Panthers Fire Coaching Staff, Look to Start Fresh

On Thursday night, the Florida Panthers lost their seventh straight game, marking their longest skid since the final days of Pete DeBoer’s tenure with the club. This time it was a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. On Friday morning, a massive shakeup was announced. Kevin Dineen was “relieved of [his] coaching duties” as head coach of the team, according to a press release at 9:40 Friday morning. Assistant coaches Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay were also let go. Goalie coach Robb Tallas, video coach Jason Cipolla and strength and conditioning coach Craig Slaunwhite will remain on the staff.

“[This is] one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” General Manager Dale Tallon said on a conference call. “This is the first of many changes we’re making.”

The trio was notified about their release this morning from the team hotel in Ottawa. The new head coach was made aware of his promotion last night.

The move comes on the heels of 16 games of lackluster performance, yielding just three wins over the stretch. The Panthers, coming off one of their worst seasons (albeit a shortened season) in 2013, were looking to make positive changes in the offseason. The acquisitions of players like Scott Gomez, Tim Thomas, and Jesse Winchester along with young players including Jonathan Huberdeau, Eric Gudbranson, and rookie Aleksander Barkov, set the stage for an improvement. Lack of effort from stars like Kris Versteeg and an injury to Thomas along with a tough adjustment to the NHL for goalie Jacob Markstrom have all led the team down the path of despair.

Dineen himself has been quoted multiple times over the seven game skid, effectively calling out the team for their lack of effort. He did all he could to get the right guys in and sit the guys who were not playing to their potential. Versteeg was scratched in Washington on November 2, but continued with an apparent lack of effort beyond his benching.

“We probably had three competitive guys,’’ Dineen said, mentioning Shawn Matthias, Jesse Winchester and Mike Weaver. “That’s not enough to drag the whole group along.

“If we can’t get everyone to compete harder than we did [Friday], we’ll just stumble along and get our wins here and there. … They have to understand they’re playing in the best league in the world. It’s an absolute privilege to play in this league. There is no entitlement.’’ – The Miami Herald report after their loss on November 1 to St. Louis.

Tallon said on the conference call that the players, coaches, and himself are all responsible for the team’s performance. He has previously stated that everyone’s job is on the line. In the past he has traded away players that have lacked effort, and if a player does not respond to the coaching change, their jobs are on the line.

On October 22, 2011, the Panthers traded away cult star David Booth along with Steven Reinprect. The trade sent them to Vancouver in exchange for aging veterans Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson. The Panthers were 3-3 on the night of that trade, but their wins had come to the Islanders and Lightning, two of the league’s bottom feeders that season. Booth had just one assist during his lackluster start, but he was the likable player in the room. The trade came during the team’s warmup skate. He wrote a note to his teammates on the white board. They won that night 4-2. They then went on a run to their first Southeast Division title. Tallon doesn’t want to have to make history repeat itself in the form of a trade, but he has said he is not afraid to do what he has to do.

“We want people that want to be Panthers, and if they don’t want to be we’ll accommodate them,” Tallon said today according to Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy. “”If the players don’t respond to this, they won’t be Panthers for very long.”

Dineen was given the option of remaining with the team for an undisclosed amount of time (his contract is up after this season). The Panthers have not informed the media as to whether he will remain with the organization and the fate of former NHL head coach Ramsay nor former Panther player Gord Murphy.

The new coaching staff includes head coach Pete Horachek, who was coaching the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. Horachek was brought into the organization by Rampage GM/Panthers assistant GM Mike Santos, who was friends with him during their time in Nashville. With the Predators, Horachek  served as an assistant and later associate head coach from 2003 until last season. Horachek joined the coaching ranks in 1990 and has been a head coach at most professional developmental levels. Saturday in Ottawa will be his NHL coaching debut.

Horachek is joined by John Madden and Brian Skrudland. Madden completed his illustrious NHL career with the Panthers in 2011-12, and became a scout this season. Skrudland has been active with the Panthers for a number of years in the front office. He captained the Panthers for four years, from the inaugural season through 1996-97, including the magical 1996 Stanley Cup Finals run. Skrudland was a 15-year NHL veteran while Madden played 12 seasons, mostly with the New Jersey Devils. Horachek will run practice this afternoon in Ottawa.

“Peter is a bright hockey mind who brings to our club a wealth of coaching knowledge,” said Tallon in a statement. “He is a focused, determined and demanding coach who has experienced great success at all levels of competition. Both Brian and John are proven winners who won multiple Stanley Cups and are individuals that our players know very well. With these additions, we are confident that we have a staff that will work tirelessly to bring continued success to our organization.”

