented young group with a really good coach. I think the coach is one of the most important positions in the club, how the coach creates the atmosphere, how the coach creates the culture. … He just recently won the three Cups, so his experience and what he's going to bring to this group, that's huge. I'm excited to be part of it."
Bobrovsky tempered expectations by saying it was a process and not everything would go smoothly. Quenneville did something similar.
"We want to win a Cup in the worst way," Quenneville said. "I think we've got to be a playoff team first."
But the Panthers are committed, as evidenced by the additions of Quenneville, Bobrovsky and the other free agents, and by the way they rolled out the red carpet for them. The only thing missing were team-issued shades, because, you know, the future's so bright they gotta wear 'em.
"The Panthers are doing a lot of good things here," Quenneville said. "We're looking to do things right. We think that the fans, they're going to come in a big way, but we've got to win.
"I believe in this market. I think there's a lot of hockey fans around here. But we've got to find a way to win some hockey games and bring that [sustained success] in our team where all of a sudden, hey, it's a fun place to go. It's a great game, and no better place to watch hockey than down here in Florida."
Photo courtesy: Eliot J. Schechter, Florida Panthers
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