June 23, 2014

GETTING TO WORK: Gerard Gallant takes reins of Florida Panthers

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TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Gerard Gallant knows he has plenty of work to do with the Florida Panthers and is wasting little time.
Introduced as the newest coach of the Panthers on Monday morning, Gallant planned on driving to the team's training facility in the afternoon to start breaking down film of his new charges.
"It's going to be a good run,'' said Gallant, who said he was offered the job last Wednesday night and later signed a three-year deal.
"I'm really looking forward to it. I can't wait to start the season.''
An assistant coach in Montreal the past two seasons, Gallant flew to South Florida a few days after the Canadiens were knocked out of the playoffs by the Rangers.
"You always hear a negative from someone here or there,'' general manager Dale Tallon said, "and I never heard a negative word about Gerard Gallant in any capacity.
"He's honest, has terrific character and is a hard worker and is sincere. He also wants to have fun. He's a pleasure to be around. We hit it right off and it wasn't a great time for him. The Canadiens had just been beat out. He could have been a miserable SOB but he wasn't. That's his nature. We have a lot of players who need this kind of coach.''
Gallant, who coached Panthers' winger Jonathan Huberdeau in Canadian junior hockey, sold Tallon on his work ethic, his teaching methods and ability to help turn teams around.
When Gallant joined the Canadiens, they were coming off a horrible season in which Montreal finished 27th in the league.
With Gallant assisting Michel Therrien behind the bench, Montreal bounced back and made the playoffs the past two seasons.
With a lot of young talented players and Tallon heading out to acquire some veterans either through trades or free agency, Gallant said he sees similarities between the two situations.
"You look at their roster and you look at their core players and I  think this is a great opportunity," Gallant said.
"The league is so close, the teams are so close together, you can turn things around in a hurry. That's what I see with the Florida team."
Tallon said that Gallant is the right fit for a Panthers team trying to find their way. As head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2004-06 as well as junior hockey in Canada, Gallant has experience coaching both veterans and younger players.
"It was very important to get the right guy with the team we have in place,'' Tallon said. "He can teach the young kids and demand respect from the veteran players. It's a perfect scenario; they can all grow together.''
Ownership was said to have preferred Dan Bylsma, who coached the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in his first year and was in the playoffs all six years in Pittsburgh, at the start of the process but Gallant won them over.
After his initial meeting with Tallon in South Florida, Gallant interviewed with owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu as well as CEO Rory Babich in New York.
"We're not in the business of doing something because of the financials,'' Tallon said when asked if Bylsma's monetary demands priced him out of the job. "That just didn't work. We're in the business of getting the best fit for our organization and making the best team possible for the long haul. That's how we made the decision.''
Said Babich: "In our first meeting with coach, we were completely taken with him. We looked at where we're at and believe we're on the cusp of doing something special here in South Florida.''
Gallant knew the competition for the job was steep. Gallant doesn't have the coaching resume of Bylsma or other candidates such as Marc Crawford (won the Cup in 1996 with Colorado) and Tom Renney (nine seasons as a head coach).
With that in mind, Gallant sold the Panthers on himself.
A former winger who spent 11 seasons in the league with Detroit and Tampa Bay, Gallant said he worked hard to get the Florida job. This, he said, is where he wanted to be.
Having former Detroit teammate Steve Yzerman, a Hall of Famer who is now GM of the Lightning, as a reference didn't hurt.
"People ask about Dale trying to impress me. I came here saying I wanted this job,'' Gallant said. "I didn't interview for anything else. I worked hard for this job. I wasn't a big free agent guy, just an assistant trying to become an NHL head coach again. When he called me with the news, I was very excited. I'm looking forward to the challenge.''
PRESSING MATTERS
With Gallant hired, Tallon can now focus on improving the Florida roster. Tallon plans to fly to Philadelphia on Tuesday to continue preparing for the upcoming draft.
Florida holds the top pick after winning the draft lottery although Tallon is entertaining offers for it. Tallon said on Monday that he's spoken to a dozen teams regarding the top selection but he's holding out for now.
Tallon is thought to be asking for immediate help but also wants to remain in the top third of the first round. That leaves nine teams as potential trading partners.
The draft starts Friday at 7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
"I've had one concrete offer,'' Tallon said. "It was a fair offer. But I may as well wait until the end and see what happens. It'll probably be Thursday night or Friday morning. It's exciting.''

June 22, 2014

2014-15 SCHEDULE RELEASED

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The NHL released its full schedule for the 2014-15 season on Sunday with the Panthers once again playing each team in the league at least twice.
The Panthers will open at Tampa Bay on Oct. 9 with the home opener against New Jersey two days later. Florida will end the regular season against the Devils on April 11. The Panthers finish the regular season with a five-game homestand.
Florida will play the bulk of its schedule (30 of the 82 games) within the Atlantic Division. Twenty-four of Florida's games will be against the east's Metropolitan Division and the other 28 come against the Western Conference.
The Panthers will play four games each (two home, two away) against Tampa Bay, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and Detroit. Florida will play Montreal (three home, two away) and Buffalo (two home, three away) five times this season.
Twenty four of Florida's games will come on consecutive days with nine of those back-to-back sets coming on the road; three sets will be at home.
Florida's longest homestand of the season is seven games against Chicago, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Dallas, the Islanders and Winnipeg from Feb. 26-March 12. The Panthers' longest road trip kicks off 2015 with six games at Buffalo, Washington, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg from Jan. 2-13.
The Panthers will not play from Jan. 20-26 because of the All-Star break. This season's All-Star weekend will be held in Columbus.
Other highlights:
-- The Panthers will be home for the holidays as usual, hosting Minnesota, Carolina and Ottawa around Thanksgiving.
Florida will also host a four-game homestand in late December against Pittsburgh, Toronto, Montreal and the Rangers. Florida will play the Canadiens and Rangers on consecutive nights on Dec. 30-31.
The New Year's Eve game will be the Rangers only visit to Sunrise. Florida plays at New York twice (Feb. 2, March 15).
-- The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings make their only visit to Sunrise on Feb. 5. Florida visits Los Angeles on Nov. 18.
-- Goalie Roberto Luongo will play in Vancouver for the first time since being traded back to the Panthers on Jan. 8. The Canucks visit Florida on Jan. 19.
-- New coach Gerard Gallant returns to Montreal -- he spent the past two seasons as a Canadiens assistant -- on Feb. 19.
-- Florida will also play six preseason games with two (Dallas on Sept. 24, Tampa Bay on Oct. 2) at home.
The Panthers travel to Nashville for a double-header on Sept. 27 and also visit Dallas (Sept. 29) and Tampa Bay (Oct. 4).
GALLANT INTRODUCED
The Panthers will officially introduce Gallant at a news conference Monday at 11 a.m.
The conference, in which general manager Dale Tallon and CEO Rory Babich are expected to attend, will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Florida.

