Over the sixteen year history of the Florida Panthers there have been quite a few head coaches in charge of this team. Some memorable, some not so much. There have been coaches that were let go too soon, and there were others that were kept too long (Uncle Jack). At one point in the early part of this decade I believe that the Panthers were paying at least two former head coaches besides the current one, and were also paying Pavel Bure 10 million dollars. Talk about mismangement of funds!
So, of all the head coaches that had the pleasure of being behind the bench, who was your favorite(s)? I have picked three, and here they are:
Number One: Roger Neilson. The first head coach of the Panthers. He was probably one of the best choices that they could have made. Roger as we all will remember was known for his technical knowledge, his usually calm demeanor, and of course his infamous system of “Dump and Chase”, which worked well with the roster that he had and with the way the game was played then. In 132 games the Panthers were 53-56-23 for a .489 percentage under Roger. They were competitive, and never really outplayed. Who can forget some of the obsucre players from that team? Andrei Lomakin, Jesse Bellanger, and even Joe Cirella.
My next choice is Doug MacLean. Doug led the Panthers to their cinderella Stanley Cup Final run in the 1995-1996 season. In 187 games the Panthers were 83-71-33 with a .532 percentage. Doug was an virtual unknown at the time. He was colorful, tough when needed, yet seemed to have great control of his players. Remember guys like Johan Garpenlov, Terry Carkner, and Jason Wolley? The team also had some veteran leadership with Brian Skrudland, Scott Mellanby and goaltender John Vanbiesbrouk. The Panthers went to the playoffs two years in a row under Doug, but in 1997-1998 after a slow start, in which I guess Doug got stupid and forgot how to coach, he was fired.
My all-time favorite (I’m ready for the boos) is/was Iron Mike Keenan. In 153 games the Panthers were 45-73-35 under Mike for a .408 percentage. Not glorious numbers, but let’s look at what he had to work with: Ivan Novoseltsev, Byron Ritchie, Darren Van Impe. Of course he did have Roberto Luongo! When Mike was hired in December of 2001, I thought that Christmas had come early, but unfortunately, this team was made up of too many young players who at the time, just didn’t get it. As Mike would say, “there are too many distractions here”. Mike was still Iron Mike and the media as well as some of the players, just couldn’t handle it. Krissy Huselius seemed to just wilt. When Stephen Weiss was drafted, management tried to get Keenan to play him long before he was ready. Ultimately Keenan sent him back to the minors. Was forced to call him back up, then after Rick Dudley took over for Keenan, he sent Weiss back to the minors. Say what you want, Keenan has a great eye for talent. Keenan was also responsible for the salvation of Olli Jokineen’s career. Giving Olli more responsibility, top line minutes and making him captain. This kept Olli from leaving the NHL alltogether. Much like Keenan did for Jeremy Roenick and others in the NHL, he helped make Olli the player he is now. Keenan was also good for some really interesting press conferences! He was never bashful, that’s for sure.
So, of these three, Mike is obviously my favorite choice. It goes back to his days in Chicago when he turned around that franchise. Something that he couldn’t do here. But in my humble opinion, his hands were tied, and those are hands that you don’t want to put limitations on.
Thanks for reading!