The Florida Panthers wasted no time in making major moves at the start of their premature off-season. The team has announced that head coach Bob Boughner has been relieved of his duties. Boughner just finished his second season as the coach of the Panthers, his first NHL head coaching position. Assistant coach Paul McFarland has also been fired.
The team release from GM Dale Tallon read as follows:
We made a tough decision today and have relieved Bob Boughner of his duties as head coach. We didn’t meet expectations this season and share responsibility for that fact. After careful evaluation, we have determined that this is a necessary first step for our young team and we will seek to identify a transformative, experienced head coach with Stanley Cup pedigree to lead our team going forward. We’re grateful to Bob, Paul, and their families for their hard work and their dedication to the Panthers organization and we wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.
Boughner’s departure should not come as any great surprise. As a first-time NHL head coach, Boughner was on a short leash from the start. After a slow beginning to his tenure, the Panthers were one of the best teams in the NHL down the stretch last season, but just narrowly missed the playoffs nonetheless. The expectation was that the team would ride that streak right into the new campaign, but 2018-19 did not go as planned. The team could never quite keep things together long enough to stick around the playoff picture. It was a disappointing finish for a team with high expectations.
If the Panthers were a rebuilding club, perhaps two finishes just outside the top-16 would have been enough for Boughner to keep his job. However, Florida is a deep, talented team with many players in the primes of their careers. Especially up front, the Cats had enough talent that they should have rivaled nearly any team in the league. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau each cracked 90 points this season, while Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov reached 70. The Panthers were the first squad this season to have five 20-goal scorers, finished ninth as a team in goals for per game, and their power play – led by McFarland – was second only tot the rival Tampa Bay Lightning. Where Boughner and his staff clearly fell short was in preventing goals to the same extent they scored them. The Panthers were 28th in the league in goals against per game, allowing ten goals on average over a three-game stretch. Ironically, that did not come from allowing too many shots or struggling on the penalty kill, as Florida largely succeeded in both areas. Instead, Boughner’s scheme seemed to allow for too many high-danger chances and put his defensemen and struggling goaltenders in tough situations.
Admittedly, it’s not all Boughner’s fault. Roberto Luongo, 40, and James Reimer, 31, were a tired and injury-prone duo from the start that made keeping pucks out of the net a difficult task. The defense corps also lacked difference makers behind Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad, as Mike Matheson took a step back and others on the blue line were overexposed. However, as a former standout defenseman himself, the expectation was likely that Boughner could adjust to his personnel and do a better job of defending against goals. Given the individual talent of many of his forwards, the team could have survived with a more conservative style. However, that move was never made and it likely cost Boughner his job.
As for the next bench boss in Florida, the team’s desire for a “transformative, experienced head coach with Stanley Cup pedigree” is likely a not-so-subtle plea to former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. Quenneville is the best free agent coach available and really the only name that fits that description. He also shares a history with Tallon. Additionally, the Panthers are expected to pursue both Columbus Blue Jackets stars Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky this summer and know Quenneville could be the key to bringing in former Blackhawk Panarin and his best friend. Quenneville has been linked to other teams around the NHL, but while other vacancies have since been filled by interim coaches who will receive further consideration, the job is open right now in Florida and Quenneville could be tempted to take it.