After clinching their first division title and taking their first playoff trip in 12 years last season, the Florida Panthers are hungrier than ever to win the coveted Stanley Cup.
“I think that last season was a great stepping stone for this franchise,” said Head Coach Kevin Dineen. “We had so many new faces, thanks to Dale (Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon), and yet we came together early on.”
Panthers fans will see a lot of changes that were made in the off-season. The Panthers signed winger Kris Versteeg and goaltender Scott Clemmensen as well as key free agents like forwards Peter Mueller and George Parros and defenseman Filip Kuba.
“They’ll add some scoring and grit to our team, which we’re always looking for,” said Dineen. “Dale left some spots open for some young guys so you can’t forget about guys like Jonathan Huberdeau. He led our team in scoring in the pre-season last year and has such a high hockey IQ that he can jump in and take on an offensive role with the squad this upcoming season.”
With so many players returning, Dineen expects to compete to defend the Southeast Division title but he knows it won’t be easy. All four teams –Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg – have improved.
“It will definitely be tough,” Dineen said, “but this team knows the trials of going through a season last year and winning, and we have a bunch of players that have won it all by winning the Stanley Cup, so we’ll be ready.”
Dineen characterizes his team as “a hard team to play against.” He cites his two goaltenders, José Theodore and Clemmensen, who helped make last season so successful, and also the addition of Kuba on the backend, veterans such as Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski, and the growth of players that include Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson.
“Losing in Game 7 at home to the Devils was tough but I think it makes our players hungry for more and that’s what we want,” said Dineen. “We want to move further in the playoffs and get closer to reaching our ultimate goal, which is to hoist the Stanley Cup.”