Barkov hopes Brunette returns: 'He did an unbelievable job'
Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov gave interim head coach Andrew Brunette a ringing endorsement Wednesday.
"He did an unbelievable job," Barkov told reporters, according to Colby Guy of Florida Hockey Now. Barkov added, "We all respect him, we all love to play for him, we love to work hard for him, and we had a lot of fun doing it."
Brunette took over from Joel Quenneville eight games into the season and led the Panthers to a Presidents' Trophy with a league-best and franchise-record 122 points. Despite coaching with the interim tag, Brunette is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award.
"He got us going," Barkov continued, per David Dwork of WPLG. "He made us to have fun on the ice, to enjoy the game, and enjoy playing for each other."
Panthers general manager Bill Zito will take a patient approach before deciding whether to commit to Brunette.
"Everything is still fresh and raw, and we're going to take a little bit of time here, we're going to let all the emotions just settle," he said, according to NHL.com's Alain Poupart. "We're going to make a thorough and rational call, go through a decision-making process and come to conclusions for the right reasons."
Brunette led the Panthers to their first playoff series win since 1996, beating the Washington Capitals in six games in the opening round. However, state rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning swept the Panthers in Round 2.
Barkov tallied 39 goals and 49 assists in 67 contests for a career-best 1.31 points per game in his first season under Brunette. The 26-year-old is also a finalist for the Selke Trophy, which he won a year ago.