AWAY TEAM HOME TEAM
Thu. 10/9/14 Florida Tampa Bay 7:30 PM
Sat. 10/11/14 New Jersey Florida 7:00 PM
Mon. 10/13/14 Ottawa Florida 7:30 PM
Fri. 10/17/14 Florida Buffalo 7:00 PM
Sat. 10/18/14 Florida Washington 7:00 PM
Tue. 10/21/14 Florida Colorado 9:00 PM
Sat. 10/25/14 Florida Arizona 9:00 PM
Thu. 10/30/14 Arizona Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 11/1/14 Philadelphia Florida 7:00 PM
Tue. 11/4/14 Florida Boston 7:00 PM
Thu. 11/6/14 Florida Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Sat. 11/8/14 Calgary Florida 3:00 PM
Tue. 11/11/14 San Jose Florida 7:30 PM
Fri. 11/14/14 N.Y. Islanders Florida 7:30 PM
Sun. 11/16/14 Florida Anaheim 8:00 PM
Tue. 11/18/14 Florida Los Angeles 10:30 PM
Thu. 11/20/14 Florida San Jose 10:30 PM
Sat. 11/22/14 Florida Nashville 8:00 PM
Mon. 11/24/14 Minnesota Florida 7:30 PM
Wed. 11/26/14 Carolina Florida 7:30 PM
Fri. 11/28/14 Ottawa Florida 7:30 PM
Mon. 12/1/14 Florida Columbus 7:00 PM
Tue. 12/2/14 Florida Detroit 7:30 PM
Thu. 12/4/14 Columbus Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 12/6/14 Buffalo Florida 7:00 PM
Mon. 12/8/14 Florida St. Louis 8:00 PM
Fri. 12/12/14 Florida Detroit 7:30 PM
Sat. 12/13/14 Florida Buffalo 7:00 PM
Tue. 12/16/14 Washington Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 12/18/14 Florida Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Sat. 12/20/14 Florida Pittsburgh 7:00 PM
Mon. 12/22/14 Pittsburgh Florida 7:30 PM
Sun. 12/28/14 Toronto Florida 5:00 PM
Tue. 12/30/14 Montreal Florida 7:30 PM
Wed. 12/31/14 N.Y. Rangers Florida 6:00 PM
Fri. 1/2/15 Florida Buffalo 7:00 PM
Sun. 1/4/15 Florida Washington 3:00 PM
Thu. 1/8/15 Florida Vancouver 10:00 PM
Fri. 1/9/15 Florida Calgary 9:00 PM
Sun. 1/11/15 Florida Edmonton 7:00 PM
Tue. 1/13/15 Florida Winnipeg 8:00 PM
Thu. 1/15/15 Colorado Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 1/17/15 Edmonton Florida 7:00 PM
Mon. 1/19/15 Vancouver Florida 7:30 PM
Tue. 1/27/15 Detroit Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 1/29/15 Columbus Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 1/31/15 Florida New Jersey 7:00 PM
Mon. 2/2/15 Florida N.Y. Rangers 7:00 PM
Tue. 2/3/15 Florida N.Y. Islanders 7:00 PM
Thu. 2/5/15 Los Angeles Florida 7:30 PM
Sun. 2/8/15 Nashville Florida 3:00 PM
Tue. 2/10/15 Anaheim Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 2/12/15 Florida Minnesota 8:00 PM
Fri. 2/13/15 Florida Dallas 8:30 PM
Sun. 2/15/15 St. Louis Florida 5:00 PM
Tue. 2/17/15 Florida Toronto 7:30 PM
Thu. 2/19/15 Florida Montreal 7:30 PM
Sat. 2/21/15 Florida Ottawa 7:00 PM
Sun. 2/22/15 Florida Pittsburgh 6:00 PM
Tue. 2/24/15 Florida Chicago 8:30 PM
Thu. 2/26/15 Chicago Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 2/28/15 Buffalo Florida 3:00 PM
Sun. 3/1/15 Tampa Bay Florida 5:00 PM
Tue. 3/3/15 Toronto Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 3/5/15 Dallas Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 3/7/15 N.Y. Islanders Florida 7:00 PM
Thu. 3/12/15 Winnipeg Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 3/14/15 Florida Carolina 7:00 PM
Sun. 3/15/15 Florida N.Y. Rangers 5:00 PM
Tue. 3/17/15 Montreal Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 3/19/15 Detroit Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 3/21/15 Boston Florida 7:00 PM
Tue. 3/24/15 Florida Tampa Bay 7:30 PM
Thu. 3/26/15 Florida Toronto 7:30 PM
Sat. 3/28/15 Florida Montreal 7:00 PM
Sun. 3/29/15 Florida Ottawa 5:00 PM
Tue. 3/31/15 Florida Boston 7:00 PM
Thu. 4/2/15 Carolina Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 4/4/15 Tampa Bay Florida 7:00 PM
Sun. 4/5/15 Montreal Florida 5:00 PM
Thu. 4/9/15 Boston Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 4/11/15 New Jersey Florida 7:00 PM

June 21, 2014

GALLANT IS THE GUY: Panthers name Gerard Gallant as 13th coach in franchise history

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards



The Florida Panthers finally have a new head coach. After a lengthy search, Montreal Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant was given the job on Saturday.


The team will formally introduce Gallant as the 13th coach in franchise history at a press conference Monday morning at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

Gallant, 50, was coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2004-06. The Jackets, not far removed from their expansion years, went 56-76-6 with four ties during his tenure.

The Panthers have been searching for a coach ever since letting interim coach Peter Horachek go in April. General manager Dale Tallon said he was looking for a coach with vast NHL coaching experience and interviewed more than a dozen candidates.

Gallant and former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma were the finalists for the job with the contract details apparently worked out Friday in New York.

Bylsma, who was fired by the Penguins earlier this month, still has two years left on his contract with Pittsburgh at a reported $2.3 million per season. Gallant is believed to have been given a three-year deal.

"This was a very extensive search,'' Tallon said on Saturday afternoon.

"It was a very informative and very successful search. We're all very excited about this. He has a reputation for integrity and his passion for the game is beyond reproach. Ownership feels the same way I do.''

Although Gallant doesn't have extensive head coaching experience in the NHL, he played 11 seasons with Detroit and Tampa Bay before becoming a junior coach in 1995.

Since turning to coaching, Gallant has been a head coach in Columbus and at the Canadian junior level -- which is the hockey equivalent of coaching college football in the U.S.

Gallant has also been an NHL assistant for seven years with the Blue Jackets, Islanders and Canadiens.

In his three years of coaching the Saint John, New Brunswick, Ice Dogs of the Quebec junior league, Gallant's top player was current Florida winger Jonathan Huberdeau.

Under Gallant's watch, the Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup with Huberdeau in 2011. Huberdeau became the third-overall pick of the Panthers a few weeks later. Gallant was the Canadian Hockey League's coach of the year in two of his three seasons with the Sea Dogs.

After this past season, Huberdeau -- the NHL's rookie of the year in 2012 -- said Gallant was one of the most influential coaches in his career. Huberdeau reiterated that on Saturday.

"It's good to be reunited with him and I think things are going to be good with him here,'' said Huberdeau, who plans to attend Monday's news conference.

"I'm excited for this. He's a guy who is intense and into the game. He keeps you up throughout the game. I think the guys are going to react to him. He wants what is best for the players.''

