The Florida Panthers fired Kevin Dineen 16 games into the regular season and had Peter Horachek take over as interim head coach for the remaining 66 games. While Dineen found success with a surprising group of players in 2011-12, he never came close to doing it again. The Panthers finished fifth in 2012-13 and were even worse this season. The Cats are now in search of a new head coach and will be announcing their final decision on Monday. There have been numerous interviews conducted throughout the week and a few notables names have leaked through the grapevine.
A recent report from NHL.com suggests that Dan Bylsma, Tom Renney, Ron Wilson, Marc Crawford, Gerard Gallant (Montreal Canadiens’ assistant) and Bill Peters (Detroit Red Wings’ assistant). The Panthers have had a total of 10 coaches since 2000 and the time has come for Dale Tallon to find the right man for the job. The Cats have a plethora of young players waiting to be groomed, and it will take the right type of coach to turn this potential-filled team into a consistently producing unit. Here is a closer look at each candidate and what they could do for the Panthers.
By the sounds of it, Tom Renney is a bit further down the list and is likely not the man for the job. He has been around the NHL for quite some time and has held positions with the Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and now the Detroit Red Wings. Prior to the NHL, Reeney coached the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL and maintained a 101-37-6 record, the best winning percentage in CHL history. However, his NHL success has been far from his junior career. He was able to help the Rangers to three straight playoff appearances but regressed soon after. With that said, this would be a very surprising move for the Panthers. If Renney was a more successful head coach in the NHL, the potential of him succeeding in Florida would be substantially higher, but his unimpressive track record in the NHL must be considered before taking on a team like the Panthers.
This could be the most shocking choice. Ron Wilson had a long coaching career and saw a lot of playoff action in that time. The problem with Wilson is his minimal success happened quite some time ago, and his final appearances in the playoffs with the San Jose Sharks were more embarrassing than anything. Even though we can argue Wilson’s credibility prior to 2008-09, his stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs should have him a long ways away from an NHL bench. Was it the pressure in Toronto, or did he simply not produce? He made it to the playoffs with all his past teams but fell off tremendously after his demoralizing experiences with the Maple Leafs. Wilson has not coached in the NHL since 2011-12 and does not seem poised to take on a young team that needs so much work.
Dan Bylsma is coming off a successful run with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he won a Stanley Cup and made the playoffs in every season he coached in Pittsburgh. It is widely argued that he had one of the best group of players to work with, and inherited a team that was already bound for a championship. With that said, his lack of success with such a strong group is what forced him from the Penguins’ bench, and it remains to be seen if he can have success anywhere else. According to the NHL.com report, Bylsma had a good interview and seems to be one of the likely candidates to get the call in Florida. Is he the right man for the job? He is used to working with players who are naturally talented and could work off their skills, but the Panthers are in a whole different world in comparison. The Jack Adams winner has immense experience to bring to the table, but does not have the same personnel to help him find success. Whoever takes the bench in Florida will have to be defensive-minded and have the ability to develop these players cohesively. While Bylsma may be one of the most qualified candidates for the job, he has very limited experience working with this caliber of team.
Marc Crawford is an interesting choice for a few reasons. He has proven ability in building successful teams and has always maintained great relationships with his players. With such a young group, a coach like Crawford can use his experience and coaching style to not only improve the team, but groom them as a cohesive unit. Now for the kicker. Crawford, by definition, is a pre-lockout coach. All his success came prior to the 2005-06 season and his final two stints with the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars were something to forgot. With both teams, he missed the playoffs in his first season, then was fired after missing the postseason two years in a row. The Panthers are still very young and could give him a short period of time to prove himself. Not to mention, the Panthers could do a lot worse than Crawford.
In term of qualifications, there might not be a better option than Bill Peters. A protege of Mike Babcock since the 1990’s, Peters has found success at almost all levels of hockey as a head coach. He spent his early year with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, winning the 2008 Memorial Cup in just his second season as head coach. He also led the 2008 U-18 Canadian team to a gold medal at the Junior World Cup. For the past three season, Peters has been the head coach for the Rockford IceHogs and found consistent success in the AHL. He maintained a record of 122-97-7-14 with two playoff appearances before getting the call to the NHL club. Experience and qualifications wise, there may not be a more deserving option than Peters. He has worked with young players and has been mentored by one of the best coaches in the game. Peters has coached at all other levels of hockey, been successful, and getting his first chance in Florida could be the perfect thing for both parties.
Gerard Gallant presents an intriguing case for the Florida coaching job. He was a solid player for the Detroit Red Wings during the late 1980’s but never really found success as an NHL coach. He was behind the bench for the Columbus Blue Jackets through three seasons before getting the boot in 2006-07. Arguably, Gallant was young and had very little coaching experience under his belt prior to taking over in Columbus, but this is where he becomes a very interesting coaching prospect for the Panthers.
In 2009, Gallant was hired as the head coach for the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, where he and a superstar prospect by the name of Jonathan Huberdeau tore up the league for three seasons. They went to two Memorial Cups, winning once, and were by far the best team in the QMJHL. It is due to this success that Huberdeau became an elite prospect, and Gallant was given an assistant coaching job in Montreal. Would this be a worthwhile reunion? Huberdeau had a terrible sophomore slump but is still slated to be a major piece to the puzzle in Florida. With the addition of Aleksander Barkov, and the looming first overall pick, Gallant could be a fresh face behind the bench. He has tremendous experience with young players and had a great season in Montreal this year. If there was an off-the-board coaching option, Gallant should be first in line.