With the 2014 NHL Entry Draft around the corner and what seems to be a very busy off-season that is set to kick off on July 1st, for the Florida Panthers there is one major question that has gone unanswered and will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
No, not who goes 1st overall at the draft. It’s almost safe to assume that the Panthers will go with Aaron Ekblad (unless they trade the pick). The problem that NEEDS an immediate solution is who will be coaching the young Ekblad along with the rest of the Panthers team; Florida needs a head coach.
After Barry Trotz landed in Washington as the new coach of the Capitals and Kirk Muller joined the St. Louis Blues as an assistant, eyes shifted towards the Panthers team and what general manager Dale Tallon had up his sleeve. There are still some big names in play for a head coaching position but what remains to be seen is who the person will be that takes on a young and on-the-rise Panthers team.
Evaluating the Options in the Florida Panthers Coaching Search
The Long shots
There is Guy Boucher, a name that continues to circulate among NHL teams. Boucher has experience coaching young talent and has excelled at developing and getting the most out of his young players. The one problem is the strategy he brings to the team. It’s no secret that his 1-3-1 technique is meant to shut down offensive threats completely while capitalizing on mistakes made by the opposition. The problem is, the Florida Panthers are already a team that struggles to produce offense. The good thing however is that with Luongo in goal and Erik Gudbranson, Dmitri Kulikov and a hypothetical addition of Ekblad, good luck getting the puck to the net. Boucher is currently coaching in Switzerland for the SC Bern, although it is strongly rumored that his contract includes an out clause if he is offered an NHL job.
Marc Crawford’s name has been buzzed around on social media in the past few weeks as well and he provides an extensive list of experience at the head coach position. It would feel rather odd to see Crawford behind the bench of a team that he defeated back in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, but time does heal all wounds. Crawford’s job as coach started off wonderfully when he took on a talented team in Colorado and coached them to 1st in their division in all of the four seasons he was behind the bench — including the last season of the now-defunct Québec Nordiques. He then went on to coach the Vancouver Canucks, and took over a rebuilding club and helped to mould them into a regular season winner, before the Tood Bertuzzi/Steve Moore incident. He would coach one more season in Vancouver, before moving on to Los Angeles, and then Dallas. When you look at the jobs he did with the Kings and Stars, two teams that found themselves in a similar situation as the present Florida Panthers, you realize that two seasons of no playoffs and then future endeavored may not be such a good idea for the current plan.
Would John Tortorella’s coaching style be a fit with the Panthers? His hard-nosed, straight-forward attitude could work well with the youth on the team and be the real boot in the proverbial behind that the team needs but… then you look at who is keeping the net. It’s no secret that Roberto Luongo and John Tortorella had a shaky relationship in Vancouver, the evidence in the Twitter comments made by Luongo over the course of last season. Tortorella can be a good coach and his temper could be what a struggling team needs but again, his defensive style coaching and emphasis placed on blocking shots is not the way to put pucks into the net at the other end. Plus, the Luongo factor.
Then there are the B-listers like Ron Wilson, Adam Oates, Mike Keenan, Tom Renney and John Stevens. All good coaches that were caught in the crossfire of a nightmare situation but all coaches that wouldn’t be a fit in the present and future plans of a team like the Panthers, who are so deep in the prospect pool and only getting better.
The Top Two Candidates
So who else is there? Any of the names mentioned above could find themselves as part of the Florida Panthers management team but two names stand out in particular; Gerard Gallant, the assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens and recently fired head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dan Bylsma.
In the case of Gerard Gallant, it takes looking past his brief stint as a coach in the NHL. Back in 2003-04, when he took over the role as head coach in Columbus, he was put in charge of a bad team and a bad situation at that. The team failed to make the playoffs in the two full seasons he coached and after just 15 games into the third season, Gallant was fired. After serving as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders in 2008-09, Gallant took a job in the QMJHL as the head coach of the Saint-John Sea Dogs.
A stacked team? Maybe. The Sea Dogs had their share of stars and a composed team, but the discipline they all shared came from the coach. Their offensive-style offensive came from the coach. Gallant would coach the team to three straight first place finishes in the league, two QMJHL Championship and one Memorial Cup. Gallant was also named CHL’s Coach of the Year for his 2010 and 2011 campaigns.
With Gallant, there is obvious history between he and forward Jonathan Huberdeau. Gallant knows Huberdeau inside and out and would utilize him to his fullest potential. Excelling best when working with a young team, Gallant would be dealing with exactly that if he took on the Panthers team. Another key point that seems to be going under the radar is a potential move that could be orchestrated after the hiring of Gallant.
Back in Montreal, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu — who also played for the Sea Dogs under Gallant — had a rough time cracking the line-up. After the Olympic break, Beaulieu was not re-called and only got his shot with the team again during the playoffs. Being Beaulieu’s biggest supporter, what would stop Gallant from whispering in a few ears and getting management to work a trade to bring in the young blue-liner? A puck moving defenseman, still years away from hitting his prime, to be molded by the coach that got the best out of him in his junior days.
Gallant’s hiring could be a good decision in more ways than one. But then there’s Dan Bylsma.
It’s no secret to anyone the credentials Dan Bylsma bring to a team in need of a head coach. Upon entering the NHL as a head coach for the first time, Bylsma posted an 18-3-4 record in his first 25 games. Later that year, the Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup, making Bylsma only the 14th coach in NHL history to take over a team mid-season and win the Cup that same year. Bylsma was also just 38 years old that year, the youngest coach in the NHL during that year. In the 2010-11 season, Bylsma won the Jack Adams Award after keeping his team competitive and remaining a threat to win the Cup despite losing the services of their star players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Having become the fastest coach in NHL history to win 200 career games, being the most winnings coach in Pittsburgh Penguins history AND coaching the US Olympic team, Bylsma has done spectacular work at every level he’s led a team in. Having not only success in winning but a Cup ring to his name, Bylsma could take a team on the rise with plenty of prospect depth and turn them into a winning team sooner rather than later. His teachings from past experience could elevate the play of the younger players while molding them to be better than expected. Jonathan Huberdeau could be the next star player of the NHL under Bylsma’s guidance.
Given what Bylsma did what a Pittsburgh team that had a lot of upside and youth coming up and taking the role as full-time NHL’er, Bylsma would find himself in a comparable situation. This isn’t to say that Jonathan Huberdeau will become Sidney Crosby or that Erik Gudbranson will turn into Kris Letang but the point is, Dan Bylsma will get the absolute best out of players with high upside. If he brings a run-and-gun game, he will feel comfortable relying on a confident Roberto Luongo.
The cards are now on the table for Dale Tallon. There are so many choices at hand. Does he go with the successful junior and assistant NHL coach Gerard Gallant and hope to see Gallant catch lightning in a bottle with the youth, does he take veteran experience with successful results in the past, or does Tallon go with someone else?
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