June 27, 2014

JOVO'S JOINT: 'Ekblad can come crash at my place'

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TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- Ed Jovanovski and Aaron Ekblad have a few things in common.
Not only were both the first overall selections in the NHL draft by the Florida Panthers, but both are also defensemen from the Windsor, Ontario, area.
On Friday, Jovanovski watched the draft and checked out clips of Ekblad. The Panthers captain came away impressed.
"I think he's going to be a stud in this league for a long time,'' said Jovanovski, Florida's top pick in 1994.
When Ekblad comes south in the coming days, he says he wants to reach out and talk to Jovanovski about hockey, the Panthers, South Florida, whatever.
Not only would Jovanovski welcome a meeting, but he offered a little more on Friday night.
"I have few extra bedrooms so if he wants to, he can crash here with me,'' Jovanovski said.
"Players have extended that kind of invitations before and he sounds like a nice kid. Any way I can help him I will.''

EKBLAD TALKS: Panthers first pick meets the media

PHILADELPHIA -- Here is the complete transcript from Aaron Ekblad's inital news conference after being the first overall pick by the Florida Panthers on Friday. The transcripts are provided from the NHL through ASAP Sports.

NHL DRAFT

June 27, 2014

Aaron Ekblad

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

Q. What's your reaction?
AARON EKBLAD: Honestly, it's pure relief. I have never been a part of such a suspenseful event in my entire life, and I think my parents can say the same. It's a very special moment and I'm very proud of everyone who's helped me get to this point.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: I am. I've said that from the very beginning that I believe in myself and I'm confident, and I think if you don't believe in yourself and you're not confident, you're putting yourself behind the 8‑ball right off the bat. I believe if I work hard this summer I can step into the NHL next year. Obviously I'm going to need a lot of help and it's going to be a learning curve, but I'm confident in myself.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: I did not know. I was freaking out there for a second when he stopped. It was breathtaking to say the least. It was breathtaking.

Q. Did you think he was going to call Sam's name?
AARON EKBLAD: I had no idea. Obviously I was hoping for the best, hoping for my name to be called. But you never want to hope for someone else. But it's a great experience, and I've got to thank the guys here that were drafted, as well, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Draisaitl, and I'm not sure if (inaudible) has gone yet, but they're all my great friends and I'm very proud of those guys, as well.

Q. A lot of young talent in Florida. Are you excited to be part of that pool?
AARON EKBLAD: Of course. It's pretty cool. They have a young corps and they won a Stanley Cup. This D corps in a couple years is going to be pretty good, and of course if I'm a part of that I hope to help out.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: Talking with him and‑‑ NHL combine, stuff like that? You know what, they were pretty relaxed. They didn't tip their hat or show any cards off the table. They were joking around with me a second ago and said they knew from the very beginning, but who knows. Obviously they want to look for the best possible option, and if they believe in me, then that's great.

Q. Did they make it clear that they want to win now and that's why they picked you?
AARON EKBLAD: I'm sure that's the case. I haven't had an extensive talk with them, but other than at the combine and stuff like that. But I feel like I can step in next year and make a difference.

Q. How about playing with guys like Gudbranson and Kulikov and mentioned some guys, Olsen and talk about that young corps of defenseman.
AARON EKBLAD: That's great. Obviously that's what I want to see. I want to jump into a young corps where I can help and be a leader within those guys and let them lead me and support me. I think it's a two‑way street that way, and I think that'll help me out a lot next year.

Q. The way this crowd was going tonight, were you afraid you were going to get booed?
AARON EKBLAD: For a second there my dad was like, don't worry about it, it's not you. But that's the way it is. That's hockey, and I think the Philadelphia fans are very proud of hockey's youth these days. Well, why wouldn't you be, right? You want the game to grow, and that's what we're all doing here.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: Yeah, it's pretty special actually that Ed Jovanovski is actually from my hometown and 20 years apart we were both picked first overall. That's a story in its own. I have yet to meet him, and hopefully I do soon and get to talking with him about next year and the Florida Panthers.

Q. Maybe he'll invite you out to dinner. He's got a nice spread.
AARON EKBLAD: I'm sure he does.

Q. Who was here for you tonight?
AARON EKBLAD: My entire family. I don't want to leave anyone out, but a lot of people, 25, 30 people. A couple of my best friends, aunts, uncles, grandfather. My grandma is back home watching right now, couldn't make it obviously. Of course I love her and everyone else that's helped me along the way.

Q. Who was your biggest influence in life?
AARON EKBLAD: I think from the very beginning my dad, he's the first one to put me in skates, and I think the best thing is he never pushed me to play the game. I had passion for it, and from the very beginning once a stick was in my hand and my boots were laced up, I was ready to go and ready to believe in myself and be confident, and of course there was times when I stepped off the tracks, but they're always there to put you back on and dust you off and get you ready to go.

