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Quenneville, Tallon reunite, look to rekindle Cup form with Panthers

Coach, GM following formula that helped build Blackhawks' championship core

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- No more than an hour after the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, Dale Tallon's phone rang.

It was Joel Quenneville.

Tallon had spent 33 years with the Blackhawks as a player, broadcaster and executive. He had endured hard times and helped build what would be a championship team. But he wasn't there when one of his draft picks, forward Patrick Kane, scored the Cup-clinching goal.

Instead, he was watching on television at the home of Florida Panthers executive Bill Torrey. He had been fired as general manager of the Blackhawks the year before and just been named GM of the Panthers.

 

[RELATED: Season preview: Florida Panthers]

 

Quenneville had become coach of the Blackhawks early in the 2008-09 season, and his veteran presence had helped put a young, talented roster over the top. He had become close with Tallon along the way.

He passed the phone around the locker room so the players could speak to Tallon.

"That brought a tear to my eye," Tallon said.

It says a lot about Quenneville, Tallon and their relationship that Quenneville thought of Tallon in that bittersweet moment.

"That's the kind of guy he is," Tallon said. "That's why we get along. I think we have the same father, different mother. I don't know. I feel like it's the brother I never had."

Now Tallon has endured hard times and put together a young, talented roster in Florida, and he has hired Quenneville to put it over the top. They hope it will be like Chicago all over again.

With one exception.

This time, they want to celebrate a championship together.

"We feel there's an opportunity to create something special here," Quenneville said, "and so it's an opportunity to do something we really didn't get to finish."

* * * * *

Matt Caldwell attended the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, from 2007-10. One of his professors supervised a case study in 2012 of the Blackhawks turnaround, and Caldwell presented it to Vincent Viola when Viola bought the Panthers in 2013.

"It's the exact blueprint that we've been following," said Caldwell, who joined the Panthers as chief operating officer in 2014 and rose to president in 2016.

The Blackhawks missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs nine times in 10 seasons from 1997-2007. In 2006-07, they were down to about 3,500 season-ticket holders and averaged 12,727 fans, 29th in a 30-team NHL.

But after Rocky Wirtz took over as chairman and John McDonough became president in 2007, they invested in staffing, marketing and facilities.

The roster was on the rise, thanks in large part to Tallon, who was assistant GM from 2003-05 and rose to GM in 2005. Most notably, Chicago had a core of defenseman Duncan Keith, the No. 54 pick of the 2002 NHL Draft; defenseman Brent Seabrook, the No. 14 pick in 2003; center Jonathan Toews, the No. 3 pick in 2006; and Kane, the No. 1 pick in 2007.

Not only did the Blackhawks make the playoffs after Quenneville arrived in 2008-09, they made the Western Conference Final, capped season tickets at 14,000 and averaged 22,247 fans, No. 1 in the NHL.

One of Tallon's last acts as GM was signing forward Marian Hossa as an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2009. Tallon was fired July 13, 2009 and made a senior adviser in hockey operations.

The rest is history. Chicago went on to win the Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015 with Quenneville behind the bench and sellout crowds in the stands.

While Tallon started over in Florida.

The Panthers have made the playoffs five times in 25 seasons, once in the past seven. They averaged 13,261 fans last season, 30th in a 31-team NHL.

But they made investments on the business side and have a roster on the rise. Most notably, they have a core of forward Jonathan Huberdeau, the No. 3 pick in 2011; center Aleksander Barkov, the No. 2 pick in 2013; defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the No. 1 pick in 2014; defenseman Mike Matheson, the No. 23 pick in 2012.

"I don't like to compare players like Toews and Kane to players on our team, but we have similarities," Tallon said. "We have a lot of similarities. And all through the lineup, I see the same kind of team."

Quenneville became available when the Blackhawks fired him Nov. 7 amid a 6-6-3 start. He has more regular-season wins (890) than anyone but Scotty Bowman (1,244) and more playoff wins (118) than anyone but Bowman (223) and Al Arbour (123).

Caldwell said when the Panthers hired Quenneville on April 8 and signed two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as an unrestricted free agent July 1, they saw an 8-10 percent spike in season tickets each time. They have gone from about 3,000 in 2013 to about 7,500. So far.

"We think now the whole business is totally prepped to take this on," Caldwell said. "We think that with the moves we made this offseason, we can really go on a great run here."

BB&T Center can mimic United Center.

"It's up to us to get it done, and by winning consistently, the building will be full," Quenneville said. "We can make this a special place to play."

* * * * *

Kane skated with a group of NHL players in Naples, Florida, in late August. A few Panthers asked what Quenneville was like.

"He's just a man's man," Kane said. "I think he'll do a really good job with that team, because they're kind of like an up-and-coming team like we were when he first came in."

Quenneville demands focus in short meetings and high-tempo practices. Kane warned the Panthers that Quenneville snaps if you lie down in a meeting and put your head on a foam roller normally used for stretching.

"They were like, 'Oh, this one guy always does that in our meetings,' " Kane said with a smile. "I was like, 'Well, just don't tell him and see how 'Q' reacts to it right off the bat.' "

(Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle, who skated with Kane in Naples, said the player was told.)

Another pet peeve: phones. They need to be out of sight at the rink.

"Make sure that you're present," said forward Troy Brouwer, who played in Chicago from 2006-11 and is on a professional tryout with Florida. "And make sure that you're giving yourself and your teammates every opportunity to win with learning and getting better."

Video: Quenneville joins the show to talk Panthers hockey

Quenneville hammers on details. He hates blind hope passes into the slot that get picked off and allow the opposition to go the other way. He hates cross-corner dump-ins, preferring to rim the puck along the boards into the offensive zone so the forechecker has a better chance to retrieve it.

"There's a million little different things that he wants you to do in a game," Kane said. "It really adds up at the end. I think he'll probably change their style a little bit and make them more of a fast, north-south team."

The basic approach will be the same as in Chicago. Quenneville wants defense first, because there is enough talent on the roster that offense will come naturally if the players play well without the puck, get it back and keep it. The Panthers ranked 28th in goals against (3.33 per game) and ninth in goals (3.22) last season. He's famous for shuffling lines based on who is playing well that night.

But overall, he uses a relatively simple system, and there is freedom within the structure. He wants to play to the players' strengths.

"He'll give those guys room to play with that skill and creativity," Toews said. "A big reason why I think we were successful in the playoffs all those years with Joel, we were able to find our way out of tough situations late in series, whether we were down a game or whatever it was, because guys can just go out there and reach into their own creativity and make big plays, because they had that confidence and they felt like they had the leash to be able to do it."

Can the Panthers really follow the Blackhawks blueprint?

"Oh, yeah," Toews said. "I don't see why not. Great goaltender coming in. Some incredible forwards. There's a lot of potential. You've got a young, excited group like that that wants to get to the playoffs, play playoff hockey. Joel knows what to do from there."

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