Florida Panthers Moving Forward Part Three: Head Coach

Read Parts 1 (Introduction) and 2 (General Manager).

The first (and possibly biggest) responsibility of the General Manager is to hire the Head Coach. And this one is pretty crucial.

Luckily, the owners are at least publicly stating on Twitter their intention to let Tallon make the choice. Maybe this bodes well for Tallon making the calls….maybe.

They’ve led us to this fountain a few too many times while it’s been barren so the actions must follow this statement. On the other hand, speculation like below sounds like a “put it out there and gauge feedback” move that should scare you:

Kinnear, while probably a great guy and hard worker, is only in his first season (ever) as a Head Coach. This year is not a banner year for his Springfield Thunderbirds, and the usage of the overcrowded roster, while possibly not his fault or doing, doesn’t show well either. At best, Kinnear is a coaching option much further down the road. This would be a poor chance to take. Considering the instability of past coaching hires. His hire would show the prioritization of coach’s salary. Kinnear replacing Rowe would be adding only a bump in salary for Kinnear (if at all). Hiring from outside organization proves more costly.

Since Aleksander Barkov joined the NHL, he has had four coaches: Kevin Dineen, Peter Horachek, Gerard Gallant, and Tom Rowe. The next one will be his fifth! FIFTH! That is one per year!

This cannot continue. The Florida Panthers are rapidly re-routing to follow Edmonton Oiler’s footsteps in failing to take the next step with their core. Coaching bears a good chunk of that responsibility. That is why this next hire is so important.

Whether it is Tallon or the newly hired GM, it is paramount that they communicate with fans the type of coach they are looking for. “The best we can identify,” as Cifu says is not a good enough answer. It is too vague. It is imperative to help fans match team’s words with their actions. Do they want a young coach to grow with the team? Do they want an old, wise coach who can add the guidance to their talent? What style of play do they expect from their coach? What product on the ice are they building towards?

My opinion is the usual suspects and experienced NHL coach market is thin. Claude Julien is in Montreal long term and Bruce Boudreau was situated last summer. It will be hard to top that. Ken Hitchcock, Michel Therrien, and Jack Capuano do not. Realistically, their salaries were/are too high to be a fit regardless.

For that reason, the coach that makes most sense for this team is a young, progressive coach that has seen good results and sowed good development at the Junior or Minor level, and may have experience as associate or assistant NHL coach. This, again realistically, keeps their salary demands down. But it also makes it more likely that they will follow analytical processes and push the edges of how the team game is played.

Another shortcoming of the coaching staff over last five years may have been the usage of teams best players, and pushing them to succeed offensively. The coach should be able to challenge Barkov and Huberdeau to be the 70-80 point players they can be, while providing the minutes and matchups that set them up for success. Next year cannot see Barkov getting the second most minutes of the Forwards. 

Ideally, a Tarasov disciple with a good track record that can be in Florida for the next five years.

Rank Name Current Gig Other Notes Realistic Meter
1 Sheldon Keefe TOR- AHL Head Coach SSM HC under Kyle Dubas Likely. Mike Babcock's long contract blocks him moving up. However TOR can be very convincing. Fits exactly what FLA publicly states it wants.
2 Benoit Groulx TBL- AHL Head Coach Rochester Americans AHL Head Coach. HC in QMJHL for Shawinigan & Gatineau (10+) Likely. Leaving Gatineau for AHL shows he's ready to make a run in pros. Cooper may or may not have security. Will Groulx look elsewhere?
3 Rocky Thompson Head Coach for Windsor Spitfires WHL coaching experience. Assistant coach of EDM AHL and NHL teams Possible. Windsor has the automatic Mem Cup draw this year & will still be competitive next. If they win he might be ok leaving. A loss could make him more committed to Windsor.
4 Dominique Ducharme Head Coach for Drummondville Voltigeurs QMJHL connections. Halifax HC Memorial Cup champion. Hockey Canada HC gold medal winner Likely. Despite future commitments to Hockey Canada they have capable fill-ins should he leave for NHL. Ducharme is 43- good to grow with a team.
5 Scott Stevens MIN- Assistant Coach Assistant coach & co head coach of NJD. Comes with player skills specialist Adam Oates Possible. Stevens was hired only a year ago and may not feel like he's finished in MIN but a chance to head his own bench is always the ultimate goal.
6 Andre Tourigny Head Coach for Halifax Mooseheads Asst. Coach for COL & OTT. Long history with Huskies in Q as GM & HC. Only 42! Pretty. Tallon connection matters. Tourigny has much experience with junior players & Hockey Canada. 3 yrs on NHL bench shows he wants to be here.
7 Bob Motzko Head Coach St. Cloud Won Herb Brooks coach of year. Won WCHA coach of year. HC for USA WJC Possible. Motzko is hitting his stride both in NCAA & International play. His stock may never be higher & the jump from NCAA to NHL is rare so he may just take it.
8 Kris Knoblaugh Head Coach for Erie Otters 5 yrs with Otters. Kootenay Ice HC & assistant coach Likely. Tons of success in Erie (minus a championship) doesn't leave much left to do. Getting a 'ship in WHL with Kootenay might make it  easier to leave junior circuit.
9 Joel Bouchard President & General Manager & Head Coach for BB Armada Has had success with Armada & developed good prospects and team culture. Possible. Not sure how the Armada would replace him but have to imagine he would be looking for a NHL gig.
10 David Quinn Head Coach Boston University COL- AHL HC & NHL asst. coach. HC for Omaha. Asst. Coach for Northeastern Possible. Quinn is in his 4th year at BU. Playing there & coaching there may make BU a permanent home especially with Program he built. But who knows.
11 Dallas Eakins ANA- AHL Head Coach EDM HC. TOR AHL HC. Advanced stats advocate & health guru Possible. Re-surgence in San Diego may give him another shot. Might want to prove people wrong after EDM exit.
12 Larry Robinson SJS- Associate Coach LAK & NJD HC Possible. Defensive Legend has success as A.Coach but not H.Coach. Might be willing to leave SJS for another kick at can.
13 Enrico Blasi Head Coach Miami University 18 years with Miami developed solid NHLers from small program Unlikely. Blasi may be on this list only to make me happy. I love his passion behind the bench & he's gotten a lot of performance out of a lesser known program. NHL potential.
14 Mike Kitchen CHI- Asst. Coach Asst. Coach for FLA STL TOR. HC for STL Unlikely. FLA connection but prior to Tallon. Why leave CHI for FLA?
15 Marc Crawford OTT- NHL Asst. Coach Head Coach for Zurich  DAL LAK VAN COL Unlikely. Crawford coached Malgin a bit & has come back into flavor but he doesn't meet what team is looking for. Interviewed but lost to Gallant.
16 Rick Bowness TBL- Associate Coach WPG BOS OTT NYI PHX HC Unlikely. Head coach might not have same lure for experienced vet who is super close to ring with TBL.

The first nine or ten names in the above list consists of potential coaches I’d be more than happy to see go deep in the interview process. Keefe, Groulx, Thompson, and Ducharme come highly touted and the last few years of success back that up. They are ready to make the jump, and notably check the most boxes. They will be on the cheaper end, they should have a longer shelf life, and should be more tuned into the higher skill level speed game the NHL is going in. After all, they have experience with the next big prospects coming into the league.

Benoit Groulx

Another selling point of these four is that they have had success under pressure and in short windows. Keefe has helped turn around the Toronto AHL farm system. Groulx and Ducharme have won a World Junior U20 Gold for Hockey Canada as Head Coaches. Thompson took a fledgling Windsor team and in two years has them primed for their Memorial Cup Hosting bid this year.

The next group–Stevens, Tourigny, Motzko, Knoblaugh, Bouchard, and Quinn–offer much of the same as the above group. Tourigny may be most interesting name of the bunch. At 42 years old, Tourigny shouldn’t have the depth of experience he does. His long history in Rouyn-Noranda will appeal to fellow Huskie Dale Tallon. Tourigny also has NHL assistant experience and shows he can be in it for long haul. Watch for him.

Stevens has slim coaching experience. Short stint as assistant and shorter as co-Head Coach in New Jersey plus this year in Minnesota as an assistant. While he does not have Head Coach success to bolster his candidacy, his ability to develop skills, and connection with Adam Oates may unlock the raw talent of Florida’s young core and is an intriguing unique selling point.

Andre Tourigny

Knoblaugh, Bouchard, Motzko, and Quinn all have good recent experience developing talent and coaching a successful team. Knoblaugh has managed superstars like Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome, and Alex DeBrincat. Bouchard wears all the hats in Blainville-Boisbriand, finding success with an unlikely team. Motzko won praise for his St. Cloud work but won camera time with success for USA World Junior U20 team. Quinn took over for a legend at Boston University and got the Terriers back to the top of NCAA Div. I Hockey.

Whoever is named the Head Coach, one thing is for certain, the franchise must be assured and confident that he is the man to get the job done. Only two years left in the Stanley Cup Window™ .

Sheldon Keefe

Who will comprise the team the new coach gets to work with? Next week we will post the next part, focusing on current depth chart and Expansion Draft will help clear that up.