Q. What does a day like today (inaudible)?
AARON EKBLAD: By far the longest day of my entire life. That's obvious. Like I said, I've never been through more of a suspenseful day. Like I said, they didn't tip their hat. They didn't show their cards whatsoever, and that's what made it all the more exciting, and the anxiety was building up there.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: The new coach? I have. I met him yesterday afternoon. Obviously I think he's going to have some great ideas to try and turn this team around and get them winning.

Q. Did you have any advance notice that you were going to be the pick before they announced you?
AARON EKBLAD: No, I didn't. I was sitting there just kind of scared and excited at the same time.

Q. How does the pressure from trying to go No.1, how does the pressure change, the nature of it, from trying to be drafted to now all the expectations that come with being drafted high?
AARON EKBLAD: Oh, it's never ending. There's always a burden of expectation that's always going to be there, but it's what you make of it, that pressure and all that is just motivation for me.

Q. How do you deal with it?
AARON EKBLAD: There's help everywhere, my parents, my brother, all my friends, great support group. I know guys that play in the NHL right now that I could turn to at any point and they'd be able to give me the best advice out there.

Q. Talk about the Barrie Colts.
AARON EKBLAD: The Barrie Colts are such a classy organization. I've been there for three years now. I was the captain of the team in my last year. My teammates over the last three years, I don't want to mention any names and leave anyone out, but they know who they are and they've really helped me. I wouldn't be where I was today if it wasn't for my rookie year, I've got to say Reid McNeill. He turned me into the player I am today because he forced me to talk and forced me to keep my stick on the puck and all that kind of stuff. He was just a really good mentor for me in my rookie year. I've got to name names. Norm Ezekiel, I lived with him my first year. Colin Behenna, Mark Scheifele, Tanner Pearson, guys that you'll see in the NHL now, Tanner Pearson just won a Stanley Cup. It's pretty amazing what these guys have done. Brendan Lemieux this year, Johnny Laser, my defense partner for the last couple of years. Some of these guys are my best friends, and it's so amazing to go through hockey and have that, Dale Hawerchuk as a coach, one of the best coaches around and one of the best players to ever play the game. So it's a classy organization, and I'm proud to be a part of them and be a part of the Florida Panthers, as well.

Q. Given your journey here, do you feel older than your years?
AARON EKBLAD: I have a lot of life experience you could say. I think there's still a lot more I need to learn and a lot more life experiences for me out there for sure.

Q. Did it help you being the No.1 pick in the OHL, as well?
AARON EKBLAD: Yeah, the youngest, the guy under the most scrutiny, it always seems to follow me around. Like I said, that kind of pressure is motivation for me.

Q. (Inaudible) being the first defenseman in eight years to go first in the NHL draft?
AARON EKBLAD: Like I said, that's the burden of expectation, but I chase it. I want that burden of expectation. I want that feel for motivation, and I want to succeed under that.

Q. What will the Panthers see from you? What's your specialty?
AARON EKBLAD: Strong, responsible defense. That's the position I play, and that's what I plan on doing when I get there. Of course I want to contribute offensively, as well.

Q. Did Dale say anything cool to you when you first talked, not like tonight, after the pick? Did he have any words of wisdom?
AARON EKBLAD: Honestly I'll probably remember it later on. I can't remember right now what exactly was going on. I was a little bit blurry‑eyed, but maybe I'll figure it out later.

Q. Obviously when you're going to be a top pick, do you start looking at some of the teams that you might end up going to?
AARON EKBLAD: Of course. You look through who they have on their back end, right or left shots, all that kind of stuff. Obviously I was watching to see if Florida would get a new coach, all that kind of stuff. It lasted a while. It's pretty fun to just follow that after the season. Of course during the season you want to focus on winning games with your club team.

Q. That said, did you follow any of the trade talk or any of that stuff?
AARON EKBLAD: I followed it quite a bit. I think my roommate, Brendan Lemieux in Barrie was all over that stuff. It's pretty funny.

Q. Were guys tweeting you tonight before the draft?
AARON EKBLAD: Yeah, my phone was blowing up all night. I don't remember any of the specific trade rumors. I actually didn't have time to read all the tweets. I just wanted to scroll through them and see how many there were.

Q. Pretty impressive reaction you got in the trade market?
AARON EKBLAD: What do you mean, for people to trade up?

Q. All the teams that allegedly wanted to trade up for you?
AARON EKBLAD: That's cool. I didn't follow it all that closely, but they didn't.

Q. Just looking at the Panthers, what were some of the things you saw in the team as far as where you might fit in.
AARON EKBLAD: Obviously they have‑‑ well, right now they have three right‑handed shots, four lefts. I want to play on that team as a right‑handed shot and I want to play the power play and all that kind of stuff. Of course I'm going to be a young guy and they may have guys there already. I'm willing to step into a role and play a team game. I take pride in being a good teammate and all that kind of stuff. I'm there to learn at first. I'm going to be learning from some great players, some young guys who have just stepped in, some older players who have had storied careers. It's going to be a learning curve for me, and I want to keep that as short as possible so I can start making an impact.

