On Dec. 8, the Florida Panthers announced the establishment of a Goaltending Excellence Department. In his first season as general manager, Bill Zito is pioneering an environment that provides a better experience for goaltenders at every level in the organization’s system.
This means that, in addition to world-class coaching, goaltenders will receive cohesive training and dependable communication. By launching this department, Zito is showing his commitment to the success of goaltenders within the franchise.
Meet the Department
The Panthers selected Roberto Luongo to oversee this innovative department. Luongo, serving in his second season as Special Advisor to the General Manager, played 11 of his 19 NHL seasons as a goaltender for the Panthers. He leads the franchise in wins (230) and shutouts (38) and he is second all-time in games played and wins by an NHL goaltender, with 1,044 and 489, respectively.
Additionally, three-time Stanley Cup champion Francois Allaire will assist Luongo as a goaltending consultant. Allaire has been a goaltending coach for four NHL teams over more than 30 years. He has worked with tremendous talent, including Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Patrick Roy, and Luongo. About the department, Allaire said:
“I’m proud and excited to be part of this encompassing new goaltending operation…Our collection of goaltending knowledge is extraordinary, and our players will have the benefit of a collaborative, united coaching experience throughout their careers with the Panthers. I’m thrilled to work with this talented group in establishing an unparalleled product of scouting, development, and teaching.”
The Panthers’ goaltending coach, Robb Tallas, will also be a key member of the department. Tallas played 13 seasons at the professional level, including stints with the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks. He will wear many hats in his 12th season in Florida, as he will also be responsible for scouting amateur goaltenders. Leo Luongo, like Tallas, will also be scouting goaltenders at the professional level. This will also be the younger Luongo’s 5th season as the goaltending coach for the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, formerly the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Meet the Goaltenders
The Panthers have one of the most talented pools of goaltenders in franchise history. Led by Sergei Bobrovsky in the NHL, the 32-year-old netminder finished the 2019-20 regular season with a .900 save percentage and a 3.23 goals-against average, a career-low.
Coming off arguably the worst season of his career, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner will look to bounce back in his second season in Florida. Bobrovsky will be backed up by Chris Driedger, who was solid in net during his first season with the Panthers. The 26-year-old had a 2.02 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage in 12 regular-season games. The club’s goaltending depth also includes Samuel Montembeault, Philippe Desrosiers, and Ryan Bednard.
Several goaltending prospects look poised to make an impact in the NHL in the future. Spencer Knight, the Panthers’ 2019 first-round draft pick, has shined during his time at Boston College. In his freshman season, Knight had a 1.97 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage in 33 games. He is expected to start for Team USA at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. It’s not surprising that he is pegged to become a star in the NHL.
The Panthers drafted Devon Levi in the seventh round of the 2020 Draft. Levi played in the CCHL during the 2019-20 season, finishing with a 1.47 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in 37 games. He recently made Team Canada’s 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship roster and will look to continue his impressive play this season for Northwestern University.
The Goaltending Excellence Department is the first-of-its-kind and teams across the league will be keeping an eye on the success of the program. In a transitional offseason for the Panthers, this groundbreaking department is one of the many adjustments Zito has made that could change the culture of the organization. With a wealth of talent at the position, Zito is investing in the development of Florida’s goaltenders of today and tomorrow.
Andrew is a freelance writer who covers the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Hockey Writers. He is a passionate hockey fan who grew up near Tampa, Florida. He is a husband, father to a Golden Retriever, and is studying to be a Physician Assistant. Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Mulville