This isn’t your father’s Florida Panthers. It’s also not the same Panthers organization that Patric Hornqvist walked into in 2020. Hornqvist, who was honored by the Panthers before their game against his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Friday night, waived his contract’s no-trade clause with Pittsburgh after the 2019-2020 season and was subsequently traded to the Panthers, telling Pittsburgh reporters at the time that he was “blindsided” by Penguins management asking him to waive the clause.
“Right then, I was not so happy,” Hornqvist told the media Friday after a pregame on-ice tribute that included video messages from former teammates like Marc Andre-Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Radko Gudas, and several others. “But you know, life goes on.”
At the time, Hornqvist was coming to a franchise in Florida that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2015-16, hadn’t gotten out of the first round since 1995-96, and suffered from inconsistent regular season results from year to year.
Over the next three seasons, the veteran forward and locker room leader was part of a run that saw the Panthers make it to the postseason each season, including an Eastern Conference championship last year and a Presidents’ Trophy in 2021-22.
The now-36-year-old’s career was cut short a quarter of the way through last season after suffering multiple concussions throughout his career. He is now in the Panthers’ hockey operations department as a development consultant and scout and has a front-row view of how the organization has grown in the last three seasons.
Great tribute from the Panthers for former Panther and Penguin Patric Hornqvist.
It included video messages from Sidney Crosby, Marc Andre-Fleury, Sergei Bobrovsky, Paul Maurice, and others pic.twitter.com/en25sUOERT
— Alex Krutchik (@AlexKrutchikFOF) December 9, 2023
“I’ve only been there three years but this organization is for real now,” Hornqvist said. “And that’s why I decided to work with them too. They really have something good going and (Panthers general manager Bill Zito) turned it around. You can see it on the ice. Every layer of the franchise is really rolling right right now.”
While never a teammate in the NHL, Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson played on the Swedish National Team with Hornqvist for a few seasons, winning a gold medal at the IIHF World Championship in Denmark.
“A guy like that, he deserves every bit of it,” Ekman-Larsson said. “To be a part of it and having him around the organization and being able to talk with him I think he had a lot of impact on players around here.”
In 12 NHL seasons before coming to Florida, Hornqvist recorded 238 goals and 242 assists. The small but physical forward was a nuisance to play against, so it was only natural that the team welcomed him when he was traded to the Panthers.
“It was so hard to play against him,” Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said. “And I was so happy when he got to our side.”
Although his 2022-23 season was cut short before the playoff run, Hornqvist was with the team through all the ups and downs. It was an experience, he said, that helped acclimate him to the front office position that he has now.
Hornqvist can already see how much the organization has improved since he first arrived in Sunrise, and believes that the future is bright for the Panthers.
“All I can say is how much better we are from that day to this day,” Hornqvist said. It’s night and day. I think Bill’s been incredible to turn his organization around in such a short moment. … you see the record and you see the last few years and that’s why I want to stay in this organization. I really think they’re going to win one day, and winning is all for me.”