Q. Talk about the fan reaction tonight when you got drafted No.1.
AARON EKBLAD: The fans of Philly?

Q. Yeah.
AARON EKBLAD: Honestly, like I said, I'm blurry‑eyed and I can't remember what happened. Were they excited or what? That's awesome. It's a great experience for me, a great opportunity, and I'm really looking forward to next year.

Q. When we spoke to you before the world juniors you told me you didn't expect to make that team and you told me you had a lot to learn this season. I guess between now and then, what do you feel has been your biggest improvement in your game?
AARON EKBLAD: Yeah, actually before the season even started I said I'd have to have a pretty unbelievable start to play for the world junior team. I thought that was a myth in its own to even be considered for that. So that's a pretty good accomplishment for sure. I worked a lot on my skating. Once you get into a routine of working on, whether it was my shot or my skating after practice, before practice every day, it turns into just something that becomes easy to you.

Q. What are your thoughts on living in Florida?
AARON EKBLAD: I love warm weather for sure. I think you can see the tan on me a little bit. But no, I think there's a lot of things you can get distracted from down there other than hockey, and I want to focus on hockey. That's what I'm there for, and during the season that will be my goal.

Q. What about golf?
AARON EKBLAD: I'm actually not much of a golfer at all, so that's a plus for them.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: Of course. There's certain things I want to do with my career. I actually keep those to myself.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: I've never really been a vocal guy. I have a lot to learn if I want to play in the NHL next year, and even if I am there, I'm still going to have a lot to learn from, like I said, some very special people.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

EKBLAD'S NO. 1: Panthers keep pick, take defenseman with first selection of NHL draft

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TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- Only twice in their history have the Florida Panthers used the top pick in the NHL draft.
Both times they selected a strapping defenseman from the Windsor, Ontario, area.
Taking Ed Jovanovski 20 years ago worked out pretty well for the Panthers. They hope Aaron Ekblad does as well.
Ekblad became the latest member of the Panthers on Friday as Florida made the 6-4 blueliner the first selection in the 2014 draft at Wells Fargo Center.
"It's exciting. Florida has a young core and wants to win a Stanley Cup,'' said Ekblad, 18.
"This team is going to be pretty good in a couple of years and I want to be part of it. I just want to help out.''
Said Jovanovski: "I think he's going to be a stud in this league for a long time.''
After weeks of speculation that general manager Dale Tallon would trade the first pick, Florida didn't get the deal it wanted and stood pat.
Tallon confirmed rumors Florida had offers from Vancouver and Philadelphia. In the end, Tallon didn't get what he felt was enough to bypass Ekblad.
Tallon said he decided at noon on Friday that Florida would keep the pick and informed Philadelphia -- which had made "substantial" offers as Tallon said -- of his decision.
"We laid out all the pros and cons, what was best for the franchise and by noon we decided to say no to the offers,'' Tallon said.
"Based on what we had, the kind of kid this is, he fits into what we're doing. We have another 6-4 kid with character. We're building this block by block. We're building through the draft. He's a man, a big, strong physical kid.''
Said new coach Gerard Gallant: "We knew the kid wanted to come to Florida, wanted to be the first pick. The kid knew he was coming when he walked out of our meeting. .-.-. Dale entertained all options. But I think he was always going to use it. He wanted that kid.''
Tallon made the announcement in front of what had been a raucous, typical Philadelphia crowd. Tallon calmed down the masses by opening his statement by complimenting the city. In turn, Ekblad was cheered by the large crowd. His father prepared him for the worst, however.
"He said not to worry about it, it not about you,'' Ekblad said. "Hey that's part of it, that's hockey. Philadelphia fans are very proud.''
Ekblad had been paying attention to the trade rumors via social media leading up to the draft, saying his phone was "blowing up."
Tallon kept the suspense going by staggering his announcement, only leaking that the Panthers were "proud to select from the Ontario Hockey League," before pausing for effect.
With other top prospects Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl -- who would go second and third respectively -- coming from the Western Hockey League, Tallon's stall narrowed down things considerably.
"It was breathtaking to say the least,'' Ekblad joked. "I was hoping for the best, hoping for my name to be called. It was a great experience.''
On the ice, Ekblad is expected to compete for a roster spot when training camp opens in September. Ekblad, who said he's never been to South Florida, should introduce himself to the locals at Florida's development camp in July.
Ekblad, the first defenseman to be the first overall pick since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006, feels he's ready to play in the NHL right now.
"I believe in myself and I'm confident,'' Ekblad said. "If you don't believe in yourself, you're behind the 8-ball right off the bat. I'm going to work hard this summer and be ready to play in the NHL next year.''
Tallon said the expectation is Ekblad will be on the team next year although when Florida took Erik Gudbranson third in 2010, Tallon and the Panthers sent him back to junior for an additional year.
On Friday, Gudbranson -- as well as Jonathan Huberdeau -- welcomed Ekblad to Florida via Twitter.
"He's 18 going on 30,'' Tallon said. "Bobby Orr is a great friend and represents him. That helped as well.''
Allowed to enter the OHL draft early as a after being granted the rare 'exceptional player' status by Hockey Canada, Ekblad seems confident enough to make the transition to the next level. Ekblad is one of four to receive that designation and the only defenseman.
But will he return to the Barrie Colts next year or stay in Florida?
"He'll have a wonderful opportunity with us,'' Tallon said.

