Here’s the status of the Florida Panthers these days: The owner is disappointed, the general manager is angry and the players are underachieving.
Add it up, and it meant the coach is fired.
Kevin Dineen — the only coach to win a division championship in Panthers’ history — was let go Friday morning, a move that general manager Dale Tallon called “the first of many changes” that are coming to a franchise that finished at the bottom of the NHL last season and is off to one of the worst starts in the league this year.
Peter Horachek was summoned from the team’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio to replace Dineen on an interim basis.
“If players don’t respond to this, they won’t be Panthers for very long,” Tallon said.
Dineen, who was in his third season, was told of the move Friday morning. Florida lost in Boston 4-1 on Thursday night, the team’s seventh straight loss and 10th defeat in its last 11 games.
Tallon said he’s been considering making a change “for a long time” and that the decision was not easy. Florida has only three wins in 16 games this season. Already this year, 11 teams have at least 10 wins.
The Panthers are 3-9-4, going into Saturday’s game at Ottawa.
“It’s embarrassing,” Panthers forward Shawn Matthias said after the loss in Boston on Thursday night. “I can’t remember the last time we won. There are no positives right now.”
Florida also fired assistant coaches Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay, replacing them with former players Brian Skrudland and John Madden.
Panthers owner Vinnie Viola, who bought the club in late September, wrote a letter to fans saying the change in direction was “absolutely necessary.”
“With 66 games remaining this season our expectations remain the same,” Viola wrote. “We expect a team that plays hard, that sacrifices for each other, that gives everything they have for our fans and supporters, and a team that wins hockey games. By the end of this season we expect to be competing for a place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and we expect to have taken a significant step toward achieving the goals and objectives we have set for this franchise.”
Dineen was 56-62-28 in parts of three seasons, leading the Panthers to the 2012 Southeast Division title and guiding the team into the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
Dineen comes from a storied hockey family — his father Bill Dineen played and coached in the NHL, and his brothers Gord and Peter also were NHL players. Kevin Dineen also played in the NHL, scoring 355 goals in parts of 19 seasons with the Hartford/Carolina franchise, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Columbus. The Florida job was his first as an NHL head coach.
“He’s been offered an opportunity to stay with our organization,” Tallon said.
That won’t be the case for some Florida players.
Tallon said he has been exploring trade possibilities, and that firing the coach is easier than firing 23 players.
The Panthers’ top goalscorer so far is Brad Boyes; his five goals are tied for 50th-most in the NHL so far this season. Tomas Fleischmann, the team leader in points with 11, was tied for 75th in the league scoring race entering Friday’s games. Tim Thomas, the goaltender whose signing was Florida’s biggest off-season splash, has been dealing with injuries and ranks only 33rd in goals-against average. And Florida’s five power-play goals are the league’s fewest.
“Our better players have to start playing better or we will get better players,” Tallon said.
Tallon said Dineen worked hard, but that the coaching staff’s message was not getting through to players. And he blamed those in the locker room for that being the case.
The task of fixing Florida now falls to Horachek.
“He’s a no-nonsense guy,” Tallon said.