SUNRISE — Anthony Duclair took to the ice in South Florida on Tuesday night for the first time since the Panthers traded the popular forward to the San Jose Sharks.
Coach David Quinn had Duclair in the starting lineup and the Panthers honored him with a video tribute during a timeout in the first period.
As the crowd serenaded him with chants of ‘Duuuuuuke!,’ Duclair stood off to the side of the bench and acknowledged their cheers.
Although he did not speak to the media following Florida’s 3-1 win, he did speak with Sheng Peng of San Jose Hockey Now on Wednesday in Tampa and expressed his appreciation for his three seasons with the Panthers.
“It was awesome,” Duclair said. “It was great, very emotional and very classy by them. The fans have been awesome to me since I signed there in 2020 and I am very grateful for my opportunity there. I obviously built life lasting relationships there with teammates, coaches and fans as well.
“It was nice to be back and see the guys again, connect with them again. It sucks we lost, but it was a great feeling being back.”
The feeling was certainly mutual.
Carter Verhaeghe, Duclair’s linemate for a lot of his three years with the Panthers, is a close friend and reflected a bit on their time together following the win — one in which Verhaeghe tied the score at 1 in the second period.
“I love Duke,’’ Verhaeghe said. “It was funny seeing him in a different color. He is such a great guy. San Jose is lucky to have him.’’
Felt the love since day 1. Thank you so much Cats fans, I will always appreciate you ❤️ https://t.co/BmznuHmu78
— Anthony Duclair (@aduclair10) October 25, 2023
The Panthers ended up trading Duclair to the Sharks on July 1, about five hours after the free agency market had opened.
There had been rumors Florida was talking to teams about a deal what with word out that the Panthers and Duclair had not had any conversations about a contract extension.
Duclair came into this season on the final year of a three-year, $9 million deal — and the Panthers traded him to the Sharks for Steven Lorentz and a low-round draft pick to free up the money in order to sign Evan Rodrigues to a four-year deal at Duclair’s $3 million annual cap hit.
“Getting traded was not the best feeling because I built so many relationships down here with my teammates, with the community, the fans,” Duclair said on Monday.
Added Florida coach Paul Maurice: “He fit here, for sure. He fit everything other than the salary cap for our team.”
Maurice continued on about Duclair and what he meant not only to the Panthers on the ice, but to the South Florida community off of it.
It is obvious that Anthony Duclair, the man more than the hockey player, is missed in these parts.
“Duke is a personality here and he’s a bit of a phenomenon here,” Maurice said.
“He’s got this huge smile and this huge heart, so the non-hockey part of it is that he just draws people to him. He does a tremendous amount of work in the community because that’s just his personality. That’s who he is. He reaches out to people. You talk to Duke and within five minutes, you’re just smiling as he is. You leave the conversation, you’re in a great mood.
“The hockey player is really interesting,” Maurice continued “He is a powerful man that can skate and he can get it off his stick as quick and as well as anybody.
“He is one of those guys who is important to an organization because he will be an exciting player to cheer for. You can put his name on the back of your sweater when you buy a Sharks jersey and you can have fun. But he’s also going to be involved in your community to a level that you’ll feel he’s a part of you and he will become that pretty quickly.”
Anthony Duclair gets a nice welcome back video from the Florida Panthers.
Fans at Amerant Bank Arena gave him a “DUUUUUKE” chant before cheering at the end. pic.twitter.com/NpcstNKQfR
— Colby Guy (@ColbyDGuy) October 25, 2023
Duclair originally came to the Panthers in 2020 after not being qualified by the Ottawa Senators following a career-best — to that point — season.
He had a past relationship with new Florida GM Bill Zito from their time in Columbus and, while Duclair spent some time shopping himself around as his own agent, he ended up signing a one-year contract with the Panthers.
Duclair had an exceptional first season with Florida and then signed a new three-year contract in 2021.
“That was the first contract I signed with some term,’’ Duclair said on Wednesday. “It was a very important part of my career and a very important part of my life both professionally and personally.
“I made the decision to go there as my own agent and I took that leap forward. I felt that was the right place for me. And it was. I built some really strong relationships. Probably the most important three years were in Florida so it was special.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
SEATTLE KRAKEN @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
- This Season: @ Florida, Saturday; @ Seattle, Dec. 12
- Last season: Tied 1-1
- All-time regular season series: Seattle leads 3-1-0
- Up Next for the Panthers: Monday at Boston, 7