NASHVILLE — After sustaining two concussions within the span of a month earlier this past season, it sounds like Patric Hornqvist has played his final game in the National Hockey League.
The Panthers would like to keep Hornqvist with the organization, however.
Following the 2023 NHL Draft on Thursday afternoon, Florida general manager Bill Zito said that the Hornqvist family has moved back to Sweden and that he has had ongoing conversations about Hornqvist’s future with the team.
“He is back home and we’re talking,’’ Zito said. “We would like to keep him in the organization. We would be thrilled to do something and I can’t thank him enough for his contribution. I think we are someplace today and he is a significant reason.
“Rarely in life can you point to an individual and say what a collective achievement (he meant) but in this case you can. He has been a wonderful teammate and a wonderful Panther. We have a sincere and deep gratitude for everything he has done for our organization.’’
It appears his final NHL game will have been Dec. 3 in Seattle, a game he was forced to leave early after taking an elbow to the head from Daniel Sprong.
He did not play for the team again.
Hornqvist did remain with the Panthers through the end of the season, working with the team during practices and morning skates.
He will end his NHL career with 901 games over 15 seasons with Nashville, Pittsburgh and the Panthers, scoring 264 goals with 543 points.
What Hornqvist would do with the Panthers is sort of up to him.
“There is a shared interest in him being in the organization,” Zito said. “He just got back to Sweden and the family is moving there. Pretty much, we’ll find the right role whether it is in development, scouting or coaching — maybe a little bit of everything.”
Hornqvist was the first player Zito acquired upon becoming Florida’s general manager in 2020 and has been widely credited for turning the team’s culture around.
Zito pulled off the deal before the 2020 draft, sending Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour to the Penguins for Hornqvist with the two-time Stanley Cup champion agreeing to waive his no-trade clause to come to the Panthers after deciding that if Florida wanted him and Pittsburgh did not, well, Florida it was.
“When I talked to (Zito), I really got a good feeling,’’ Hornqvist said at the time. “He’s a good GM and a good person.
“He said they brought me here because of what I bring every single day. He said I could play a big role for us on and of the ice. That’s what I want. It made my choice much easier.”
Indeed he did.
Hornqvist was not only a vocal leader but a guy who led by example — something the Panthers learned right away.
“He has this joy about being at the rink every day even things were a little tough around here,” coach Paul Maurice said a month ago.
“He has won two Cups and that matters. He does not take the game for granted. He works as hard today as he did on the first day of camp. Beyond that, he has been a benefit because we have had a whole lot of injuries this year and … if you can skate with Patric, you’re good.
“If you think you’re going to have a light day, Patric is not going to allow that to happen. He’s half doctor, half coach. You come off the bench after these wins and he is just so happy for the guys. He is in all the meetings, he has ideas, he has been there. Not a lot of guys get to the Finals, ever. He has insight into what changes from Round 3 to Round 4.”
In one of his first practices with the Panthers, players were leaving the ice when Hornqvist called them out.
Their work was not done and he let everyone know it.
“He is one of the biggest reasons why we work so hard in every practice and every game,” Sasha Barkov said last year.
“We never give up because that’s how he is and that’s how he wants everyone around him to be. He is just special. He will push you and never give up on you or the team.”
Said Andrew Brunette: “He has helped out tremendously. His intensity, his competitiveness has rubbed off on a lot of people. It has made our practices much better, much harder. There is more compete. He just brings a fire that every day the bench has more energy. He has been through so many things. He’s vocal. He brings that intensity to every practice. And it is contagious.”
Since being injured, Hornqvist has been credited with helping injured players — like Anthony Duclair — get back on the ice sooner as well as working with Sergei Bobrovsky.
The two definitely formed a bond.
Not being able to play was tough on Hornqvist but he said being a part of the Florida postseason run — by being in the room, by being on the road and by being on the ice — certainly helped.
“We would like to have him playing but he is here every day,” Barkov said before the Stanley Cup Final.
“Either he is practicing or pushing guys in the gym to be a better player, a better professional, a better person. He is leading in that way. He has won a couple Cups so it helps to talk to him because he knows what to do in this situation.”
Hornqvist certainly wanted to help the Panthers in anyway he could — and the Panthers would like him to continue in that.
“It has been tough, obviously, with the injury I have,” Hornqvist said in his first interview since December when he was the team’s Masterton Trophy nominee back in April.
“But I want to be in the best shape I can be in case this thing turns around here. Being on the ice obviously helps my mindset and I enjoy being around the boys. I feel good off the ice, but I am not there on the ice.”
Only Hornqvist’s situation is more than hockey.
It is about quality of life. Two concussions within the span of a few weeks for a 36-year-old is a serious thing — especially with the vigor Hornqvist plays this game with.
He will not hold back, everyone knows this. His physical play is his strength and it puts him at risk.
The Panthers will not put him in that situation.
Working out on and off the ice, Hornqvist said, has at least helped him away from the game.
“This is my lifestyle and I want the best kind of life after hockey and I know I have to work hard at that,’’ Hornqvist said. “When I was struggling, I did not feel very good. Once I started skating harder, things turned around.
“I felt better in my normal life and that is all that matters now. It was tough with what happened, but I was able to turn it around pretty quickly. Let’s see if I can take the next step or not. But I am not thinking about that right now.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Friday: Buyout period ends
- Saturday: Free agency opens, noon
- July 9-15 (approximately): Development camp, Coral Springs
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts, doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends, vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
- Mid-October: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season