Florida Panthers: 3 Head Coaching Candidates

The Florida Panthers lost for the first time this season last Saturday, falling to the Boston Bruins 3-2 in a shootout after winning their first eight games. This came two days after the Panthers lost their head coach, Joel Quenneville. Quenneville resigned in the days following the release of a report detailing an investigation by law firm Jenner & Block into an alleged sexual assault that occurred while he was head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks.

According to the report, Quenneville, along with members of senior management, did not take any action after learning that then-video coach Brad Aldrich assaulted a Blackhawks player in 2010. A day after the report came out, Kyle Beach bravely stepped forward to reveal that he was the Blackhawks player in question. A day after that, Quenneville, along with Panthers team president Matt Caldwell and general manager Bill Zito, met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and Quenneville stepped down that night.

Now, the Panthers have a head coaching vacancy. Zito told ESPN, “We’re methodical. We’re not going to rush out and chase anything for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. We’re going to take our time and go through the process”. It’s not yet known what names they are eyeing, but there are a few potential candidates that would make sense.

Andrew Brunette

Following Quenneville’s resignation, assistant Andrew Brunette took over as interim head coach. The 48-year-old Ontario native played over 1,000 games in the NHL. A left winger, he was selected 174th overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals. He played in 62 games for the Capitals before being selected in the 1998 NHL Expansion Draft by the Nashville Predators. He made an immediate impact with the Predators, scoring the first goal in the franchise’s history. After one season in Nashville, he went to another expansion team, the Atlanta Thrashers, and played two seasons there.

Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette, pictured here scoring on Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy as a member of the Minnesota Wild, played for six NHL teams (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images/NHLI)

His best years came with the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. He played for the Wild from 2001 to 2004 and again from 2008 to 2011, and he played for the Avalanche from 2005 to 2008. His best season came in 2006-07, when he scored 83 points (27 goals, 56 assists) for the Avalanche. He also was supremely durable, playing in 509 consecutive games from 2002 to 2009. He played with the Blackhawks during the 2011-12 season and retired in 2013, finishing with 268 goals and 465 assists for his career.

Following his retirement, Brunette joined the Wild organization as a hockey operations advisor. He became an assistant coach in 2014 and served as assistant general manager until 2019. He moved to Florida in 2019 to become an assistant coach under Quenneville, whom he had played for in three seasons.

“He’s a great guy, and I’m sure he’s going to be a great coach for now. It’s not easy for everybody, but we’re going to go through it as a team.”

– Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau on the appointment of Andrew Brunette as interim head coach
(from: ‘Panthers entrust Andrew Brunette after Quenneville‘ – Tim Reynolds, AP News – 10/29/2021)

As interim coach, Brunette will get an opportunity to show he can be a full-time head coach in the NHL. He defined his current status as “day-to-day”, but right now, he runs the show in Sunrise. Unless he completely fails (which is unlikely with this talented roster), he should receive serious consideration for the permanent head coaching gig.

John Tortorella

When news came in about Quenneville stepping down, NHL insider Kevin Weekes mentioned his current ESPN colleague John Tortorella as a potential replacement. The 63-year-old Bostonian, who is the winningest American-born coach in NHL history, is a perceived favorite to become Florida’s next head coach due to his résumé and his connections within the organization. Sergei Bobrovsky, Anthony Duclair, and Markus Nutivaara all played for Tortorella in Columbus, and Zito was in Columbus’ front office when Tortorella was the head coach there.

John Tortorella Blue Jackets bench
John Tortorella, who parted ways with The Blue Jackets in 2019, could return to coaching soon
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Tortorella started his head coaching career in 1999, when he took over the New York Rangers late in the season. He took over the Tampa Bay Lightning midway through the next season and turned them into contenders, winning the Jack Adams Award and the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2003-04. He left Tampa in 2008 and became the Rangers’ head coach during the 2008-09 season. He led New York to four playoff appearances but couldn’t get to the Stanley Cup Final and was fired following the 2013 season.

After a disappointing one-year stint in Vancouver, he took over as the Columbus Blue Jackets’ head coach early in the 2014-15 season. Tortorella turned the perennial cellar-dwellers into perennial playoff contenders, winning the Jack Adams award again in 2016-17 and leading Columbus to four straight postseasons, including the franchise’s first playoff series victory in 2019, when they shocked the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning in a four-game sweep. After missing the playoffs in 2019-20, Tortorella and the Jackets mutually agreed to part ways.

Tortorella, or “Torts”, as he is affectionately (and unaffectionately) known, has a reputation for being abrasive and hard on his players. He can be difficult and volatile and he’s beloved by many of his former players.

Claude Julien

Like Tortorella, Claude Julien has plenty of experience as an NHL head coach. The 61-year-old Canadian began his NHL coaching career in 2003, when he took over the Montreal Canadians. In 2003-04, his first full season as head coach, he led the Canadians to the postseason. He was fired in the middle of the 2005-06 season and became head coach of the New Jersey Devils that summer. Despite leading the Devils to one of the best records in the league, he was fired late in the 2006-07 season. He once again didn’t have to wait long for a job, becoming the Boston Bruins head coach that summer.

He spent almost a decade in Boston, leading the Bruins to seven postseason appearances and winning the Stanley Cup with them in 2010-11. He also won the Jack Adams Award in 2008-09. He was let go by Boston in the middle of the 2016-17 season. Just over a week after being fired by the Bruins, he was hired by the Montreal Canadiens, replacing the same coach (Michel Therrien) he had replaced his first time in Montreal. The Canadiens fired him during the 2020-21 season.

Claude Julien
Claude Julien, who was fired by Montreal in February, is a potential candidate for Florida’s head coaching gig (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Although he doesn’t have the connections to the Panthers that Tortorella does, Julien is someone who has to be considered a candidate due to his coaching experience and reputation. If the Panthers want a seasoned coach who has had success in the NHL but don’t want to take a chance on Torts’ personality, Julien could be a solid option.

Other head coach possibilities for the Panthers include former Pittsburgh Penguins coach (and current coach of the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers) Dan Bylsma and former Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, among others. It’s still early in a process Zito said the Panthers will take their time with, but I think the favorites right now are Brunette and Tortorella.


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