For so many reasons, the Florida Panthers hiring Joel Quenneville is an enormous step forward for an organization that has barely been able to inch forward since 1996.
Calling it a sea-change doesn’t really do the hiring justice. So many established truisms of what the Florida Panthers were, are and will be were at long last thrown aside in what can be called a bold move for a franchise that never makes bold moves.
While hiring Joel Quenneville is a massive step, and one that should be celebrated, it’s only the first of many the Panthers need to take to be where they need to be.
A constant in Florida Panthers history is noise. The team and its leaders always make noise about wanting to do any number of things, whether it be to win in October, build through a blueprint, spend to the cap, etc., and that trend continued at the end of the wretched 2018-19 season when the chatter about “change in Sunrise” was ever-present in all corners of the hockey world.
Talk is cheap, particularly when it comes to this club’s history. Hiring Joel Quenneville turned talk into action, and not just action, but following a plan and doing so without noise.
They moved quickly and quietly to interview Quenneville, negotiating with him and finalizing a deal before anyone else could make a move.
Nothing for the Panthers moves quickly or so quietly, or even follows through on a plan quite as this did. But this step, while massive, is the first of what needs to many in this direction.
Quenneville’s mere presence offers cache, respect and more accountability than this organization has had in years.
Seeing not just current players, but prominent alumni stay to watch the press conference on Monday is not normal in Panthers history, because they felt something change.
When the Panthers went after big coaching names in the past, they did it because they needed legitimacy, and that was the only way they could get it.
Hiring Quenneville isn’t anything like that in both feel and decision-making, which is a welcome change, especially since every head coach hiring since Martin was low risk and inherently low reward.
But this plan must be followed through upon even further because now there’s a legitimate reason to believe they can follow through on their promises.
Paying Quenneville what he asked for is a commitment the organization needs to commit to elsewhere, not just financially but in following a plan.
That must come in following a plan to improve the goaltending, identifying defensemen who can balance the strengths of those that are already here and acquiring them, and eliminating the feeling that the Panthers only do the bare minimum while winning only by accident.
Joel Quenneville didn’t come to Florida to be a part of what they were; he came to be a part of changing all of that. His presence can only do so much in making that happen.
“No Excuses” is only worth its salt as a motto if it’s followed through on, and the Panthers never did anywhere close to that.
There were always excuses, whether it be for slow starts, goaltending problems or why the great core of players were never able to take that decisive step into being superstars alongside many of their peers.
He doesn’t stand for any of that, nor should he. His Stanley Cup rings might be clogging his ears, so to speak. With a coach of Quenneville’s caliber comes expectations, not just on the ice but off it.
Everyone inside the BB&T Center has to follow through in meeting and besting those expectations.
Those expectations cannot be met by simply throwing money at the biggest free agents this summer and heading for the beach.
They cannot be met by resting on the laurels of proving they can take one step, even if that step is a massive one.
Hockey’s microscope is turned on to the Panthers to see whether they can follow through this offseason after hiring the best NHL coach in the post ’04-05 lockout world.
While Florida Panthers history is littered with successes by luck, smoke and mirrors, winning in today’s league takes far more than that.
Bringing in Joel Quenneville shows that the Panthers, at long last, are willing to take the first step in putting themselves in a class with everyone else by force of will, rather than hoping lightning strikes again.
That’s an important step, but just that. In the draft, free agency, the summer and beyond, plenty more must be done to push this team to where it can finally be.
That goal seems more realistic than ever, but coasting on that feeling and goodwill cannot be the end game.
For once, it feels like that isn’t the case for the Panthers. But only time will tell whether that feeling becomes more defined or another stroke of luck.