The Florida Panthers will have a new look behind the bench and on the ice to start the 2019-20 regular season.
After missing the playoffs for a third straight year, the Panthers were very active this off-season. Florida brought in new head coach Joel Quenneville and spent money to enhance the roster via free agency. Whether those changes move the needle remains to be seen, but Florida's commitment to winning has been on display.
Quenneville has the second-most wins in NHL history with 890 and he has led three teams to Stanley Cup championships. Florida has never won it all and has only reached the Stanley Cup Finals once in franchise history. All three of Qunneville's titles came with the Chicago Blackhawks, with the most recent one coming in the 2014-15 campaign.
Florida's roster was talented last year as well, but it did not result in many wins. The hope is that Quenneville can use his experience, to turn Florida's roster into a winner. The head coach will be tasked with making the most of players such as Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad and Vincent Trocheck. The Panthers had no problem putting points on the board a year ago, but they had trouble keeping the opposing team off the scoreboard at the same time.
With longtime goaltender Roberto Luongo heading off into retirement, Florida needed a new man in the net. The Panthers went big with Luongo's replacement, when they signed one of the best goalies in the league. Sergei Bobrovsky joined the Panthers in July, after spending seven seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky has taken home the Vezina Trophy twice in his career, with the most recent honor coming in 2017.
In addition to Bobrovsky, the Panthers signed Brett Connolly, Noel Acciari and Tommy Cross this off-season. Connolly has a career year in 2018-19 and signed a four-year deal with Florida. Acciari joined the Panthers on a three-year contract and he should be a versatile addition to the roster. Cross was signed to a two-way contract and will likely split time between the AHL and NHL.
Owen Tippett was assigned to the AHL following the preseason, but the 2017 first round pick could see some NHL action during the season. Tippett was seen as a candidate to win a roster spot for the opener, but that did not end up occurring. The 20-year old has a bright future ahead of him and it is just a question of when his next opportunity will arrive. Tippett took part in seven NHL games in the 2017-18 season and did not see any time with Florida last year.
Henrik Borgstrom could be a wild card for the Panthers this season, after playing limited minutes in 2018-19. Borgstrom has not been given an opportunity to show what he can do as of yet, but that may happen during this campaign. The 22-year old only averaged 12 minutes of ice-time a game last season and put together 18 points along the way.
The Panthers will begin the season with four of their first six games on the road. That theme will continue for the entire month of October, as the Panthers will only be home for four of their 13 games in the month. The large amount of travel in October will be a challenge for the Panthers, but it also points to more home games later in the season.
When December rolls around, Florida will be at home for ten of 13 games. This stretch could end up being a critical one, as the team is expected to be on the bubble for a playoff spot. A season ago, Florida was a strong team at home and that could be the case once again. Despite a disappointing season, the Panthers had a solid 20-13-8 record in Sunrise.
Florida's final three games of the season will be in Sunrise and this could be a difference maker for the likely bubble team. With a playoff spot potentially only a few points away, the Panthers could need some solid results in the final stretch. The three contests will be against the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals respectively.
Reaching the playoffs is the goal for the 2019-20 Panthers, even if the season does not end with the franchise's first grasp of the Stanley Cup. With a veteran head coach and an improved roster, the playoffs should be within reach. The Panthers will need to avoid mistakes along the way, as just a handful of miscues could derail the season.
Florida's 2019-20 season will begin on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:00 p.m.