SUNRISE, Fla. - Gazing towards the back of a jam-packed room at BB&T Center, new Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville started his introductory press conference by directly addressing the large contingent of players that had gathered to hear him speak for the first time on Monday afternoon.
"It's Monday, the first probably practice day going into the playoffs," said Quenneville, who has missed the postseason just twice in his 20 full seasons as an NHL head coach. "I want every one of you guys to remember where you're at right now and remember the feeling that you have today. Next year, we want to be coming off the ice right now with our skates on and preparing for our first-round opponent."
As he continued, the former Jack Adams winner began to firmly tap his finger on the table for emphasis.
"You're going to know that when you're on that ride, it's the ride of a lifetime and the memories are going to be everlasting," he said. "Look forward to that. I look forward to meeting and talking to every one of you guys over the next day or so… Get excited about this opportunity. It's real. I really believe in the team and I'm looking forward to this challenge. The ambition is going to be right there."
For Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, his new coach's passionate pledge certainly resonated.
"He's won a lot of Stanley Cups and is a really successful coach," said Barkov, who ascended to superstar status around the league during his first season wearing the "C" in Sunrise. "I'm pretty sure everybody's going to like him and respect him. We're going to be really good… He definitely knows what to do."
In joining the Panthers, Quenneville inherits a team that many, himself included, believe is on the cusp of greatness. Despite missing the playoffs for the 20th time in the last 25 seasons, the roster was filled to the brim with impressive individual career-best campaigns, such as Barkov's franchise-record 96 points.
Behind Barkov, a bevy of other skaters also finished with career-high point totals, including Jonathan Huberdeau (92), Mike Hoffman (70), Evgenii Dadonov (70), Keith Yandle (62) and Frank Vatrano (39). Yandle also posted a franchise-record 39 points while leading the team's second-ranked power play.
With this solid core in place, Quenneville said he believes the team already possesses many of the "same ingredients" of the dynasty he coached in Chicago. In parts of 10 seasons with the Blackhawks, he won three Stanley Cups (2010, 2013 and 2015) and reached the conference finals on two other occasions.
The second-winningest coach in NHL history, Quenneville boasts 890 wins, not including his 118 victories in the postseason. In the entire 25-year history of the Panthers, the team has won just 18 playoff games.
"He knows how to win," Yandle said. "I know the guys that played for him in Chicago loved him, so it's definitely an exciting day here. I think when you get a coach of that caliber, you're proving to everybody that you want to win… [Ownership] has set us up to win, so now it's our turn. We've got to repay them."
Quenneville said he is eager to accept the challenge of helping turn around the franchise.
"We don't want to be in this position," Quenneville said of Florida's struggle to become a consistent contender. "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."
For Panthers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Dale Tallon, Quenneville's high-profile hiring also provides him the rare opportunity of a second chance. As general manager of the Blackhawks, Tallon brought in "Coach Q" in 2008, but only partially shared in the ensuing success.
However, as the architect of Chicago's core, Tallon - who cut ties with the Blackhawks in 2009 and joined Florida in 2010 - does have his name etched into the 2010 Stanley Cup next to Quenneville's.
Sporting an ear-to-ear grin, Tallon said the duo's reunion has him "feeling giddy" like never before.
"To go out and make this move today, it's an incredible gesture by Vinnie [Panthers owner Vincent Viola]," Tallon said. "I'm proud to be a Florida Panther, and the proudest I've ever been to be a Florida Panther is right now. This man to my left is a champion, and champions breed champions. We've had a good run together, and we're going to make it even better moving forward.
"I can't tell you how excited I am about our future. It's going to be great fun to work with "Q" again. You'll know where you stand every minute of every day. Work hard, play hard, and you'll get the best out of everyone in our organization. This is a new era, a new beginning. I can't wait to get to work. It's going to be exciting for all of us. The process will begin today. We are going to win."
In reading between the lines, Quenneville's decision to join the Panthers is a credit to the work that Tallon has already put in carefully crafting the team's talented core. When he parted ways with the Blackhawks in November, the 60-year-old said that he'd only return to the NHL to pilot a contender.
So, with Monday's monumental announcement, a clear message has been sent - Florida's time is now.
"I meant that, and I believe it," Quenneville said. "I think that this team has the ingredients to win."