MIAMI - The Florida Panthers hired Peter DeBoer as their new coach Friday, giving him a multiyear deal on his 40th birthday.
DeBoer - a highly touted junior coach from the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers - also was courted by Ottawa and met with the Senators this week. DeBoer replaces his boss, Jacques Martin, who was stripped of his duties as head coach in April but remains with the team as general manager.
"I was really pleased when Peter decided on our organization," Martin said. "It's a sign that this organization is making strides and having quality people and moving forward."
Martin became Florida's coach in 2004 and took over as general manager in 2006, replacing Mike Keenan. He called his successor a "perfect fit" for the club.
"I am very excited about getting the opportunity to coach the Florida Panthers," DeBoer said in a statement. "I am looking forward to the challenge of guiding this franchise back to the playoffs and to putting a team on the ice that our fans in South Florida can be proud of."
There hasn't been much for Panthers fans to cheer about lately. The Panthers won their first seven games in March in a late push for the post-season, but it wasn't enough. Florida went 38-35-9 to finish with 85 points this season, nine behind Southeast Division champion Washington. The team hasn't won a playoff series since 1996 and a playoff game since 1997. They haven't reached the post-season since 2000.
"There's no doubt that he recognized that our team is a team going on the upside, a team that should be able to make the playoffs next year and keep getting better," Martin said. "Part of it is probably dealing with a general manager who has been a coach for several years. I have an appreciation for what he has to do and I think we can work well together."
DeBoer coached Florida centre Stephen Weiss and left wing Gregory Campbell in junior hockey.
"I think he brings some intensity. He brings some discipline," Martin said. "I believe he runs a good bench. He believes in the depth of the team. When you look at his team and his record ... it's really outstanding."
DeBoer, the OHL coach of the year in 1999 and 2000, coached and managed Kitchener for seven years and has 297 wins with a .676 winning percentage with the club. He guided the Rangers to two OHL championships and a Memorial Cup title, and picked up his 500th OHL win this past season.
"His teams are fun to watch," Kitchener Rangers chief operating officer Steve Bienkowski said. "They're aggressive teams, they skate well and they're fun to watch."
DeBoer played in the OHL for four years for the Windsor Spitfires and played professionally for two years with the Milwaukee Admirals. He was a 12th-round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1988.
"What you see is what you get," Bienkowski said. "He's emotional. He's passionate. And he expects his players to work hard, just like he does."