Aleksander Barkov is tired of waiting.
The Florida Panthers center is eager to return to the United States and begin training camp in September, determined to prove this season will be completely different from ones replete with near misses and disappointment. The Panthers (36-32-14) failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
He was succinct in his declaration for 2019-20: The underachieving is over.
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"No more excuses," Barkov told NHL.com from his home in Tampere, Finland. "I think we're not going to need them. We're going to do some damage in the regular season and hopefully make the playoffs and go deep there."
Major renovations have been made in Florida since the end of last season. Coach Joel Quenneville, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015), was hired to replace Bob Boughner on April 8. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, signed a seven-year contract to replace Roberto Luongo, who retired June 26. Three players who've gone deep into the postseason, defenseman Anton Stralman, and forwards Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly, also signed.
The pieces are in place. All that's left is winning.
"Even before, I think we had a pretty good team that we should have been in the playoffs at least and did some damage there," Barkov said. "But with a new season coming up, you don't want to think about the past. You want to think about the new season. We have a couple of pretty good players and a new coach.
"I just feel like all the guys in the locker room, they're all here to win, to make the playoffs and go deep. It's frustrating not to make the playoffs with the team we had the last couple of years. You can only blame the players. But there is no need to think about the past. We're only thinking about what's coming up and I think we're excited."
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Barkov's roots with the Panthers are strong; he was selected No. 2 in the 2013 NHL Draft, agreed to terms on a six-year contract Jan. 25, 2016, and was named captain Sept. 17, 2018. But Florida has made the playoffs once in his six NHL seasons, a six-game loss to the New York Islanders in the 2016 Eastern Conference First Round after setting team records for wins (47) and points (103). They finished 12 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card from the East last season.
After the ambitious offseason, the arrow is again pointed in the right direction.
"We have a strong core," general manager Dale Tallon said. "They're all disappointed with what happened last year. Obviously, getting [Quenneville] will make a big difference. I think the team attitude will be much different. There will be a real respect factor there. Our players will do what they're supposed to do. We all believe that we can get something accomplished with the moves we made this offseason."
Leading the charge will be Barkov, whose numbers have jumped significantly the past two seasons. His 96 points (35 goals, 61 assists) last season broke a Panthers record set by Pavel Bure in 1999-00. The players have received plenty of support from management and owner Vincent J. Viola, who's signed off on the recent bold moves and has made Florida a desirable location that goes beyond sunshine, palm trees and South Beach.
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"He's been good for us, for the players," Barkov said. "He wants to win, and you can see that in his eyes. You can't really ask anything else from your owner that wants to win as players. He's committed and wants every player and wants management to be committed as well. I think we have the right group right now."
And that's the challenge for Barkov, to lead the right group into the upper echelon of the NHL. He intends to change the narrative in Florida after already earning the trust of his new coach.
"What a great pro," Quenneville said. "He's a hockey freak. His devotion to the game is second to none. That's exciting. That's encouraging. Now your leader and your top guy is that type of a person and player. A quiet guy, but he goes about his business in the right way."