Radko Gudas believes the pain of defeat will help the Panthers be even better in 2021-22.
One of several players currently participating in informal workouts at the Panthers IceDen, the grizzled defenseman told host Dave McCarthy during a recent interview on SiriusXM's "Hockey Today" show that last season's first-round playoff exit has been fueling offseason preparations.
"The feeling at the end of last season, the sourness and bitterness in the locker room, I can still feel it, maybe even taste it," Gudas said sternly. "Everybody's coming down here ready. I've been here a few weeks now. I'm seeing guys coming in wanting to improve and to get better."
While losing to the eventual back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Lightning in six games still doesn't sit well with the Panthers, Gudas said there is somewhat of a benefit to having your cross-state rival serve as a benchmark as players prepare to take the next step this season.
As the old saying goes, "in order to be the best, you've got to beat the best."
"We're trying to use them as a measuring stick as much as we can," Gudas said of the Lightning. "I think we're doing a great job of getting the guys together here and playing smart, skilled hockey. We've got a great opponent that we can use to measure our level of hockey."
How will they measure up this season? Only time will tell, of course.
But, like the rest of us, Gudas was a fan of Florida's active offseason.
From re-signing key players like Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair, Brandon Montour and Gustav Forsling to bringing in Sam Reinhart and Joe Thornton, Gudas is confident that the team has a healthy mix of skill and physicality that will allow them to match up with any team in the league.
"The more you even out things on the back end and front end, the better," said Gudas, who led the league with 250 hits last season. "The teams that were in the top-4 last year, they were not afraid to play the body and play physical. … The teams that are winning do play physical."
As more and more players continue to make their way back to South Florida in preparation for training camp later this month, Gudas said he expects all of his teammates to arrive with a chip on their shoulders as they prepare to push themselves even harder to finally get over the hump.
For although the season doesn't officially open until Oct. 14, their work never really stopped.
"I think everyone had an extra push in this offseason to be better than we were last year," Gudas said. "Everybody feels we're capable of doing more, and everybody wants to do more."
To listen to the full interview on SiriusXM, click HERE.