NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Florida Panthers.
The Florida Panthers are headed in a new direction this season after changes were made on and off the ice.
Bill Zito, who replaced Dale Tallon as Panthers general manager Sept 2, made alterations at forward and defenseman that coach Joel Quenneville said should bring a different vibe to the dressing room.
“Bill’s come in and he’s changed the staff,” Quenneville said. “He’s looking at ways to change, whether it’s the culture, the attitude, the approach. There’s different areas, different departments that he believes in that are going to be important in the future of the game. He’s thorough, he does his work and he’s got a good attitude. It’s been fun going through this process.”
Florida’s biggest changes on the ice came at forward. Patric Hornqvist, a two-time Stanley Cup winner (2016, 2017), was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Mike Matheson and forward Colton Sceviour on Sept. 24. Hornqvist has scored 480 points (238 goals, 242 assists) in 770 regular-season games with the Penguins and Nashville Predators, and 46 points (25 goals, 21 assists) in 90 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Carter Verhaeghe, who won the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, agreed to terms on a two-year contract Oct. 9, the same day the Panthers agreed to terms on one-year contracts with Alexander Wennberg and Vinnie Hinostroza.
Mike Hoffman, who led the Panthers with 29 goals in 69 games last season, is an unrestricted free agent and not expected to re-sign. Evgenii Dadonov, who was fourth on the Panthers with 47 points (25 goals, 22 assists) in 69 games, signed a three-year, $15 million contract ($5 million average annual value) with the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 15.
Hornqvist will have to help fill the voids left by Hoffman and Dadonov, who were Florida’s two biggest offensive threats last season after forwards Jonathan Huberdeau (78 points) and Aleksander Barkov (62).
“We want people who compete and who approach the game in a business-like, professional manner and every day come to the rink and want to win and hate to lose,” Zito said. ” … There’s so many different adjectives that we can use to describe what hard to play against means. It’s more than size, strength; it’s more than physical play. Hopefully we get a little bit of all of it.”
Florida finished the regular season with a .565 points percentage (35-26-8) in Quenneville’s first season as its coach, and lost to the New York Islanders in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The Panthers haven’t won a postseason series since 1996, when they reached the Stanley Cup Final.
Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky struggled in his first season with the Panthers after agreeing to a seven-year contract July 1, 2019, going 23-19-6 with a 3.23 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage in 50 games (49 starts). To help him, Florida agreed to terms with defenseman Radko Gudas on a three-year contract Oct. 9. Gudas scored 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in 63 games with the Washington Capitals last season, and his 164 hits were 12th among NHL defensemen.
“I think our [defensemen] started getting a little bit edgier around the net later in the year,” Quenneville said. “Gudas has got a lot of that presence. I think we did have a better understanding of that part of our needs as the season progressed. … I think that’s an area where if we can be cleaner, neater, not easier to play against in front of our net, that can help our goalies and it can help keeping the puck out of our net as well.”
Quenneville, who won the Cup three times as Chicago Blackhawks coach (2010, 2013, 2015), said he’s confident the changes Florida made this offseason can help Panthers move up the standings and have postseason success.
“The type of players that we’ve brought in are working-type, they’re the competitive type,” Quenneville said. “I think that’s what we want to have more of, and bring that type of mentality to every game. The emphasis is, ‘Let’s come ready to work for one another.’
“I think Bill came in with the attitude that he wants to change the culture. When we say that, I think we want to create a winning environment. I thought we made some progress last year, [but] we want competitiveness game to game, shift to shift. Expectations internally have got to be raised.”