The last time Dale Tallon hired Joel Quenneville, it was with a struggling Chicago Blackhawks team that had forgotten what playoff success felt like.
Eleven years and three Stanley Cup championships later, Coach Q has been reunited with Tallon under similar circumstances – this time with the Florida Panthers.
Tallon hired Quenneville Monday to replace Bob Boughner as the team’s new head coach in the hopes the second-winningest coach in NHL history can take the southern Florida franchise to another level.
“I was the luckiest guy in the world when he gave me that opportunity in Chicago,” Quenneville reflected Tuesday during an appearance on Hockey Central at Noon.
Quenneville was fired by the Blackhawks in November after more than a decade with the team. The 60-year-old had been enjoying family time during his brief stint away from the game but had recently made it known he was open to making a return and joining a team with the potential to win the Stanley Cup.
In his estimation, the Panthers were that team.
“They’ve got a lot of young assets, some talent that’s looking to go to the next level,” Quenneville said of a Panthers team that missed the playoffs by 13 points this season. “We had great depth back then and a lot of kids, a lot of pieces and it turned out in a real positive way. I think these guys are close. The last two years they’ve had pretty good years and not that far away from being a playoff team. And that’s what we have to experience here.”
The Panthers have only qualified for the post-season three times this century and haven’t won a playoff series since their improbable Cup final run in 1996.
Tallon said in a press release he hopes Quenneville can “become a transformative leader for the Florida Panthers franchise” and that will mean working with Florida’s young stars such as team captain Aleksander Barkov who’s coming off a franchise-record 96 points this past season.
“You got a kid like Barkov who’s one of those guys that can be a big difference maker and I’m looking forward to the chance to be a part of working with him,” Quenneville said. “Special players can really enhance your program.”
In Quenneville’s first season in Chicago, the team finished with 16 more points than it had the year prior. The Blackhawks teams Quenneville coached were led by franchise-altering forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews plus a slew of other talented 20-somethings.
Tallon joined the Panthers organization following that season while Quenneville won additional Stanley Cup titles in 2013 and 2015.
Quenneville now wants to get the most out of Barkov and company.
“The bigger the game, the bigger the stage, your best players really rose to that challenge and they’d seem to get better over the course of a game or the course of a series, and they make players around them better,” Quenneville explained. “When your best players play with that type of an appetite on a game-in game-out basis, it’s contagious. And basically, when you look at the teams that win championships, the top guys are usually at the top. Those guys were always leading the charge [for us in Chicago] and we a lot of depth there as well.”
The one-time Jack Adams winner also acknowledged the importance of goaltending and the uncertain situation in the Panthers crease. Roberto Luongo’s playing future is unclear for the time being and James Reimer has two more years remaining on his contract.
“That’s something we’ll talk about and look into and do whatever we can because we know at the top of every team’s list is goaltending,” said Quenneville, who added he’s starting to work on putting together his coaching staff.