Said Tallon: "He's had success with young players and we're going to be a young team with a nice group of veterans to go with them. I think he's equipped to handle both.''

Gallant is very close to former Panthers coach Doug MacLean as both hail from Summerside, Prince Edward Island in Canada.

"I taught him in high school,'' MacLean said with a laugh. "I've known him since he was 10.''

Gallant's first NHL job came when he was hired in Columbus by MacLean -- then the team's president and general manager -- in 2000 to be an assistant under Dave King for the Blue Jackets' inaugural season. When King was fired in 2003, MacLean took over coaching duties.

In 2004, MacLean replaced himself by promoting Gallant midway through the season. After a 5-9-1 start to the 2006-07 season, ownership ordered MacLean to fire Gallant. MacLean was let go at the end of that season as well. Gallant spent the next two seasons as an assistant with the Islanders.

"He's a terrific guy and a great coach,'' said MacLean, who coached the Panthers to their greatest postseason success in his first season with the team in 1995-96. MacLean is now a television and radio analyst in Canada.

"I put him in as a head coach in Columbus and he did a good job. We were an expansion team. But he's smart. Columbus didn't work but he went back at it. He did an amazing job with Saint John and was integral to Montreal's success. I think the world of him."

-- The Panthers will open the 2014-15 season at Tampa Bay on Oct. 9 with the home opener two days later against New Jersey. The entire NHL schedule will be released Sunday.

FLORIDA PANTHERS HEAD COACHES

1993-95: Roger Neilson

1995-97: Doug MacLean*

1997-98: Bryan Murray

1998-2000: Terry Murray*

2000-01: Duane Sutter*

2001-03: Mike Keenan*

2003-04: Rick Dudley*

2004: John Torchetti

2005-08: Jacques Martin

2008-11: Pete DeBoer

2011-13: Kevin Dineen*

2013-14: Peter Horachek

2014-?: Gerard Gallant

(*) -- Indicates was replaced midseason. Dudley, as Panthers GM, replaced himself with Torchetti.

 



June 20, 2014

PRESEASON WITH THE CATS: Panthers release exhibition schedule

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers will play six exhibition games this preseason with two in Sunrise, two in Nashville and one each in Tampa and Dallas.

Florida opens things on Sept. 24 when Dallas comes to town. The Panthers then visit Nashville for a Music City doubleheader on Sept. 27 with a visit to Dallas two days later.

The Panthers return home on Oct. 2 to play host to the Lightning, then return the favor across the Everglades with a game in Tampa on Oct. 4.

So, no trips to Estero or San Antonio this preseason.

 

Wed., Sept. 24 vs. Dallas Stars BB&T Center 7:30 p.m.

 

Sat., Sept. 27 @ Nashville Predators Bridgestone Arena 4 p.m.

 

Sat., Sept 27 @ Nashville Predators Bridgestone Arena 8 p.m.

 

Mon., Sept. 29 @ Dallas Stars American Airlines Center 8:30 p.m.

 

Thur., Oct. 2 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning BB&T Center 7:30 p.m.

 

Sat., Oct. 4 @ Tampa Bay Lightning Tampa Bay Times Forum 7 p.m.

June 19, 2014

MEET THE FINALISTS: Dan Bylsma

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Dan Bylsma is one of two finalists for the Florida Panthers vacant coaching spot alongside Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant.

Although Bylsma, 43, is well known to hockey fans, here is a short bio on the former Penguins coach.

On June 6, Blysma was fired after six seasons with the Penguins -- a tenure that included a Stanley Cup during his first season in 2009.

The postseason disappointments that followed, which included a second-round series loss to the Rangers last month, led to Bylsma falling out of favor in Pittsburgh.

The coach of Team USA at Sochi, Bylsma led the Penguins to the playoffs in each season he was with the team.

Byslma joined the Penguins during the 2008-09 season when the team was struggling after reaching the Stanley Cup Finals the summer before.

Pittsburgh went 18-3-4 under Bylsma after going 27-25-5 under Michel Therrien -- now the coach of the Canadiens.

In 2009, the Penguins beat Philadelphia, Washington and Carolina in the Eastern Conference playoffs before beating Detroit in a rematch of the 2008 Finals lost by Therrien's team. The Stanley Cup was the third won by the Penguins and the first since 1992.

The Penguins, despite having two of the game's top players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have failed to reach the Finals since.

In the past five years, the Penguins have been eliminated from the playoffs by a lower-seeded team.

In 2011 and '12, Pittsburgh was a fourth seed and lost to the fifth-seeded Flyers and Lightning in the opening round. In 2010, the Pens were knocked out in the second round by the eighth-seeded Canadiens. In 2013, the top-seeded Pens lost to Boston in the east finals.

This year, Pittsburgh -- which won the new Metropolitan Division -- beat rival Philadelphia in the opening round before taking a 3-1 series lead on the Rangers. New York roared back to win the next three games and eventually went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

That's not to say Bylsma didn't enjoy great success in Pittsburgh aside from the 2009 Stanley Cup. He left Pittsburgh as the winningest coach in Penguins history.

Days after the Game 7 loss to the Rangers, general manager Ray Shero was fired but Bylsma kept his job for a little bit longer.

The Penguins said it would be up to the new general manager whether or not Bylsma would be retained. It appeared Jim Rutherford (who informed Bylsma that he was fired hours before publically being introduced as the new GM) had little to do with a decision made by ownership to fire Bylsma with two years left on his contract.

Florida GM Dale Tallon contacted Bylsma two days after he was fired and held his first interview with him not long afterward.

A native of Grand Haven, Michigan, Bylsma spent four years at Bowling Green University before turning pro. He made his NHL debut as a winger with the Los Angeles Kings in 1995 and spent parts of nine seasons with Los Angeles and Anaheim in a pro career that spanned 12 seasons.

Bylsma began his coaching career in 2004 with AHL Cincinnati and was an NHL assistant with the Islanders in 2005-06. Bylsma moved back to the AHL as an assistant in 2006 and was in his first year as head coach of the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins when he was tabbed to replace Therrien on Feb. 15, 2009.

Four months later, the Penguins were hoisting the Stanley Cup and Bylsma was the toast of Pittsburgh.

In 2010-11, the Penguins were wracked with injuries yet the team stayed in playoff contention despite being without Crosby and Malkin for extended periods of time. Bylsma's makeshift lineup earned a fourth-seed in the playoffs and he was named the NHL's coach of the year.

The Pens were in 78 playoff games under Bylsma and went 43-35.

In contrast, the Panthers have appeared in a total of 38 playoff games (16-22) during their 19 seasons. Florida, which has been to the playoffs four times and only once since 2000, has made it out of the first round one time in 1996.

 

MEET THE FINALISTS: Gerard Gallant

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers are apparently close to hiring a new coach and one man deep in the running is Montreal Canadiens assisant Gerard Gallant.

Here's a closer look at Gallant:

Gallant, 50, was coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2004-06. The Jackets, not far removed from their expansion years, went 56-76-6 with four ties during his tenure.

The Panthers have been searching for a coach ever since letting interim coach Peter Horachek go in April.

General manager Dale Tallon has said he is looking for a coach with vast NHL coaching experience.

