Joel Quenneville watched “Tiger King” early during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Florida Panthers coach traveled from Boca Raton to Chicago around Easter to visit some family. He has watched just about every old NHL game he could possibly want and watched more than his fill of horse racing.
“I’m getting tired of watching horses,” the coach said in an appearance on WQAM’s “The Joe Rose Show with Zach Krantz” on Wednesday. “I need hockey.”
The return, in a truly official capacity, isn’t far off now. The Panthers have been holding small-group workouts at the Florida Panthers IceDen since last month. Those workouts have expanded in recent days. On July 10, something sort of like real hockey will return to Coral Springs.
Training camp is just more than a week away, and Quenneville can’t wait.
“We’ve got a lot of guys in town right now. We’ve got 19 guys skating. We’re probably going to get close to 20-something in the next few days,” Quenneville said. “It’s getting closer to that July 10 line where we should be anticipating starting up for maybe three weeks or so.”
The NHL has been in Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan for nearly a month and Phase 3, the start of training camps, is currently slated to begin July 10. While there’s no set date for the resumption of the season, Quenneville and coaches across the league anticipate having about three or four weeks before Phase 4 begins, likely in August.
In the meantime, Florida has been working out in groups. They started small — only six players at a time on a strictly voluntary basis — and have since grown large enough for full 5-on-5 action with direction from Quenneville.
On Friday, the NHL began allowing 12 players to work out at a time, meaning 10 skaters and two goaltenders — a regulation hockey game. With 19 players back in South Florida, Quenneville said he has divided the group into two groups, each of which has access to the training facility at a different time.
“It seems like the last few days they’ve been picking up the intensity,” Quenneville said.
By next week, Quenneville expects to have more than 20 players back in the area. By the time the team departs for one of the two yet-to-be-named hub cities, Quenneville said the team will likely have more than 32 players traveling with four goalies. He said he expects this size to be the norm when teams arrive in the hub cities, which Quenneville expects to be named this week.
Toronto and Edmonton are the favorites to be the two hub cities, ESPN reported, but Quenneville said Las Vegas and Chicago are both still in contention, too.
Once everyone arrives, Quenneville expects one of the wackiest Stanley Cup playoffs ever.
“I think going into any playoffs there’s a lot of unpredictability, but this one is for sure the most unpredictable, and anybody can get hot and anybody can win,” Quenneville said. “There could be a lot of surprises, so I think everyone has a chance. This is one year where you can say you have 24 teams.”