The Florida Panthers have all but overhauled their front office in the off-season and changes spilled over to the team as well, with key players like Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov not coming back.
Bill Zito is the new general manager, replacing Dale Tallon on September 2. That led to the naming of Rick Dudley and Paul Fenton as senior advisers, Gregory Campbell as Vice President of Player Personnel and Development, Blake Geoffrion as Assistant to the General Manager, and P.J. Fenton on the scouting staff.
The Panthers also named Roberto Luongo as the head of a new goaltending excellence department, plus Ulf Samuelsson was added to the coaching staff.
With so many additions to the staff and critical omissions up front, the onus is on the Panthers to gel around a revamped team ethos.
“Bill’s come in and he’s changed the staff,” head coach Joel 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.”
Patric Hornqvist, Carter Verhaeghe, Alexander Wennberg, and Vinnie Hinostroza joined the forward group. They have the job of finding offence in light of Hoffman and Dadonov’s absence, but the support of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov goes a long way.
That should be sufficient to propel the Panthers to the playoffs, but that’s where things get a bit dubious. This is a team that hasn’t won a post-season series since 1996, when they went to the Stanley Cup Final.
Having stability and backing for goalie Sergei Bobrovsky will also help, but making a run during a so-called culture change might be a little on the ambitious side. It may be naïve to expect instant success from this group, especially with so many changes behind-the-scenes.
“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.”
Quenneville’s confidence is not without merit and you have to like the way these Panthers are shaping up. Expectations are sure to be elevated, but this team may still be a few steps away from achieving lasting playoff success.