Gallant, former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma and former Colorado and Los Angeles coach Marc Crawford are the finalists to become the 13th coach in franchise history although word is the job is now between Gallant and Bylsma.

Although Gallant doesn't have extensive head coaching experience in the NHL, he played 11 seasons with Detroit and Tampa Bay before becoming a junior coach in 1995.

Since turning to coaching, Gallant has been a head coach in Columbus and at the Canadian junior level. Gallant has also been an NHL assistant for seven years with the Blue Jackets, Islanders and Canadiens.

In his three years of coaching the Saint John, New Brunswick, Ice Dogs of the Quebec junior league, Gallant's top player was current Florida winger Jonathan Huberdeau.

Under Gallant's watch, the Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup with Huberdeau in 2011. Huberdeau became the third-overall pick of the Panthers a few weeks later. Gallant was the Canadian Hockey League's coach of the year in two of his three seasons with the Sea Dogs.

After this past season, Huberdeau -- the NHL's rookie of the year in 2012 -- said Gallant was one of the most influential coaches in his career.

"He really helped me a lot,'' Huberdeau said in April. "He played in the NHL and had a passion to win. He was great with the young guys, always gave them a chance. I think that's important for a coach. He related very well with all of us.''

Gallant is very close to former Panthers coach Doug MacLean as both hail from Summerside, Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Gallant's first NHL job came when he was hired in Columbus by MacLean -- then the team's president and general manager -- in 2000 to be an assistant under Dave King for the Blue Jackets' inaugural season.

When King was fired in 2003, MacLean took over coaching duties. In 2004, MacLean replaced himself by promoting Gallant midway through the season.

After a 5-9-1 start to the 2006-07 season, ownership ordered MacLean to fire Gallant. MacLean was let go at the end of that season as well. Gallant spent the next two seasons as an assistant with the Islanders before moving on to the Sea Dogs. Gallant has spent the past two seasons with the Canadiens and has been a big part of Montreal's recent success.

 

 

 

June 16, 2014

COACHING SEARCH CONTINUES: Dale Tallon Says Panthers to Have New Coach Before Draft

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers are closing in on hiring a new coach with the team talking to as many as five candidates.

Although general manager Dale Tallon wouldn't divulge names on Monday afternoon, a source within the organization said former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, former Vancouver and Colorado coach Marc Crawford and former Columbus coach Gerard Gallant are being seriously considered for the job.

Detroit Red Wing assistants Tom Renney and Bill Peters are also in the conversation.

"They are all different guys and they are all interesting coaches,'' Tallon said. "We'll find the right fit. We met with all of them in New York last week and now we're narrowing things down.

"It's going really good. They all want to come here because of what we have. We have a good young core of players and are committed to winning. They want to be a part of it.''

Tallon said he hoped to finalize the process sometime this week although he wouldn't rule out not making a hire until next week.

The Panthers, Tallon said, will definitely have a new coach in place before next week's NHL draft -- a selection process in which Florida holds the top overall pick.

Tallon is said to be shopping the first selection, adding Monday that "there have been a few nibbles, but nothing serious.''

Trade talk will likely heat up in the days leading up the draft. This year's draft will be held at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia next Friday and Saturday.

"This is an exciting time for us,'' Tallon said.

When interim coach Peter Horachek wasn't retained in April, Tallon said the Panthers wanted a coach who had extensive NHL coaching experience.

Three of the five fit that bill with Bylsma, Crawford and Renney combining to coach over 2100 regular season NHL games 185 postseason games.

Bylsma and Crawford have each led teams to Stanley Cup championships. Crawford's 1996 Avalanche team won title by finishing off a sweep of the Panthers at Miami Arena.

Crawford, 53, spent 14 seasons as an NHL coach with Quebec/Colorado, Colorado, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Dallas. Crawford hasn't coached in the league since being fired by the Stars in 2011 and has spent his time since working as a television analyst and coaching in Switzerland.

Bylsma, 43, whose Penguins won the Cup in 2009, was fired after six successful seasons in Pittsburgh earlier this month. Bylsma left Pittsburgh as the winningest coach in franchise history.

Renney, 59, has spent parts of nine seasons as an NHL head coach with Vancouver, the Rangers and Edmonton. Renney has been an assistant with the Red Wings since leaving the Oilers in 2012.

Peters and Gallant both have loose ties to the Panthers as Peters was hired by Tallon while he was the GM in Chicago to coach the Blackhawks' AHL team in Rockford, Illinois.

Gallant, who coached the Blue Jackets from 2003-06, coached Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau during his Canadian junior years and is currently an assistant in Montreal.

-- The buyout period began Monday morning with teams having to place the player they want to buy out on waivers first.

Florida didn't put any players on waivers on Monday although Tallon wouldn't rule out making such a move later on. Florida has until June 30 to make such a decision.

"We're still debating that,'' Tallon said.

The Panthers bought out the final year of defenseman Filip Kuba's contract last summer.

 

June 11, 2014

SEARCH CONTINUES: Panthers Closing in on New Coach


The Panthers have narrowed their coaching candidates to five with general manager Dale Tallon as well as owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu meeting with those candidates this week in New York.


Tallon told TSN's Darren Dreger at the GM meetings today that former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma "interviewed strong" on Tuesday.


I was told the team had a good interview with veteran coach Tom Renney on Wednesday as well.


Tallon confirmed five of the finalists for the job although Renney wasn't among them. It sounds like the former Rangers coach is still in play for the job, however.


The other candidates for the job are: Bylsma, former Blue Jackets head coach and current Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant (who coached Jonathan Huberdeau in juniors), former Sharks and Leafs coach Ron Wilson, former Avs coach Marc Crawford and Red Wings assistant Bill Peters.


Expect this interview process to be wrapped up quickly with the new coach hired as soon as this weekend. A announcement is expected to be made some time next week, although, it could come sooner.


 


 


June 06, 2014

DALE TALLON TALKS: Panthers Will Talk to Bylsma ... Draft Pick in Play

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Between interviewing players, coaches and potential executives, this has been quite a busy time for Dale Tallon.

Not only do the Panthers have the first pick in the upcoming draft, but Florida has a vacant positions at head coach and assistant general manager.

Tallon said on Friday night that he would have a new coach in place by the draft "at the latest" although he expects to have one hired before that.

Tallon said he has spoken to 12 candidates for the job, but said he had not spoken with former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma as of yet. Bylsma was let loose by the Penguins on Friday morning.

"I do believe we will talk,'' Tallon said, "and see what his interest level is.''

Tallon added that he and Bylsma got to know each other while working for Team USA. "He's a fine gentleman,'' Tallon said. "I like him.''

As far as Florida's top pick in the draft, Tallon said he's fielded plenty of calls but no deal is imminent. With the draft three weeks away, Tallon has plenty of time to talk to teams interested in it.

"We have lots of time to find out what the value of this pick is,'' Tallon said. "We're in a great position. If we keep the pick, we're going to get a great player back in return. If we deal it, we'll get some assets coming back.''

