Five months after the Blackhawks pushed out Joel Quenneville, the Panthers championed him as a hero who could transform their organization.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said general manager Dale Tallon, who actually has done this twice in his lifetime after hiring Quenneville to coach the Hawks in 2008. “This franchise needed this. We want to be relevant. We want to win.”
Quenneville certainly has experience in that department. He has the second-most wins in NHL history and captured three Stanley Cups during his decade with the Hawks. He’s a Chicago legend, and his iconic mustache rivals that of even Mike Ditka.
Hawks players waited all season to see where he’d land, many saying they hoped he’d be back in the NHL quickly. There was a rumor in December that the Flyers were set to hire Quenneville, but nothing more.
“I guess first reaction would be happy for him, you know?” Patrick Kane said Sunday as the news came out. “Happy for Dale, as well. I’m sure they’ll put together a good team and win a lot of games.”
Quenneville was looking for a team that could contend for a title and reiterated that the Panthers fit that requirement, saying, “I meant that, and I believe it.” They aren’t widely thought of as being in that stratosphere after missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season, but he sees a roster on the rise.
It looks similar to the Hawks’ roster when he took over after they missed the playoffs with rookies Kane and Jonathan Toews, as well as promising young defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. That core went to the conference finals in Quenneville’s first season and won it all in 2010.
“Lot of parallels,” he said. “That’s the next level, that’s the next step that we need to take. It was a special time, and I was fortunate to be in that spot and I feel there’s some key ingredients here that are very close to the same type of lines that we had in Chicago.”
The Panthers went 36-32-14 for 86 points — two better than the Hawks — this season and finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, but they have ascending talents Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad. They also are expected to be a major player in free agency and have been linked to Artemi Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
As Tallon noted, the team is tired of prolonged rebuilds and is positioned to go for it next season. That’s why this might be a better fit for Quenneville than it seems on the surface.
“I’m not firing another coach, OK?” Tallon said. “I’m 68 years old. He’s 60. We’re going to do this right. We’re going to ride off into the sunset here with a couple of those Cups. That’s the goal.”
Tallon wasn’t around to see the Hawks team he assembled win the Cup in 2010. He essentially was exiled after a demotion before that season, but Quenneville called him from the locker-room celebration. Tallon later set his mind on a reunion in the hope that they could make it happen together down the road.
“So for this to come together, it’s kind of — I believe in fate, and I believe good things happen to good people and this is meant to be,” Tallon said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am.”