This marks their chance. This move. This hire. This big-money, bigger-statement decision that started last week when Dale Tallon read Joel Quenneville wanted to coach again and called Florida Panthers owner Vinny Viola with the idea.
“This makes us relevant,’’ said Tallon, the Panthers vice president of hockey operations and general manager, after naming Quenneville as coach as Monday.
The franchise that can’t win has no excuses not to win now that they’ve got the second winningest NHL coach and a three-time Stanley Cup champion leading them. Avenue Q or bust.
Quenneville checks the boxes of everything the losingest franchise in sports hasn’t had of late. A proven winner? A credible champion? An instant recruiter for two prime free agents they’ll chase this offseason?
He’s also Exhibit A that the franchise’s checkbook is open.
Tallon, who is 68 and comes with the entertaining crust of a curmudgeon, framed the day like so: “I’m giddy like I’ve never been before.”
If you want someone to douse that idea and point out marquee hires don’t always work, that for every success story like the Heat’s Pat Riley or Marlins’ Jim Leyland there are failures like Dolphins’ Nick Saban and Bill Parcells — move on elsewhere.
This is the Panthers’ chance. This move. This hire. If they can’t find the right pieces to assemble with their maturing core and a star behind the bench, it’s time to ship the franchise to Manitoba because they’ll never make it in South Florida.
“This is manna from heaven,’’ Tallon said.
There’s some sports poetry to all of this. Tallon built the Chicago Blackhawks into a contender, hired Quenneville as coach and then was fired before they hoisted the Stanley Cup. Quenneville called him from that on-ice celebration after winning in 2010.
“I hope to do this with you someday,’’ he said.
Tallon, the tough guy, remembers, “I was crying into the phone.”
Now Tallon is on his last act, and Quenneville is 60. They’re reunited as The Sunshine Boys. And it’s almost laughable to say considering this franchise’s history but all the ingredients are within reach to not just win but win big.
Aleksander Barkov is one of hockey’s five best players. Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau are star quality. The defense is a mess of fit and chemistry, but not lacking talent.
The prime weapon right now is Viola’s checkbook. Quenneville is getting a reported $6 million a year, making him the second-highest-paid coach in hockey.
The Panthers figure to be $20 million under the salary cap and every suggestion is they’ll throw much of it at Columbus star winger Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergie Bobrovsky.
With Joel Quenneville being hired by the Florida Panthers on April 8, 2019, take a look back at the team’s coaches in its 23-year history.
(Keven Lerner, Steve Svekis)
That means Roberto Luongo, at 40, who has been failed by this franchise more than anyone this millennium, would move to backup. He’s fine with that. More than anyone, he understands what Quenneville brings.
“The main thing is his record — he’s won,’’ Luongo said.
It’s Loserville right now in South Florida sports, and the Panthers define that more than any franchise. But they’re positioned to win bigger than any team in town. Caution: The same was said before this wasted season.
Quenneville, in his first remarks, thanked the players for attending his news conference. He also put them on notice.
“It’s Monday, the first practice day going into the playoffs,’’ he said. “I want every one of you guys to remember where you’re at right now, and remember the feeling you have today.
“Next year we want to be right now coming off the ice with our skates on and preparing for our first playoff opponent. And you want to know when you’re on that ride, it’s the ride of a lifetime. The memories are everlasting.”
The only issue with Monday is this franchise only makes news off the ice. Hirings. Firings. Ownership changes. Contract signings. They’ve had 15 coaching and 10 general-manager changes in the past 19 years. That’s a stat of systemic failure.
This is their chance. This move. This hire.
“A new era,’’ Tallon said.
If not now, then never.