SUNRISE, Fla. — Bob Boughner has become the latest coach to pay for Florida’s almost-annual inability to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Panthers fired Boughner on Sunday, ending his two-year tenure with the team with one year remaining on his contract. The Panthers didn’t make the post-season in either of those years and now have missed the playoffs 16 times in the last 18 seasons.
In Boughner’s first stint as an NHL head coach, Florida won 80 of its 164 games with him on the bench. Assistant coach Paul McFarlane also was fired.
"We made a tough decision," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said.
Florida was ninth in goals per game this season, had the league’s second-best power play unit and was 10th in penalty killing. But the Panthers were horrible on defence and were one of the worst teams in the league in one-goal games.
"We didn’t meet expectations this season and share responsibility for that fact," Tallon said. "After careful evaluation, we have determined that this is a necessary first step for our young team and we will seek to identify a transformative, experienced head coach with Stanley Cup pedigree to lead our team going forward."
And that pedigree could lead the Panthers to Joel Quenneville.
A person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Sunday that the Panthers and Quenneville have spoken about the opening. Quenneville won three Stanley Cups with Chicago, after Tallon — then the Blackhawks’ general manager — hired him to take over there in 2008. Quenneville also has ties to horse racing, a passion of Panthers owner Vincent Viola.
The Panthers just completed their 25th season, and their next coach — assuming it isn’t one of the former coaches — will be the 16th to lead the franchise. Of the 15 coaches, Boughner included, 14 never won a playoff series, 12 never won a playoff game and 11 never even got to the post-season with Florida.
The Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since 1996. None of the last 13 coaches could change that. Tallon will hold a news conference Monday to discuss what comes next — or, potentially, to introduce the next coach, if something gets done by then. And with numerous openings in the NHL, teams could be motivated to move quickly in order to get their top choice.
Florida missed the playoffs by one point in Boughner’s first season. The Panthers missed the playoffs by 12 points this season, wasting a year in which Aleksander Barkov set a club record with 96 points and the team had three 30-goal scorers. Mike Hoffman had 36 goals, Barkov had 35 and Jonathan Huberdeau finished with 30 goals and 92 points.
Florida was one of three teams this season that had four players score at least 28 goals, when adding Evgenii Dadonov to the list of Hoffman, Barkov and Huberdeau. The other two — Tampa Bay and San Jose — are going to the playoffs.
Boughner was planning on returning.
"There’s a lot of good things," Boughner said after Florida’s season ended Saturday with a 4-3 overtime home loss to New Jersey. "But the one thing that we failed on is not getting into the playoffs, so yeah, that’s disappointing. … Barky and those guys are so young. They’re going to keep growing and getting better."
Boughner told players after the finale that they played hard all season, and he lauded his group of assistants as well.
"My staff did a heck of a job," Boughner said.
The Panthers’ brass disagreed, and Boughner paid the price for Florida being one of the worst defensive teams in the league this season. The Panthers ranked 28th in the 31-team NHL in goals allowed.
So another Florida off-season begins in familiar fashion: looking for a coach. There are personnel decisions to make, and 40-year-old goaltender Roberto Luongo plans on taking some time before deciding whether he’ll be back, but the Panthers are officially in flux once again.
Forward Vincent Trocheck said after the finale that the Panthers know they should have been a playoff team, based on the amount of talent in the room. The fact that several players had career years only added to his level of frustration.
"I’m kind of sick of silver linings now at this point, six years in," Trocheck said. "We’re always looking back saying ‘this is a positive’ out of that stack of crap."
When the Panthers convene for camp in September, the task of turning them around will be handled by a new coach.
"We’re going to try to be a team that we keep saying that we can be," Trocheck said.
— With files from Sportsnet Staff