Tallon also said that former Florida center John Madden -- who won the Stanley Cup three times with New Jersey and Chicago -- would be back next season as an assistant to the new coach. Madden started last season as a scout but joined Peter Horachek behind the bench when Kevin Dineen was fired in November.

Brian Skrudland could also return as an assistant, but that would be up to the new coach. Skrudland is under contract through the upcoming season so it's possible that he could return to working in player development although he said he would be interested in returning as an assistant coach.

Florida goalie coach Robb Tallas has an expiring contract on June 30 but Tallon said "we would like to have him back.''

 

June 02, 2014

PANTHERS TRIM STAFF: Mass Layoffs in Sunrise on Monday


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


The Panthers laid off approximately 30 employees today with most of the damage coming within the team's sales department.


I was told at least one Vice President was fired as well as a long-time employee within the team's public relations staff. Other positions from throughout the organization were closed. I've been told many won't be replaced, at least not anytime soon.


According to someone who spoke with me this afternoon, the team called a meeting in a conference room at the arena and told those employees there they were being let go.


The message: The team is losing money and needs to save some.


"After a careful review of our business, earlier today we undertook a reorganization that resulted in certain positions being eliminated,'' CEO Rory Babich wrote in a statement.


"As we continue to develop a long-term, sustainable business model, these changes will enable us to operate efficiently and effectively while continuing to focus on bringing the best in sports and entertainment to BB&T Center and providing best in class service for our sports and entertainment fans."


 


May 15, 2014

KEVIN DINEEN: Ready to Return to the NHL ... Carolina a Perfect Fit?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

After a few months of forced vacation and quite a bit of international travel with Team Canada, Kevin Dineen is ready to return to the National Hockey League.

Dineen, fired as coach of the Panthers in November, has been mentioned as a candidate for a number of openings around the NHL most notably in Carolina.

"I'm actively looking but patiently waiting to see how things play out,'' said Dineen, who spent two-plus seasons with Florida.

"I'll see how these scenarios play out. It's unfortunate this carousel continues with all the openings every year. But that's just part of the business.''

Although Dineen wouldn't speak about the Hurricanes specifically, he appears to be a perfect fit in Carolina.

Dineen spent parts of 12 seasons with the Hartford/Carolina franchise after being a third-round pick by the Whalers in 1982. Dineen holds the distinction of being both the final Whalers' captain and first in Carolina after the franchise relocated and rebranded.

Dineen, who spent two seasons in Carolina before ending his career with Ottawa and Columbus, remains good friends with former teammate and new Carolina general manager Ron Francis. Dineen is also close with the Hurricanes ownership group which owned the team during his playing days.

Other openings around the league include Washington and Vancouver. The Panthers obviously are looking as well after firing Peter Horachek -- who replaced Dineen on an interim basis on Nov. 8.

On Thursday, a Florida spokesman said Dineen -- who is under contract with the Panthers through June 30 -- has been granted permission to speak to other teams about their vacancies.

Florida GM Dale Tallon and the Panthers didn't stand in Dineen's way when he was approached to coach the Canadian women's national team at the Sochi games nor Canada's entry at the Under-18 men's World Championships in Finland.

For Tallon, firing Dineen wasn't personal although it was a tough decision to make.

"Decisions like those are difficult, they're never easy,'' Tallon said last month. "I've made them before and you have to move on, do what's best for the organization in spite of your relationships. It's never easy. We have to do what's right for the Florida Panthers, that's it.''

Dineen said his early days of unemployment involved some fishing in the Keys as well as watching and coaching his kids' youth hockey teams.

In December, things changed. Team Canada coach Dan Church abruptly quit and Dineen was offered the gig. All of a sudden, Dineen back in the game.

Dineen guided the Canadian women's team to the Gold medal in Sochi with a rousing 3-2 overtime win against Team USA. Canada trailed 2-1 in the final minute before tying it and winning Gold in the extra session.

"I haven't had to buy a beer in Canada in three months,'' Dineen said. "Everyone loves telling you where they were watching the game. It took the country by storm. To be a small part of that is something that will stay with you for a long time.''

Although Dineen and his coaching staff didn't get medals, they will be honored -- along with the Canadian men's team -- next month in Vancouver where Dineen will get a championship ring he couldn't have imagined when the Panthers opened training camp in September.

"It was one of those special, once-in-a-lifetime experiences,'' Dineen said. "My whole family was there which was great. The ending was obviously pretty dramatic, but the whole experience was fabulous. We had a bunch of high-achieving bunch of players who were a joy to coach. They kept me on my toes, that's for sure.''

Dineen said he didn't watch the Panthers very much upon being fired and replaced behind the bench by Horachek.

Florida made the decision to fire Dineen before its game at Boston on Nov. 7 (a listless 4-1 loss to the Bruins to extend the team's losing streak to seven games) and informed him of the decision the next morning at the team's hotel in Ottawa.

"You go through a range of emotions after something like that,'' Dineen said. "I've been traded before, but in nine years as a coach, I'd never been fired. You're mad, then sad, then you analyze where you were and what you could have changed. At the end of it, there's a level of responsibility you have. I coached an NHL team. I'm always grateful for that.''

Dineen left the team in Ottawa and headed for his offseason home in Maine before rejoining his family in South Florida. Dineen said the first time he watched a Florida game after his dismissal came when he and his son William -- who had just completed a tournament at Notre Dame -- were in Chicago on Dec. 8.

The Dineen's planned to go to see the Panthers play Chicago as a guest of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville -- only William went with Quenneville's wife Elizabeth and Dineen stayed behind at Quenneville's house and watched the game on television.

"That was the first game I watched,'' Dineen said, "and I did it sitting on the couch of the other coach. But I'm still a fan of people there in the organization, players and staff there. I wish them well. There are mixed emotions, sure, but life is about the relationships you make.''

Dineen has stayed involved with Team Canada as he was the head coach of the Under-18 national team. He was assisted by former Panthers defenseman Gord Murphy (who along with Craig Ramsay were fired as Florida assistant coaches along with Dineen in November).

After winning the bronze in Finland, Dineen says he's been touring the Sunshine State while he's still local. Next month, the Dineen family moves north.

Where he lands, right now, is not known.

"Some of my players from Olympics are coming down to take advantage of the weather down here,'' Dineen said not long after a day at Universal Studios.

"I've been to the Keys and now Orlando. I don't want to leave any stone unturned while we're still in the area. It was a great experience here, and we really enjoyed it.''

 

April 29, 2014

PETER HORACHEK FIRED: Who Is Next for Florida Panthers?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Dale Tallon is once again searching for a new coach for the Florida Panthers.

Plenty of NHL coaching experience is a requisite.

Tallon fired interim coach Peter Horachek on Tuesday, citing Horachek's lack of said experience. Prior to replacing Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8, Horachek spent nine seasons as an assistant in Nashville.

Barry Trotz, recently fired as coach of the Predators, is thought to be near the top of Tallon's wish list. Trotz, the only head coach in Nashville's history and one of Horachek's closest friends, is expected to be courted by a number of teams.

"Barry Trotz is a hell of a coach,'' Tallon said when prompted.