It is not yet known who will replace Horachek in San Antonio, although former bench boss Chuck Weber has been an assistant to Horachek this season.

Panthers owner Vinnie Viola, who bought the team days before their opening night this season, released a statement. It can be read below:

Panthers Fans,

As you are undoubtedly aware, we have decided to make a change behind the bench for your Florida Panthers with Peter Horachek becoming the team’s new interim head coach, replacing Kevin Dineen.  

Peter brings years of NHL experience and, more importantly, the right character and drive to lead our team.

We thank Kevin and his family for their passion, sacrifice and dedication to this franchise, but at this time we felt a change in direction was absolutely necessary. ? ?

Our goals are simple: to win and to build a team that our fans can be proud of. After 16 games it is clear that we have not lived up to those expectations.? ?

We must all be accountable for the results thus far – from ownership to coaches to players – and we felt strongly that a coaching change was necessary for this team to reach it’s potential.

Now it’s time to look forward. Joining Coach Horachek’s staff will be Stanley Cup-winner John Madden and original Panthers Captain Brian Skrudland. They have been tasked with reinvigorating this team with passion, energy and leadership – the elements of success. ?

With 66 games remaining this season our expectations remain the same. We expect a team that plays hard, that sacrifices for each other, that gives everything they have for our fans and supporters, and a team that wins hockey games.?

By the end of this season we expect to be competing for a place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and we expect to have taken a significant step toward achieving the goals and objectives we have set for this franchise. ?

That is what our fans want, that is what they deserve, and we will not rest until we deliver on those expectations.

Thank you for your loyalty and passion to the Florida Panthers franchise, and I look forward to seeing you soon. ?

Best Regards,

Vinnie Viola?

Florida Panthers Owner

Viola, who is a Veteran from New York, made it clear when he was introduced that he would do whatever he could to make the team successful and sustainable. This appears to be the first step in what many fans hope will not be another long process, but unless there are some attitude changes or player changes, the Panthers will look at themselves along with the other Eastern Conference bottom feeders at least for another year.

NOTE: Dineen, Murphy, and Ramsay are said to be leaving Ottawa and were unavailable for comment. Please monitor below should they comment on the situation.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS (not in order): All quotes attributed to George Richards of the Miami Herald and were heard on the conference call today, unless otherwise noted)

“He was unhappy and I don’t blame him…

“He’s a fiery guy and a fiery competitor and an emotional coach and I don’t blame him for being upset. I didn’t expect anything less from him. He’s a class guy, hard working guy.” – Dale Tallon on the conference call, speaking on Dineen’s reaction to the news that he was let go”
“Kevin, Gord and Craig worked very hard. But for some reason the message was not getting through,” Tallon said on the conference call

“After 16 games it was clear we needed a change in our message and philosophy. This was a joint decision not made easily between ownership and hockey ops. It’s my responsibility to get our team to play to its maximum potential…

“Vinnie Viola demands excellence at every level within the organization. He’s committed to winning and putting a winning product on the ice for our fans.

 

“Our better players need to start playing better or we’ll get better players…

“This is the first of many changes that we’re making,” Tallon said. “There’s he old saying: It’s easier to fire the coach than 23 players. We’re on the phone constantly and we’ll make changes as we go…

“Right now I’m dissatisfied with the effort from most of the guys. We need to be better.”

“I’ve been stewing on it for a long time. It’s never easy. We don’t make rash decisions; make decisions for the future of our franchise based where we’re at currently. With many discussions with our ownership group and our hockey ops, we came to the decision and decided this was the best course of action.

“[Thursday] was one straw of many. We’re 3-9-4 and that’s unacceptable.

– Have you tried to make trades?

“I’ve tried extremely hard every day. There have been numerous phone calls with numerous teams. Hopefully something will hit in the near future.” (Miami Herald)

– Peter’s term

“He’s an interim coach. Obviously if he does well, he’ll stay. We’ll evaluate after the season. We need to get back into the hunt here. I’m not giving up by any means here. We need to do anything we can to get back in the playoff hunt without jeopardizing our future.”

– Was Kevin’s job in jeopardy all season?

“[Horachek] was brought in to help our young players and bring success to our farm team.”

– No one thinks of you as a playoff team; why you doing this?

“We always go to training camp trying to make the playoffs. People can evaluate your team from afar, but we still have high hopes.”

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