By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

MIDDLETON (CBS) — If the Bruins are going to challenge for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season after missing the postseason the past two years, their road is probably going to have to go through the Florida Panthers.

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Florida won the Atlantic Division last season and with some improvements – the addition of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers to their back end and James Reimer to help out with the goaltending – the Panthers seem to have a lock on one of the coveted playoff spots within the division.

However, playoff spots are not won in July or August.

“On paper we look great. So that and a buck fifty will get you a Starbucks, so we still have to perform,” Panthers forward Shawn Thornton said Monday prior to the start of his foundation’s charity golf tournament at Ferncroft Country Club. “But you can tell they’re committed to trying to win and making steps on last year. I thought the hockey gods weren’t with us a little bit last year in the playoffs. I thought that we dominated the majority of that series and we deserved to win it. We didn’t. But I’m glad that they had confidence in the group and tried to improve on it so we can hopefully make another step forward next year.”

The Panthers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Islanders in six games last spring. Thornton, who turned 39 last month, figured his career was just about over. The popular ex-Bruins enforcer and two-time Stanley Cup champion (with the Bruins in 2011 and the Anaheim Ducks in 2007) planned to retire, but then came an offer for another season.

“When they offered another year I sprained my finger signing the thing before they changed their minds,” Thornton said.

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Although the Panthers appear to be a formidable contender for 2016-17, there’s no telling how much Thornton will contribute. He played in just 50 games last season and had one goal. Although fighting is down and Thornton is getting up there in years, the Panthers still wanted him around to influence the younger players and continue to teach them how to win.

The move from Boston, where he’s kept his offseason home, to Florida has worked out in more ways than one for Thornton. Not only did he join a franchise on the rise, he got hooked up with Panthers hands-on owner Vincent Viola and vice chairman Douglas Cifu. It appears Thornton has a job lined up for after his hockey career.

“Probably more on the business side of things is where it’s looking right now,” Thornton said. “Things change year to year. This would’ve been a different conversation last year. But as of right now probably leaning more toward the business side of hockey. Once the season’s over I’ll probably move into that role in Florida.”

A job with the Panthers might require Thornton to live in Florida, even in the offseason. However, the mutual affection between Thornton and the Boston area figures to withstand any post-career roles or moves. Regardless of what team or city he calls home, he’s always going to be an adopted Bostonian.

“I miss it here. When I come back it’s nostalgic,” said Thornton, who added that he plans to maintain the Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s Golf Tournament in the Boston area for the foreseeable future. “Every time I walk into my condo, I’m like ‘God, I miss it here.’ Very spoiled to be able to have two places. Hopefully I can continue to keep them.”

Although he was playing the role of ex-Bruins player and charity golf tournament host Monday, this season he’ll be among those trying to keep the Bruins from turning around their fortunes.

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Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.