Said Horachek: "He's been a very successful coach for 15 years in Nashville and I think he'll be quickly scooped up. If he was given the opportunity and thought [Florida] was best for him, I would wish him all the best in that. Absolutely. I wish him nothing but the best. Let the chips fall where they may. I wish Dale and the Panthers nothing but the best. I hope things go well.''

Former Philadelphia and Carolina coach Peter Laviolette is also on Tallon's radar. Laviollette won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006 and took the Flyers to the Cup Finals in 2010 where they lost to the Blackhawks.

Tallon reiterated that he didn't speak with Laviolette when Dineen was fired. Former Panthers assistant GM Mike Santos previously said Horachek -- who had been coaching Florida's minor league team at the time -- was the only one considered.

Other former NHL head coaches on the market include:

Guy Boucher (led Tampa Bay to Eastern Conference finals in 2011); Ron Wilson (fired by Toronto in 2012 but has coached in 1,401 games with four teams); John Stevens (led Flyers to Eastern Conference finals in 2008 and is an assistant in Los Angeles); and Terry Murray (coached the Panthers from 1998-2000 and is currently in the AHL).

More could become available in the coming weeks.

"We felt as a group that this wasn't quite the right fit in the direction we're headed in,'' Tallon said.

"We probably need someone with more NHL coaching experience heading down the road. The past few coaches we've had have had no NHL coaching experience and as a group we needed to find someone with more coaching experience. We're going to identify the guys who are available and find the guy who has the most experience probably.''

Horachek, who is no longer with the organization, was told of his fate by Tallon on Tuesday morning. Tallon said he made the decision a few days ago.

"I thought my chances were 50-50 on coming back,'' Horachek said from his home in Fort Lauderdale.

"I thought if they knew for sure, they would have made a decision right away. I'm disappointed but the decision has to be made. I'll get another opportunity somewhere. I'm grateful for the chance to do it here. I'll get a chance to be a head coach in this league again. I take nothing but positives from my time here.''

The 12th coach in franchise history but the first with the interim tag since John Torchetti in 2004, Horachek -- hired last summer to coach Florida's minor league team in San Antonio -- lost his first two road games behind the Florida bench before upsetting Anaheim on Nov. 12 in Sunrise.

The Panthers played well for a time and won five straight and seven of eight in early December.

Florida was 21-24-7 after winning in Detroit on Jan. 26, but then lost five of six going into the Olympic break.

“He did a good job, came in and worked hard and tried to turn things around,” Tallon said of Horachek's brief tenure.

“It's tough to come in during the season and try and turn things around. But he did a good job.”

The Panthers -- who had the league's worst power play and penalty kill units -- finished the season with mostly younger players as they ran out the string, winning just two of the final nine games.

"I wanted to be part of the development of the young players and see the growth of them,'' Horachek said. "That's a disappointment. You can see some of the talent here, you can see the possibilities that can come forth if you do the right thing. You would like to continue the process over the long haul. That would have been a very exciting thing.''

Florida ended 29th of 30 teams but won the draft lottery and hold the top overall pick. The draft will be held June 27-28 in Philadelphia.

Tallon said he would like to have an experienced coach hired by then as it's expected the hiring process won't take much longer than a month.

Dineen was officially introduced by the Panthers on June 1, 2011.

Florida’s past three coaches – Peter DeBoer, Dineen and Horachek – came to the Panthers without ever being the head coach in an NHL game.

DeBoer came from the Canadian junior leagues and was hired by former GM Jacques Martin; Dineen coached in the American Hockey League and was hired by Tallon.

“We’re going to interview every possible candidate, take our time and make the best decision,” Tallon said. “However long it takes – if we decide to do it tomorrow, it’s tomorrow. I don't foresee that happening. We're going to interview a lot of candidates.”

 

PETER HORACHEK: Disappointed He's Not Returning, Wishes Florida Panthers Well in Future

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

 

I spoke with former Panthers coach Peter Horachek this afternoon just a few hours after he was let go by the team.

Horachek didn't have one bad thing to say about the organization although it's obvious he wishes he had the opportunity to continue coaching them.

Horachek, who lives in downtown Fort Lauderdale, said he spoke with Barry Trotz before Dale Tallon called with the news and again afterward. Horachek says his good pal will "get scooped up pretty quickly" and that Florida would be lucky to have him -- if that's how things go down.

Here's what Peter had to say:

 

"I knew there would be a decision made. I thought my chances were 50-50 on coming back. I thought if they knew for sure, they would have made a decision right away.

"I'm disappointed but the decision has to be made.

"I'll get another opportunity somewhere. I'm grateful for the chance to do it here. I'll get a chance to be a head coach in this league again. I take nothing but positives from my time here.

 

On last season:

"I don't think as a coach you're ever completely happy with the way things went. It takes a while to get to know the personnel, takes a while to have the staff to get to know each other. It took some time.

"You just want to see some energy, some structure. That was the first thing to happen. I think a lot of that happened. That was a positive. The special teams were a disappointment. With that, different factors happened.

"Once you got to the trade deadline and Goc and Weaver were traded, we were looking at using the experience of young players and giving guys an opportunity. We were close to .500. You just have to say 'what do we need.'

"It would be exciting for me to move forward with this team, to be part of the development and growth and part of the process.

"I don't know how many years it will be before you're legitimately fighting for a Stanley Cup but it can be done pretty quickly if you make the right choices and make the right decisions. We're taking a few years for sure.

 

On wanting to be part of the Panthers' future:

"That's obviously the biggest disappointment. I didn't come into the season thinking we would win the Stanley Cup this year. I didn't think the team was there.

"But I wanted to be part of the development of the young players and see the growth of them. That's a disappointment.

"You can see some of the talent here, you can see the possibilities that can come forth if you do the right thing. You would like to continue the process over the long haul. That would have been a very exciting thing.

These things don't happen sometimes. You can't look back, make excuses. You just have to move forward to build and grow. You have to have a growth analysis and move forwrd. I always look forward and see where I'm going as a coach.

"I don't dwell on negatives. I got a chance to coach. You want the opportunity to continue with them, but decisions are made for the betterment of the team and they have to make them.

"I'll move on to the next situation and I believe in myself and what I'm capable of doing. I'll move onto the next stage and appreciate the chance Dale and the ownership gave me.

"I'll move on and wish them all the best.

 

On Barry Trotz:

"I talk to him all the time, in fact we spoke twice today; once at 7 this morning before I got the news. I talked to him a few days ago, spoke once a week during the season to see how things were going for him.

"When something like this happens, there are a lot of calls and you have to get back to a lot of people.

Barry will obviously have a great opportunity. He's been a very successful coach for 15 years in Nashville and I think he'll be quickly scooped up.

"If he was given the opportunity and thought [Florida] was best for him, I would wish him all the best in that. "Absolutely. I wish him nothing but the best. Let the chips fall where they may. I wish Dale and the Panthers nothing but the best. I hope things go well. They have great young players like Barkov, Bjugstad, Shore .-.-. I hope they develop into star players. They are good players now, but I think they will be stars.

 

 

 

HORACHEK FIRED: Panthers Begin Search for 'Experienced' NHL Coach; Trotz, Laviolette Possibilities for Job

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers fired interim coach Peter Horachek on Tuesday after less than one season behind the bench in Florida.

