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Dixon: New Panthers coach Kevin Dineen keeps his door open

Kevin Dineen scored 760 points in 1,188 career NHL games with Hartford, Philadelphia, Carolina, Ottawa and Columbus. (Todd Warshaw /Allsport)

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Kevin Dineen scored 760 points in 1,188 career NHL games with Hartford, Philadelphia, Carolina, Ottawa and Columbus. (Todd Warshaw /Allsport)

It seems like having a sense of humor is a bit of a must for any coach, even if he’s never had Alex Kovalev on his team.

The Florida Panthers’ new hire, Kevin Dineen, fits the bill. When asked what his former Portland Pirate players would say if questioned about what kind of coach he is, Dineen quickly quipped, “I would hope they would tell you a few lies.”

Beyond the jokes, Dineen talked about a desire to have constant communication with his charges, including both informal chats and scheduled meetings at regular intervals. What’s striking about speaking to Dineen is how he stressed that learning isn’t just for young players. Feedback might be more crucial for players still trying to find peak form, but Dineen said when he was a player, he always craved information, even well into his 30s. Chances are, that mindset is part of why he became a coach in his post-playing days.

“Players still want to develop,” he said, citing new Florida vets such as Ed Jovanovski and Jose Theodore.

In addition to the aforementioned desire to learn, Dineen’s family history in the game also seems to make him a natural for life behind the bench. Like Kevin, his father, Bill Dineen, also played in the NHL. He then went on to coach in the defunct pro Western League, the World Hockey Association, the American League and the NHL basically every season from 1969-70 to 1992-93, when he coached Kevin on the Philadelphia Flyers. Kevin’s brother, Gord Dineen, also turned to coaching after his NHL career came to an end and has spent the past seven seasons in the AHL.

So coaching must be in Kevin’s blood, too, right?

“Before I think I resisted that comment because you’re always looking at different options and how your career path is going to play out,” he said.

Dineen spent the last three years of his playing days with the Blue Jackets, retiring after the 2002-03 campaign. From there, he joined Columbus’ front office in a player development capacity and spent three or four days a month with the team’s prospects in Syracuse. He credits former Crunch coach Gary Agnew for giving him the leeway to skate with players and get a sense for what it’s like to be around a team in that capacity. In 2005, he decided to make the jump to coaching and found a willing dance partner in former Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, who hired him to coach in Portland.

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Dineen may have initially eschewed the path blazed by his family members, but there’s no doubt in his mind hanging around the Houston Aeros as a kid, while the team was winning Avco Cup championships with his father at the helm and Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe on the ice, had a huge effect on him.

“I think if there’s one thing my dad did, it’s that he always had an incredible amount of character players, specifically in Houston when we were down there,” he said.

Dineen has his work cut out for him trying to get the Panthers in the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2000, but he believes Florida has brought in players with the right DNA to succeed and he plans to lean on that open communication policy with his troops as they try to turn things around. Discussions will be frequent, but the bottom line will be the same, in this case once again delivered with a touch of tongue-in-cheek.

“If we agree to disagree,” said Dineen, “I win because I’m the boss.”

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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