SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — There will be a couple of new banners over the Florida Panthers’ home ice this season. They’ll be nice additions to the rafters.
They’re just not the ones the Panthers want.
Winning the Presidents’ Trophy and a division title last season proved the Panthers are no longer NHL also-rans. The team even won a playoff series for the first time since 1996, but got swept in a one-sided, second-round romp by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Instead of running it back with the same group, the Panthers made perhaps the deal of the summer by acquiring Matthew Tkachuk from Calgary for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.
Tkachuk’s goal is clear — to win what would be his first Stanley Cup. The Panthers have chased a championship for their entire existence. New coach Paul Maurice hasn’t won one yet, either.
“It’s been unbelievable down here,” said Tkachuk, one of the top-scoring forwards in hockey. “The guys have been awesome. Living here is incredible. The lifestyle of Florida is as good as it gets … it’s a top destination in the NHL.”
Maurice becomes the first coach to take over a team coming off a Presidents’ Trophy win — meaning having the most points in the previous regular season — since Mike Babcock got hired by the Detroit Red Wings for the 2005-06 season. That comes with a bit of an asterisk: The 2004-05 season wasn’t played, and Dave Lewis guided the Wings to the hockey’s best record in 2003-04 before the sides let his contract expire in 2005.
The last time such a move happened in successive seasons was when Lewis took over in Detroit for 2002-03, after Scotty Bowman went out on top with a Stanley Cup in 2001-02.
“We want to make sure that we build a game here, one, that suits our talent first — we’re not going to change styles,” Maurice said. “Build a game here that we can play past April … we want to start the process of building a game that we can carry straight through from regular season to playoffs. We’re excited about it.”
Huberdeau was Florida’s top scorer last season by a wide margin, with his 115 points (30 goals, 85 assists) well ahead of Aleksander Barkov’s 88 points and Sam Reinhart’s 82. The Panthers will also be without Anthony Duclair (31 goals, 27 assists) until probably the midpoint of the season at least with an Achilles injury.
Florida locked up backup goalie Spencer Knight to a three-year extension worth nearly $20 million. Knight went 19-9-3 last season behind Sergei Bobrovsky, who was 39-7-3 in a stellar campaign. Bobrovsky made 53 starts, Knight 27.
For the first time since 2003, the Panthers will play host to All-Star weekend, set for early February. The team was slated to have the All-Star Game in 2021, but it was called off because of the pandemic.
Tkachuk will see plenty of family this season. His parents own a home in Naples, Florida, just about an hour away by car from Sunrise. His brother Brady Tkachuk plays for the Ottawa Senators — a division rival for Florida. “They are going to be big-time games,” Brady Tkachuk said.
The Panthers start with nine of their first 13 games on the road, including a four-game West swing to open November. And then a five-game West trip awaits, starting in late November. But 20 of Florida’s final 32 games are at home, and the team’s last 39 games are all in either the Eastern or Central time zones.
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