Winless since October 19, the Florida Panthers cut ties with head coach Kevin Dineen on Friday morning. Just 18-36-20 since guiding the Panthers to an improbable division title back in 2012, Dineen was never likely to survive the season at the helm of a second-rate roster. Peter Horachek has been promoted from the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage on an interim basis.
Expectations were at an all-time low in Florida entering the season, even after a late-summer spending spree brought Tim Thomas and Brad Boyes to town. Though a playoff run was never on the cards, a long string of slipshod performances forced GM Dale Tallon‘s hand.
A 4-1 loss at Boston’s TD Garden on Thursday night proved to be the final straw for Dineen. It was the listless Panthers’ 10th loss in eleven outings. With a league-worst three wins to their credit, the Panthers effort has been severely lacking. Coaches don’t last long when the commitment of their players can be questioned.
Dineen tried his best to wake up his club last week by benching slumping star Kris Versteeg. The drastic measure did little to spark Versteeg or his teammates.
The Panthers’ minus-25 goal differential ranks dead last in the NHL, and Brian Campbell leads the team with a decidedly mediocre plus-2 rating.
Florida’s prodigious youngsters were meant to provide some hope this season, but their middling play so far has been discouraging. 2013 Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau ranks second on the team in points, but he is five points off his rookie pace through 16 games. Meanwhile, highly touted rookies Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad have combined for just 10 points so far, and 2010 3rd overall pick Erik Gudbranson has a minus-11 rating on the blue line.
Jacob Markstrom was expected to progress significantly in goal this year. However, the Panthers’ desperate move to sign Tim Thomas in time for opening night demonstrated a lack of confidence in the 23-year-old Swede. Markstrom’s .877 save percentage through eleven games leaves much to be desired, especially if Thomas continues to battle injuries.
Per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, GM Dale Tallon has been frantically working the phones in recent weeks in search of trade partners. Tallon referred to the Dineen firing as “just the beginning” of a major overhaul. What kinds of assets the Panthers might be pursuing remains a mystery, considering they have needs all over the ice.
Veteran leadership in the locker-room appears to be lacking, so it is possible Tallon could shop the likes of Barkov and Bjugstad for a respected star. However, it might be more prudent for the Panthers to blow up their current corps in search of long-term success.
If they are confident in their group of rising stars, they could look to add dangling Edmonton talent Nail Yakupov. The 2012 first overall pick was mentioned in connection with Thomas Vanek last month, and a defenseman like Brian Campbell would fill a major need for the Oilers. However, it looks as if Tallon is focused on putting a respectable product on the ice this season, so veteran acquisitions are more likely.
The odds of a turn-around will be against the Panthers in the coming months. The Philadelphia Flyers have failed to improve since swapping Peter Laviolette out for Craig Berube in early October and they continue to bring up the Metropolitan Division rear. The stacked Atlantic Division will afford the Panthers no favors as they hope for better results.
Interim coach Peter Horachek doesn’t appear to be an ideal fit considering the San Antonio team he is leaving sits second to last in the AHL’s Western Conference. The timetable for Florida’s head coaching search is as of yet unknown.
With a brutal upcoming schedule that includes games against Anaheim, Colorado and Vancouver, the Panthers will be hard-pressed to rebound. They are most likely chasing draft prospects Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad now instead of a playoff spot.