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Quenneville hire has Panthers fan base excited, energized

Dramatic increase in ticket sales, new business compared to this point last season

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Dale Tallon has never felt better about the future of the Florida Panthers.

"My wife said, 'I've never seen you this excited about anything,'" Tallon said Tuesday. "I don't show a lot of emotion, I don't jump around and go gaga, but this is a gaga moment for me."

It is because on Monday the Panthers named Joel Quenneville their coach, bringing on board the three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks who has more wins (890) than every coach in NHL history other than Scotty Bowman (1,244).

The impact won't be felt on the ice for several months, but the Panthers are already experiencing a boom at the box office. They have had a 200 percent increase in total sales since their season ended compared to last year, including eight times more new business compared to the equivalent time last season, according to numbers provided by the team. 

It's a direct result of the newfound optimism and interest since Quenneville was announced.

"Incredible numbers for us, over the top renewals and new tickets," Tallon said. "It was necessary, important. We need to establish ourselves in the marketplace and this is the best way to do it."

Video: Quenneville on becoming the Panthers' head coach

Tallon's level of excitement is emblematic of the wave being felt throughout the Panthers since Quenneville was announced. It's a franchise that needed this kind of pick-me-up after a second straight season with subpar results. 

The Panthers are talented enough to be playing Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this week. Instead, they performed below expectations, especially defensively, and missed the playoffs by 12 points after missing by one last season, their second under former coach Bob Boughner.

But Quenneville wouldn't be the coach bringing next-level excitement to the Panthers and South Florida fans had they lived up to expectations. He also wouldn't be their coach if he didn't believe in the players.

"They've got some guys that are looking to move up to that next level, to where they are even more important and become even more special," Quenneville said Tuesday. "They're at that growth curve as young players where you've got to go to the next level and there are some players here that have that ability."

He's talking about forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck, and defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson. Maybe they become under Quenneville what Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook became under him in Chicago.

"There's a lot of pieces, a lot of ingredients that can make it special," Quenneville said. "I thought we had a lot of those type of guys in Chicago back in the day. All of a sudden we had so many we had to move a couple. Hopefully these guys become those type of guys."

The key, Quenneville and Tallon said, is to get the Panthers to play better defense than they did this season, when they allowed 3.33 goals per game, 28th in the NHL, and the goalies combined for an .897 save percentage.

"We're in a situation here where I think that was probably the weakest area, what they gave up last year, but you've can't just blame the D," Quenneville said. "We all have to think the same way, let's keep the puck out of our net and let's move together offensively with a lot of freedom. But defensively, we have to have a real purpose and that's what we can tighten up."

Tallon said he plans to support Quenneville by giving him even more assets, more talent to work with. The Panthers would like to upgrade at all three positions this offseason.

Tallon can't specify whom he will target because that would be tampering, but suffice it to say they'll go after some of the better unrestricted free agents, possibly goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Panarin won the Calder Trophy in Chicago with Quenneville as his coach in 2015-16. He had 151 points (61 goals, 90 assists) in 162 games under Quenneville before the Blackhawks traded him to the Blue Jackets after the 2016-17 season.

"We're going to be a [salary] cap team," Tallon said. "[Panthers owner Vincent Viola] is committed to that. We've got room, it's just a matter of how much room and what makes our team stronger for the long haul. That's the key."

Video: Friedman on Joel Quenneville, Flyers' coach search

Tallon said he likes the position he's in now too because he's the only GM in the League with a coach who can sit down across the table from a free agent and impress him by wearing three Stanley Cup championship rings from this decade. Quenneville is one of 11 coaches in NHL history to win the Cup at least three times.

"I think it's a real advantage for us," Tallon said. "People want to go obviously where they are well-paid, but the underlying comments from any free agents in the past that I've dealt with is they want to win, they want to know what the commitment is to win.

"Now, this is a statement made by Vinnie Viola that we're committed to winning and we want to win all the time. This is a big statement and I'm really excited about our future."

No wonder Tallon is going gaga.

"Our whole staff is pumped," he said. "It's great for our franchise."

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