Horachek was brought into the organization last summer to coach Florida's AHL team in San Antonio but was promoted when Kevin Dineen and his coaching staff was fired in November.
 
Although the Panthers showed some signs of life under Horachek and his new coaching staff, the team still finished 29th in the 30 team league and will begin its search for a new coach immediately.
 
General manager Dale Tallon said he made the decision to replace Horachek a few days ago and told him the news on Tuesday. Horachek, Tallon said, took the news with class and "understood" that Tallon is looking for a coach with more NHL coaching experience.
 
The two coaches on the market who immediately fit that bill include former Philadelphia and Carolina coach Peter Laviolette as well as former longtime Nashville coach Barry Trotz. Horachek worked for Trotz for nine seasons with the Predators.
 
"Barry Trotz is a hell of a coach,'' Tallon said when asked about him.
 
More NHL coaches could be looking for work in the coming weeks with Tallon saying his list of potential candidates is long. Florida's next coach will be the 13th in franchise history.
 
"We felt as a group that this wasn't quite the right fit in the direction we're headed in,'' Tallon told reporters on an afternoon conference call.
 
"We felt we probably need someone with more NHL coaching experience heading down the road. The past few coaches we've had have had no NHL coaching experience and as a group we needed to find someone with more coaching experience. We're going to identify the guys who are available and find the guy who has the most experience probably.''
 
Horachek was 26-36-4 this season after taking over for Dineen in November when the team was 3-9-4 and riding a seven game losing streak.
 
Tallon said Horachek is no longer with the Florida organization.
 
"He did a good job, came in and worked hard and tried to turn things around,'' Tallon said. "Things went well early and kind of faded at the end. We made some trades at the deadline to become younger and get some assets moving forward so it's never easy. It's tough to come in during the season and try and turn things around. But he did a good job.''
 
Florida's past three coaches -- Peter DeBoer, Dineen and Horachek -- came to the Panthers without being the head coach in an NHL game.
 
DeBoer came from the Canadian junior leagues and was hired by former GM Jacques Martin; Dineen had coached in the American Hockey League and was hired by Tallon.
 
Tallon said he would like to have a new coach in place by the time the draft rolls around at the end of June. Dineen was hired by Tallon in May of 2011.
 
"We're going to interview every possible candidate, take our time and make the best decision,'' Tallon said. "However long it takes -- if we decide to do it tomorrow, it's tomorrow. I don't foresee that happening. We're going to interview a lot of candidates.''
 
-- Tallon said the new coach would "have a lot of influence on who his assistants will be," but added that he would like to retain John Madden and Brian Skrudland after they joined Horachek's staff in November.
 
Madden had been in his first year as a scout with the Panthers and Skrudland -- Florida's first captain in 1993 -- has one year left on his contract and could return to working in the organization's player development program.
 
"I will make recommendations that we keep them if possible,'' Tallon said.
 
 

April 15, 2014

FLORIDA LOTTERY: Panthers Win Draft Lottery, Hold Top Pick in 2014

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers didn't seem to have much luck this past season but things went their way on Tuesday night.

The Panthers won the NHL's annual draft lottery and will have the first overall pick in the upcoming draft this June.

This was the third time in franchise history the Panthers won the annual lottery. In 2002 and 2003, Florida traded its top pick.

Last year, Florida finished last in the league but watched Colorado jump it in the lottery and pick first. On Tuesday, the Panthers hopped Buffalo.

The Panthers had a nearly 19 percent chance of winning the lottery; Buffalo had a 25 percent chance.

Florida has had a top three pick in four of the past five years. The Panthers haven't actually picked first since taking Ed Jovanovski in 1994.

"This is a chance for us to build on our top core players,'' said Travis Viola, the team's Vice President for hockey operations who represented the Panthers at the made-for-TV event in Toronto.

What Florida does with the pick is not known. This isn't considered a draft with a game-changing player and general manager Dale Tallon recently said he would entertain offers for Florida's spot.

If the Panthers do keep the pick, expect top-end defenseman Aaron Ekblad or forwards Samuel Bennett Sam Reinhart to be considered.

Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center will play host to this summer's draft June 27-28.

The Panthers will host the draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise next year.

 

April 13, 2014

JOVO COP'S LAST STOP?: Ed Jovanovski's Future In Doubt ... Panthers, Captain Will Discuss Next Season Later

TWITER: @GeorgeRichards

Captain Ed Jovanovski reiterated his desire to play one more season with the Panthers although he knows the team may have other plans.

Jovanovski, 37, returned from hip resurfacing surgery this season and played in 37 games since coming back Jan. 4. Jovanovski has one year remaining at $4 million, although the Panthers could buy that out over the summer.

"There are no decisions right now,'' Jovanovski said. "I have another year on my contract and I want to play. Can I? That's a different situation. We'll see where it goes.''

Said GM Dale Tallon: "There's a lot to talk about, talk about his fitness and his health. He showed some flashes of 'old Ed.' That was a major surgery and it takes time. We will have some heart-to-hearts and see what happens.''

On Saturday, Edmonton's Ryan Smyth had a tearful goodbye as he announced his retirement the day before. Smyth played big minutes in the Oilers' win over Vancouver and was feted by teammates and opponents alike when the game concluded. Jovanovski, the top pick of the 1994 draft by the Panthers, noticed Smyth's grand exit.

"I love to compete, do what I do,'' Jovanovski said. "Having watched Ryan Smyth, that's the right way to go out. Will I play beyond next year? Probably not. But I have another year on my contract. We'll figure something out.''

If Saturday was Jovanovski's last game with the Panthers, it ended early. He was ejected -- and fined $5,000 on Sunday -- for an retaliatory elbow to the head of Columbus' Corey Tropp in the first period.

 

THEN WE WERE DONE: Panthers, Tallon Look Forward after Dismal 2013-14 Season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Dale Tallon isn't happy with how the Panthers season went down although he wasn't necessarily all that surprised.

Before this season started, most experts picked the Panthers to finish near the bottom of their new competitive division and be out of the playoff chase weeks before the end of the season.

With little money to spend in the offseason with a team for sale, Tallon tried to salvage things once training camp started by offering tryout deals -- and later one-year contracts -- to the likes of Tim Thomas, Brad Boyes and Tom Gilbert.

Those moves helped the team out, although in the end it was too little and too late. Florida ended this season with a 3-2 loss to visiting Columbus on Saturday night and end 2013-14 ranked 29th out of 30 teams. Only Buffalo finished behind than the Panthers.

"I'm disappointed with the year, disappointed with a lot of things,'' Tallon said at his end-of-season meeting with the South Florida media before Saturday's game.

"We're moving forward. I'm going to fix it. We have great support now from [new owner] Vinnie Viola and we're going to add the pieces to help these kids get where they need to be.''

For the Panthers to contend in their 20th anniversary season, just about everything had to go right. Although Florida got better than expected seasons from rookies Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad as well as veteran winger Scottie Upshall, it got way too many disappointing seasons from others.

When the team opens camp in September, a number of familiar faces could be replaced as Tallon reworks the roster throughout the summer.

