Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon takes losses extremely hard and after another third-period collapse in Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Bruins, he begrudgingly fired coach Kevin Dineen and his assistant coaches following a dismal 3-9-4 start.
“I've been stewing on it for a long time. It's never easy,’’ said Tallon, who gave Dineen his first NHL head-coaching job before the 2011 season in which he led the Panthers to their first Southeast Division title while snapping a record 10-season playoff drought.
“We don't make rash decisions; we make decisions for the future of our franchise based where we're at currently. With many discussions with our ownership group and our hockey ops, we came to the decision and decided this was the best course of action.
“This is the first of many changes that we're making. It's the old saying: It's easier to fire the coach than 23 players. We're on the phone constantly and we'll make changes as we go. We want people who want to be with the Panthers. If they don't want to be, we'll accommodate them.
"Right now I'm dissatisfied with the effort from most of the guys. We need to be better.’’
Tallon promoted Peter Horachek to be the interim head coach. He was hired to coach the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in San Antonio just before the June draft. Horachek was a longtime assistant and associate head coach of the Predators where he worked under current Panthers assistant GM Mike Santos.
“After a successful run with Nashville. Peter has had success at every level he's coached at. He's going to come in and hopefully turn this thing around,’’ Tallon said. “Peter is free to hire another assistant if he wants.’’
The Panthers also hired former KHL coach Tom Rowe to take Horachek's place on the Rampage bench. Associate head coach Chuck Weber remains.
Horachek’s assistants will be former Devils center John Madden and Brian Skrudland, an original Panthers and their first captain. Madden, a two-time Stanley Cup champion in New Jersey, played briefly for the Panthers in 2011-12, and had been scouting for them this year. Skrudland was the head of player development for the past three years.
They’ll take the place of Dineen’s assistants, Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay. The special teams, particularly the 30th-ranked power play, coached by Ramsay, have been putrid. Murphy’s penalty kill is ranked 22nd and the Panthers have allowed an Eastern Conference-leading 57 goals.
Madden and Skrudland, two renowned faceoff practitioners, are expected to bolster the Panthers’ 24th-ranked faceoff percentage, a notable weakness this season.
Last year’s 30th-place finish was largely attributed to the three-month lockout and a litany of injuries, but there were no such excuses for the Panthers’ seven-game losing streak and 14th place standing in the 16-team Eastern Conference. Dineen was 56-62-28 in parts of three seasons. Tallon said he told him of the decision this morning.
“He was unhappy and I don’t blame him," Tallon said. "He’s a fiery guy and he’s a fiery competitor and a very emotional coach and I don’t blame him for being emotional and upset. I didn’t expect anything less from him."
Tallon added that Dineen has been offered an opportunity to remain in the organization.
Dineen wasn’t helped by the two injuries to starting goalie Tim Thomas, who has played in just six of 16 games. Also, his top forwards such as Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim, Shawn Matthias and Scottie Upshall have combined to score five goals.
In addition, the long-projected goalie of the future, Jacob Markstrom, 23, continues to be maddeningly inconsistent, and will most likely head back to the minors when Thomas returns to the lineup against Ottawa on Saturday afternoon.
Veteran backup Scott Clemmensen is coming off two solid starts against Washington and Boston. Despite giving up four goals Thursday, the Panthers’ defense left him out to dry in the third-period collapse which led to a players-only meeting and Dineen’s ouster.
“There’s not much to say,’’ Dineen said after Thursday’s loss. “The score is probably not overly indicative of the hockey game. At the end of the day the only thing that matters is two points at the end of the night.
“It’s a matter of guys understanding that effort is one thing. At the end of the day we’re accountable for our actions and our results, and our results just aren’t good enough right now.’’
Horacek and his new assistants were expected to meet the team in Ottawa on Friday for an afternoon practice.
Tallon is fiercely loyal to his players and coaches who he acquired and hired, so he struggled with his decision to fire a borderline NHL Hall of Famer and friend.
“It's one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make,’’ Tallon said. “We're all responsible for this record. This marks the first change to start turning this franchise around and become a winning organization.
"[New owner] Vinnie Viola demands excellence at every level within the organization. He's committed to winning and putting a winning product on the ice for our fans.’’
Viola wrote a letter to Panthers’ fans and had it posted on the team website, in which he thanked Dineen, and expects to compete for a playoff spot this season.
“Our goals are simple: to win and to build a team that our fans can be proud of. After 16 games it is clear that we have not lived up to those expectations,’’ Viola wrote. “We must all be accountable for the results thus far – from ownership to coaches to players – and we felt strongly that a coaching change was necessary for this team to reach it’s potential.
“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.’’
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