The Florida Panthers have had arguably their best season since the ‘Year of the Rat’ in 1996. With a record of 58-18-6, 122 points, a Presidents’ Trophy, and their first playoff series win since June 1996, Florida has reinserted itself as a powerhouse in the NHL. But a lot of that success has been thanks to their interim head coach in Andrew Brunette, who should lose the tag shortly as he was nominated for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year with New York Rangers and former Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant and Calgary Flames coach Daryl Sutter.
Brunette was named Florida’s interim head coach on Oct. 29, 2021, after then-head coach Joel Quenneville resigned due to the Kyle Beach incident with the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks. He was the Panthers’ assistant coach for the past three seasons, and it was as if a first-time driver was just given the keys to a Lamborghini or a Ferrari. However, he does have a decent NHL résumé with over 1000 games played between the Washington Capitals, Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, and Blackhawks. He was also an assistant general manager for Minnesota for four years after being an assistant coach in the 2014-15 season.
Brunette’s Accomplishments in 2021-22 Were Amazing
Despite the adversity, Brunette did not want the scandal to define the Panthers’ 2021-22 season. With that in mind, he showed up to work and made the magic happen.
He led the team to their best point total in franchise history with 122 points and a 58-18-6 record. Furthermore, he set a new team record with 34 wins at home at FLA Live Arena. That’s also the second-most in NHL history behind the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers with 36 each. On the road, he also set a new record for the Panthers in road wins with 23, and he helped the team set a record for the longest winning streak with 13. Additionally, his scheming got the team to hit a new franchise high goal total of 340 goals. That is also the highest single-season total in the salary cap era.
He was named the coach for the Atlantic Division in the All-Star Game in Vegas back in February, and he led the Panthers to their first playoff series win since 1996, defeating the Capitals 4-2 in the first round. The list of accomplishments is remarkable for the first-year head coach.
We Do Talk About Bruno!
Brunette still has some first-year flaws to work on, as he struggled to adapt quickly to the playoff atmosphere by dropping a second-round series matchup against their in-state rival in the Tampa Bay Lightning, who swept the Panthers. But amidst the situation he was thrown into, he decided to swim through it instead of sink and rightfully earned his spot among the finalists for Coach of the Year.
The Panthers’ success this season should be enough to get the interim tag removed from his title. But Florida might look into other potential candidates. The coaching market became extremely interesting after Barry Trotz was let go by the New York Islanders and Rick Bowness not being renewed for next season with the Dallas Stars. In addition, John Tortorella has even stated he wants to coach again. It ultimately comes down to what general manager Bill Zito wants or what he feels would be the right move. But for now, fans should celebrate that one of their own could have a prestigious award.