SUNRISE (CBSMiami/AP) — The ink was barely dry on the Florida Panthers’ latest disappointing season when the team made a sudden and profound change.
Less than 36 hours after playing in their final game, Florida had already fired one head coach and hired another.
The result? Dale Tallon and Joel Quenneville are together again and the Panthers are ready for them to recreate their magic.
Quenneville, who is second on the NHL’s all-time victory list, was hired Monday to coach the Panthers.
It’s also a reunion after Tallon hired Quenneville to coach Chicago in 2008 and wound up watching him win three Stanley Cups there in a six-year span.
Tallon wasn’t there for those Chicago titles; he was fired less than a year after delivering Quenneville. Finally, now, he gets a chance to work with Quenneville again.
“Fate is a wonderful thing in my life,” Tallon said. “It’s like a blessing for me. This is a blessing. There are a lot of coaching jobs available. We wanted to get it done because he’s a popular guy and a lot of teams out there would love to have him as their coach.”
It’s a bold move for the Panthers, who went deep into the checkbook to get Quenneville. He was owed $6 million for the 2019-20 season by the Blackhawks and it’s believed this deal keeps him in that salary range.
It also represents a serious shift in the organization’s thinking, considering five of the last six coaches hired by Florida were first-time head coaches.
Not Quenneville. His 890 wins are second only to Scotty Bowman in NHL history. He’s one of 11 coaches with three Stanley Cups. Florida desperately wants to see him win a fourth.
“His record is impeccable,” Tallon said. “I think this is going to be a complete shot in the arm for the whole organization, on and off the ice. This is big time. This is a major step forward for our franchise.”
Quenneville replaces Bob Boughner, who was fired Sunday after two seasons. Tallon wasn’t looking to fire Boughner and made clear that he still holds him in high regard.
But when Tallon read an article that suggested Quenneville was itching to coach again, the wheels started spinning. Tallon — a stickler for rules, so he didn’t directly go to his friend Quenneville first — started by going to Panthers owner Vincent Viola to discuss the option and plot strategy. He then obtained permission from the Blackhawks to talk to Quenneville, who was fired by Chicago in November and was still under contract.
Then the sales pitch started. Late Sunday, an understanding was reached. Monday morning, the deal was announced.
“This doesn’t come around very often, opportunities like this,” Tallon said. “We had to think about what’s best for the franchise long-term. And this is a fabulous day for our franchise.”
Some of Quenneville’s former Chicago players, told of the possibility of his move to Florida on Sunday, gave the move immediate high marks.
“Happy for him, you know? Happy for Dale as well,” Chicago star Patrick Kane said. “I know they kind of started off together here, so I’m sure they’ll put together a good team and win a lot of games.”
Quenneville going to Florida makes sense on so many levels. He likes golf. He’s big into horse racing, as is Viola. He and Tallon have stayed close.
There’s also clear promise on the ice.
Florida has a core of strong offensive players — Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgeni Dadonov and Mike Hoffman all had big scoring years, and Vincent Trocheck has emerged as a true leadership voice in the locker room. Goaltender Roberto Luongo, if he returns, is another clear leader.
Additionally, Florida plans on being super-aggressive when free agency opens on July 1 to find players who will immediately shore up a porous defense.
Quenneville figures to only make Florida more attractive to those free agents.
“I don’t want expectations to be, ‘Oh, let’s fight for a playoff spot,'” Tallon said. “I want to be the best. Vinnie’s given us that opportunity. He wants to win, I want to win, and now this sends the message worldwide: This team means business. And we’re going to go after it.”
The Blackhawks fired Tallon in 2009, and the Panthers made him general manager in 2010. The Panthers have been in almost annual flux during Tallon’s tenure with the team. They went through an ownership change. They went through a power struggle where Tallon was in charge, then wasn’t, and now is again. They’ve gone through six coaches, 164 players, and even five captains during that time.
And none of it has led to postseason success.
Quenneville has fixed such scenarios before. Before Quenneville took over in Chicago, the Blackhawks hadn’t won a playoff series in 11 years. They then won 16 series in Quenneville’s first seven seasons.
Tallon is betting Quenneville can do it again.
“Me and Q, we’re on the back nine and we want to finish it off in style,” Tallon said. “We want to be comfortable doing it and have fun doing it.”
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