With a top-end goalie in Roberto Luongo as a key selling point, Tallon is confident players want to come south and help put the Panthers back on track.

"You sell winning, the desire to win,'' Tallon said. "We now have the ability to put the pieces together and that's what players want. You can have the best facilities in the world; guys just want to win.

"I was denied for two years in Chicago. We were an Original Six team, great city. No one wanted to come because the perception was we didn't want to win. That perception has gone away, and it has gone away here. We're going to get guys who want to win.''

The Panthers offseason begins Monday although the first order of business comes Tuesday in Toronto. Florida is back in the NHL draft lottery and hopes to hop Buffalo and secure the top pick.

Last season, Florida finished last and was jumped by Colorado. The Panthers picked second and took Barkov, a player Tallon said was all but irreplaceable. When he got hurt in January, the Panthers were still in the mix for a playoff spot -- only without Barkov, they weren't for much longer.

Barkov is one of many young pieces the Panthers are going to work around moving forward.

"We definitely have a bright future with a lot of kids with talent who can be good NHLers,'' said Luongo, who came back to the Panthers last month and is signed through 2022.

"That's a good stepping stone for us.''

Bjugstad became the first rookie to lead the Panthers in scoring (albeit with just 38 points) and Jonathan Huberdeau should be improved after a rough sophomore season following rookie of the year honors.

The Panthers got a nice jolt from centers Brandon Pirri and Vincent Trocheck -- a pair of proven scorers.

"We need to get over this kind of culture of losing,'' said Upshall, who had a career-high 37 points to finish second in scoring. "We've had losing seasons here and we need to change that internally. It starts with hard work and it's not going to be easy. We have good young players and have made strides.''

Tallon says he is going shopping with an open wallet from Viola and is aiming at five new veteran players including a pair of defenseman.

Florida's abundance of young talent is very appealing to other teams. Tallon may just go to that well via trades to improve his team's lot.

"We have a lot of assets,'' Tallon said. "We have a lot of kids who are in college, 10 picks next year, a lot in the system. I'm open to any suggestions that make us better quicker without jeopardizing our future.''

 

April 12, 2014

DUBIOUS HONOR: Nick Bjugstad First Rookie to Lead Panthers in Scoring ... Cats Set NHL Record with 38 Point Team Leader

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Nick Bjugstad ends the year as Florida's leading scorer with 38 points -- the lowest point total to ever lead an NHL team following a full 82-game schedule.

Scott Pellerin led the expansion Minnesota Wild with 39 points in 2000-01 despite ending the season with the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I did what I could do this season and it is what it is as far as the record goes,'' said Bjugstad, the first rookie to lead the Panthers in scoring.

"It's not one you think of very often so I hope it stays pretty deep in the books. .-.-. I don't know when it will be trumped. Or not trumped, however you want to put it. It's not an honor obviously, but it's my rookie year. I did my best and I learned a lot.''

Florida also became the first team to finish a season last in both power play and penalty kill since the 2009-10 Maple Leafs.

 

THAT'S ALL SHE WROTE: Panthers Finish Yet Another Regular Season Out of Playoffs with 3-2 Loss to Blue Jackets

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers' 20th anniversary season began with a victory but wins came few and far between following opening night in Dallas.

On Saturday, Florida lost for the 53rd and final time this season as Columbus swept the season series with a 3-2 win at BB&T Center.

As the Blue Jackets head to the playoffs for the second time in their history, the Panthers go into another offseason without playoff hockey.

Florida missed the playoffs in 12 of the past 13 seasons and 15 of 19 overall. The Panthers will finish no better than 28th in the 30 team league fresh off a last place finish in 2013.

"It's a really bad feeling knowing that you're done, that you're not coming back to practice,'' said coach Peter Horachek, whose status for next year is not known.

"It's not a good feeling knowing we're not preparing for the playoffs. The most exciting and best part of the season starts now. I want our players to feel that. It's not about playing hockey; it's about making the playoffs. It's where we need to be.''

General manager Dale Tallon spoke before Saturday's game of his vision for a brighter future -- one that involves spending a lot more money -- but before Tallon can go to work, this wreck of a season finally had to come to a close.

Saturday, the Panthers played a pretty decent game against a Columbus team that dominated play in the first two games earlier this season.

Florida was in a scrappy mood after the Jackets took a 1-0 lead 47 seconds in on a Cam Atkinson goal.

Ed Jovanovski and Erik Gudbranson mixed it up a few times before Jovanovski was kicked out for his elbow to the head of Corey Tropp.

That penalty kill led to a shorthanded goal as Vincent Trocheck picked off the puck in the Florida zone and walked in on Sergei Bobrovski and scored with 1:01 left in the opening period.

Florida took its first lead of the season on the Blue Jackets early in the second when Jimmy Hayes scored on a nice slap shot, only the Blue Jackets scored the next two goals to escape Sunrise and head into the postseason.

"We obviously have a talented young group but we need more time to develop together,'' said Hayes, who ended with 11 goals. "I think we have a bright future here. We need to gel, get off to a good start next year.''

Columbus' win assures them of a first-round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins. A loss and the Jackets could have been forced into a meeting with the dreaded Bruins.

For Florida, well, Sunday means locker clean out day and the team dinner.

The offseason starts Monday.

"It's going to be great to see our young guys develop,'' goalie Roberto Luongo. "We're all excited to see what happens over the next couple of months. Then we'll get back together and start playing hockey again.''

-- Scott Clemmensen suited up in a Panthers jersey for the what is probably the final time on Saturday morning. Clemmensen was one of three goalies on the ice for morning skate but later in the day was sent back to AHL San Antonio.

Clemmensen is a free agent after five seasons with the Panthers.

-- Travis Viola, the Panthers' Vice President for hockey operations, will represent the team in Toronto for Tuesday's draft lottery drawing.

Florida had the worst record in the league last year but ended up being passed up by Colorado for the first pick. The Panthers came into Saturday with the third-worst record in the NHL but could slide into the second spot.

"That's why I'm not going this time,'' Tallon joked.

 

April 11, 2014

NICK BJUGSTAD: Poised to be First Rookie to Lead Florida Panthers In Scoring

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Coach Peter Horachek says he doesn't really care that the Panthers could set an NHL record for having the fewest points lead a team in scoring.

Nick Bjugstad is Florida's current leader with 38 points -- one away from tying the mark of 39 set by Minnesota's Scott Pellerin in 2000-01.

Scottie Upshall (37 points), Brad Boyes (36) and Brian Campbell (36) could have big games Saturday and hit 40 points as well.

"The bad thing is we're not in the playoffs,'' Horachek said. "I really don't care about the rest of it, that our leading scorer has 38 points. I do care that we're not in the playoffs. I care about the dynamic of the team. We should surround Bjugstad with players scoring twice as many points as him. We need to help him become a better player.''

If Bjugstad does lead the Panthers in scoring, he would be the first rookie to do so in the franchise's 19 seasons.

"You don't worry about that right now,'' he said after recording three points Thursday. "When you look back on it, yeah, it would be pretty cool. But you have to play it out. We have one more game and see what we can do.''

 

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