June 26, 2014

DRAFT DAY DEAL?: Panthers expected to be busy come Friday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- Dale Tallon and the Panthers are sitting in a pretty sweet spot.
When the NHL's annual draft opens Friday night, Tallon will either be headed to the podium with the first overall pick or he would have already traded it for some immediate help.
Tallon figures the Panthers will be in a better position whichever way he goes.
"It's going to be a tough decision,'' said Tallon, who said he has received two "concrete" offers for the first pick.
"We've had some offers that are intriguing. One really intriguing one. We'll have a sleepless [Friday] night as we as a staff are going to sit on it, ponder it. If we take the pick, we're excited about that as well.''
For the fourth time in 20 drafts, Florida holds the top pick after finishing 29th out of 30 teams and winning the ping-pong aided draft lottery.
"I like having the first pick but I don't ever want it again,'' Tallon sneered. "But it's nice to have it this year so we can have some fun with it and shop it around. We'll see what people are willing to pay for it.''
Only one time -- when the Panthers took current captain Ed Jovanovski first in 1994 -- has Florida actually kept the top selection for itself.
In 2002, the Panthers traded away the first overall pick to Columbus with the Blue Jackets taking Rick Nash first and Florida sliding to third to grab Jay Bouwmeester.
The following year, GM Rick Dudley again traded the top selection -- this time to Pittsburgh. The Penguins went with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Florida took Nathan Horton.
Tallon could make this a third straight top-pick trade-away for the Panthers on Friday.
A number of teams are thought to be serious contenders to move all the way up -- although Tallon says Florida could simply sit pat.
"Seventy percent we keep the pick,'' he said.
The Panthers need help throughout the organization although they've stockpiled talent over the past few seasons.
That's why Florida figures this year's draft pick could be expendable.
The Panthers are looking for established forwards and defensemen while getting a first round pick in return. Tallon said earlier in the week that he didn't want to drop out of the top 10.
"[The offers] are over an above what we thought we would get,'' Tallon said, although he wouldn't devolve names nor teams. "We have another offer close to it. We'll see what happens in the next 24 hours.''
Aaron Ekblad, projected to be a top-end defenseman for years to come, is thought to be Florida's choice if it holds onto the top selection.
The Panthers, after all, bypassed defenseman Seth Jones last year when it took center Aleksander Barkov with the second overall pick.
"If you get the opportunity here, you have to prove yourself,'' Ekblad said. "Obviously you're not in control of this situation at all. I have no idea what's going to happen or where I'm going to go. The cards of my life are up in the air right now.''
If the Panthers hold pat, Tallon said the decision on whose name he will call out on the big stage has already been made -- and has been for some time.
"I know who I'm taking but you don't,'' Tallon joked to the large media contingent covering his impromptu news conference. "It's not clear cut, but we know who we're taking.''
Thursday was one last chance for the top prospects to try and impress their prospective employers.
Tallon, who met with a number of prospects at the NHL combine in Toronto earlier this month, said he likes what he's seen.
Although this draft is called weaker than in the past, Tallon says he sees strength in its numbers.
"I disagree,'' he said. "It's a very good draft.''
With everyone knowing Tallon is receptive to a deal, it didn't seem like the top candidates to go No. 1 were buying Panthers gear just yet.
Ekblad is considered the favorite to go first with forwards Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Leon Draisaitl to go soon afterward.
Yet no one knows what's going to happen, especially if Trader Tallon strikes again at the draft. On Thursday, Tallon said he "loved this time of year.''
"Everyone is weighing the possibilities,'' Reinhart said. "They're all trying to get to know us and you want to talk to everyone. It's pretty unpredictable right now. I'm trying not to think about it honestly. I'm just trying to stay as relaxed as I can.''

FRIDAY'S NHL DRAFT
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Net; WQAM-560
Note: Friday will consist of the first 30 picks through the end of the first round. The draft will be completed Saturday at 10 a.m. (Rounds 2-7).

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.

 

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