Peter Horachek was named interim head coach of the Panthers Nov. 8 when Kevin Dineen was fired. The Panthers went 26-36-4 under Horachek’s lead and never got rid of that interim tag. Today, GM Dale Tallon announced the team was moving on from Horachek and would begin searching for its 13th (lucky!) coach in franchise history.
Despite coaching a roster without a terrible amount of change over the one that finished dead last just a season ago, Horachek did a better job than expected. The Panthers had the 29th offense, their 31.1 shots against per game were the seventh-most in the league and their goaltending was the worst in the league with a .909 save percentage at 5-on-5. The Panthers had no strength.
So the roster did little for Horachek, but Horachek seemed to get at least a little improvement from the roster.
It certainly wasn’t Horachek’s fault the Panthers finished 29th and in the bottom two for the second straight year. The team, as currently constructed, is a mish-mash of veterans and youngsters as the team waits for its youth to blossom and flourish. The question isn’t whether Horachek deserved to be let go, but if he was the right voice to guide this critical transition. The important thing now is for the Panthers to hire a coach they can stand behind and be confident he’s steadily moving the needle for long-term payoff.
“Peter worked very diligently since taking over as interim head coach in November, but at this time we feel that a fresh approach and a new direction is needed behind our bench,” Dale Tallon said. “We will immediately begin an extensive search for a new and experienced coach for our franchise, who will guide the Panthers to future success. We once again thank Peter for all of his hard work and service and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
What the Panthers need is some stability.
Teams who make coaching changes all the time do not succeed – just ask the Edmonton Oilers. And no coach in Florida Panthers history has lasted more than 246 regular season games (three seasons). Not Doug MacLean, who got them to the final, not Jacques Martin and not even Dineen, who led the team to the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
With new owner Vincent Viola pledging to spend big on the Panthers roster and a GM who had a big hand in building Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup champion team, Florida – at least on paper – has the tools for a turnaround. But they have to be patient. They don’t need to be spending money just to spend it, as they did in 2011 to reach the cap floor. They need to be staying the course with their developing players and pick the right coach to get the most out of them. And then they have to stand by him.
The Panthers remain a work in progress and it’s not wholly surprising they let their interim coach go today. But if the fortune of the franchise really does turn this time, it needs to be more consistent.
Their 13th coach needs to be a long-term coach. Barry Trotz? Ron Wilson? Peter Laviolette? Or are the Panthers perhaps going to hold out for a coach currently in the playoffs, who may soon be let go? Whatever their thinking, this hire for Florida is important to change the culture of inconsistency that has always dragged them down.