Joel Quenneville has led one of the NHL’s most extreme turnarounds in his two seasons with the Florida Panthers and it made him a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, but a Central Division nemesis is taking home the award, instead.
Rod Brind’Amour is the winner of the Jack Adams Award after leading the Carolina Hurricanes to their first division title since 2006. He beat out Quenneville and Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason for the award. Still no Panther has ever won the Jack Adams Award, which is given annually to the NHL’s best coach, and Quenneville joins Doug McLean and Gerard Gallant as finalists for Florida to come up short. Quenneville, who won the award in 2000 with the St. Louis Blues and was a finalist in 2013, is still looking for his second win.
Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes were the biggest stumbling block for Quenneville’s Panthers this year and gave the coach the only blemish on his resume. Florida had a winning regular-season record against every team they played except Carolina, which won 6 of 8 against the Panthers and ultimately them beat out for the No. 1 seed in the Central.
Florida finished second in the division and drew the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, and fell in six games to the defending champion.
It was still a historic season in Broward County and a massive leap forward for a historically moribund franchise. The Panthers hadn’t been to the postseason since 2016 before Quenneville took over ahead of the 2019-20 NHL season and had only been to the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs five times in their history before this year.
In Quenneville’s second season as coach, Florida set a franchise record for points percentage and tied a team record for goal differential despite the shortened schedule.
Quenneville, who has the second most wins in NHL history, is still trying to become only the ninth coach in history to win the award twice. Despite leading the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups in the 2010s, Quenneville never won the award while coaching the Blackhawks.
This breakthrough season was really a two-year project for Quenneville. The Panthers hired him as coach in 2019 and former general manager Dale Tallon touted it as “a new era, a new beginning.” After Florida missed Stanley Cup playoffs for three straight years, Quenneville took over a perennially underachieving roster and turned the Panthers into one of the best teams in the league.
Florida finished the 2017-18 NHL season with a .524 points percentage, then fired former coach Bob Boughner. Less than 24 hours later, the Panthers made Quenneville its 12th coaching hire since 2000 and the coach has improved Florida’s points percentage in each of his two years, first lifting it to .564 in the 2019-20 NHL season and all the way to .705 this year.
Quenneville took the Panthers to the postseason in his first year, although it was only because the league expanded the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs to 22 teams because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After Florida lost in the qualifying round, Quenneville was open with his displeasure about how his debut season went.
The Panthers fired Tallon a few days later, hired general manager Bill Zito as his replacement and continued to retool to give Quenneville a more complete roster. In Quenneville’s second year, Florida finally became the sort of team he expected.
Center Aleksander Barkov took the leap to stardom and is now a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy. All-Star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau put together perhaps the best season of his career. Defenseman MacKenzie Weegar even transformed into a star after years as an afterthought for a series of Panthers teams with horrific defenses. Florida had nearly a dozen newcomers playing critical roles — many castoffs or unproven, unheralded rookies — and at least half had career years.
Despite all the newcomers, the Panthers opened the year on an eight-game point streak and were the last team to lose a game in regulation in the 2020-21 NHL season. Florida set a new franchise record for goals per game and allowed just 2.70 goals per game after giving up 3.33 last season.
The Panthers finished the regular season with the fourth most points, sixth best goal differential and tied for the third most wins. Still, they finished only second in the Central Division and fell in the opening round of the 2021 Cup playoffs the defending-champion Tampa Bay Lightning, which finished the year tied for eighth in points and fifth in wins.
Barkov, Zito finalists for awards
Barkov and Zito could both win trophies this weekend for their performances this season.
Barkov is up for the Selke Trophy, which is given annually to the league’s best defensive forward, and Zito was named a finalist for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award on Thursday.
The NHL will announce the winner of the Selke Trophy on Friday, and Barkov is up against Vegas Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone and Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron. The league will announce the winner of the Jim Gregory Award on Sunday, and Zito is up against Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens and Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders.