SUNRISE, Fla. — With a relatively young team, Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon is of the belief that the club needs an experienced coach behind the bench.
And with that, Peter Horachek’s time as interim coach is over.
The Panthers fired Horachek on Tuesday, after Florida went 26-36-4 under him this past season. Horachek had no previous NHL coaching experience before replacing Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8 and while Tallon lauded the interim coach’s work with the club, he simply thinks that a change in direction is needed.
“We just felt as a group that it wasn’t quite the right fit with the direction that we’re headed in,” Tallon said.
Tallon said there’s no timetable for finding a new coach, other than that the team wants to make a hire before the draft in late June. He said Peter Laviolette — who was fired by the Philadelphia Flyers after only three games of this season — is on his list of candidates, and there’s also speculation that he could target former Nashville coach Barry Trotz.
“We’re going to interview every possible candidate and take our time and make the right decision,” Tallon said.
Horachek had been the coach of Florida’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio before being summoned to lead the Panthers. Tallon said Horachek will not remain with the organization in any capacity. The team will urge the next coach to keep assistant coaches John Madden and Brian Skrudland, both of whom Tallon has in high regard.
Horachek’s fate was decided in the last few days and he accepted the move when told Tuesday in a “classy” manner, Tallon said.
The coaching decision is one of many changes for the Panthers in recent months, with more moves coming. The team was bought last fall by New York businessman Vincent Viola, had a change in the executive ranks when Michael Yormark left as team president earlier this year, and the Panthers brought back longtime fan favourite Roberto Luongo late in this season.
Plus, the team has stockpiled plenty of picks in the next two drafts and won the right to draft No. 1 overall this year.
“We’re not starting over,” Tallon said. “We’ve got a lot of young players on our team now, we’ll have a few more added each year as we move forward and now we have to surround them with the right NHL players and pieces that we will attack in free agency or by trading some of these assets that we have.”
The Panthers have had seven different coaches in their last 10 seasons, with Dineen the only one in the group to take Florida to the playoffs. And the next coach will be Tallon’s third since he took over in Florida.
He’s hoping history repeats itself with this move. Tallon was most recently the GM in Chicago and his third coach there was Joel Quenneville — who led the Blackhawks to Stanley Cup titles in 2010 and 2013.
“It took me three in Chicago to get it right,” Tallon said. “So it’s not an easy task. It’s all about getting it right. Yeah, it’s important. That’s why we’re going to take our time and really investigate and interview various candidates and do our homework and try to get the right fit.”
Florida finished with the second-lowest point total in the NHL this season and missed the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons. The Panthers last won a playoff series in 1996, the year they lost to Colorado in the Stanley Cup finals.
“He did a good job,” Tallon said of Horachek. “He came in a worked hard and tried to turn things around in a hurry.”
Florida ranked 29th in the 30-team NHL in goals scored this season, plus were abysmal on special teams. The Panthers ranked last in the league with a 10 per cent power-play success rate — the worst percentage posted by any team since 2000-01 — along with a 76 per cent penalty-kill rate.
The Panthers were out of the playoff race early once again, finishing 27 points out of the eighth and last post-season spot in the Eastern Conference.