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Panthers More Interested in Playoffs Than Point Totals After Tough Season

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

2018-19 Season In Review: Players

2018-19 Season In Review: Player Reactions

Interviews with Roberto Luongo, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Keith Yandle, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad and Frank Vatrano

  • 03:15 •

A season of individual milestones tasted more sour than sweet for member of the Florida Panthers.

Heading into another summer on the outside looking in on the playoff picture, players couldn't help but twinge a little bit when reminded of their personal accomplishments during Monday's locker clean out at BB&T Center. For although several of them took personal leaps, the team didn't make a similar jump.

Take Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, for example. The top-line duo reached incredible new heights, becoming the first pair of teammates the franchise's 25-year history to hit the 90-point mark in the same season. Around the league, only Tampa and Edmonton also boasted multiple 90-point players.

In his first season as captain, Barkov established the franchise's new single-season scoring record with 96 points, eclipsing Hall of Famer Pavel Bure's old mark of 94. Huberdeau, meanwhile, obliterated Viktor Kozlov's previous single-season franchise record for assists (53), finishing with a whopping 62 helpers.

But with just one shared playoff series between them, the budding superstars still aren't satisfied.

"The points were great, personally, but I'd rather be at 60-70 points and make the playoffs and not be here today, so I think it doesn't matter," Huberdeau said. "My game went up this year, especially in the second half and I just want to be more consistent out there. That's what I'm going to work on for next year and be good every game."

Added Barkov: "We know that we have had the talent here for a while. We're getting more experience, getting older, and getting a little better every year. Like I said before, it's really disappointing that we didn't make playoffs this year or last year, but at the same time, I'm really excited about this team and the next season."

Not far behind Barkov and Huberdeau, numerous other Panthers also posted career-high point totals, including Mike Hoffman (70), Evgenii Dadonov (70), Keith Yandle (62) and Frank Vatrano (39). For the first time, the team also had three 30-goal scorers in Hoffman (36), Barkov (35) and Huberdeau (30).

With Yandle quarterbacking the team's top unit, Florida's power play also finished second in the league, with its 26.8 percent success rate also standing as a franchise-high. Thanks to that success, four different players posted at least 30 points on the man advantage, including a franchise-record 39 from Yandle.

Like his teammates, Yandle said he'd give every one of those points back just to play a few more games.

"I would trade in having a no point season to be playing next week [in the playoffs]," said Yandle, whose 62 points stand as the most by a defenseman in a season in franchise history. "It is kind of one of those things where you are happy you had a good season but also not happy because we aren't playing next week."

So what's it going to take for such a clearly talented team to get beyond Game 82 next season?

Well, the hiring of Joel Quenneville certainly helps.

The second-winningest coach in NHL history, Quenneville brings with him to the Panthers 890 regular-season wins, 118 playoff wins and three Stanley Cup rings. In his 20 full seasons as an NHL bench boss, the mustachioed 60-year-old legend has failed to lead his teams to the postseason on only two times.

"We don't want to be in this position," Quenneville said during his introductory press conference on Monday morning. "We can't be happy. We can't be satisfied and talking up a good game. Talk can be cheap, but actions speak volumes for what you're all about and what you intend to do.

"That's what we intend to do. We want to be a team that makes the playoffs. Everybody is striving in their career to play playoff hockey. Once you get that appetite of playing meaningful games, big games in big moments, it's a thrill…. You grow together as a team, and it's amazing the steps that you take."

After spending 19 seasons in the NHL battling Quenneville-led teams, goaltender Roberto Luongo knows just how much the new coach's arrival will affect Florida's locker room. And as they look to forge a path back to the playoffs, having someone in the room that's traversed that trail many times certainly helps.

When looking at the immense talent that surrounds him, Luongo doesn't see the individual milestones, a second-ranked power play or a franchise-record 264 goals. Instead, he points to the larger puzzle that those pieces come together to create. And with Quenneville's coming, a big piece has been brought in.

Now, it's just about putting it all together on the ice in 2019-20.

"I think it's important to have a guy that's been there and know what it takes to win," said Luongo, who moved up to third on the NHL's all-time wins this list this season (489). "Even though our core has been here a few years now and we've made some strides, I think we're still missing a little bit to understand what it takes to win every night in this league.

"It's not just about going on the ice and making saucer passes and scoring goals. There's a lot more stuff involved than that, and I think as a group it's right there. We just need to kick in that last five percent to understand that we have to do this, this and this to be successful on most nights. I think that's a good way to start things with a coach like Q [Quenneville]."

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