When the Panthers signed Kevin Dineen last May, a lot of questions began to surface. The biggest question, why would the Panthers go with a rookie head coach when they are trying to completely rebuild a franchise? When Dineen signed up to be the head coach of the Florida Panthers, many thought that the rebuilding process will take longer. However, it turned out to be just the opposite.
Growing up hockey was a huge part in Dineen’s life. His father, Bill Dineen, played and coached in the NHL for a total of 27 years. Two of Dineen’s brothers, Gord and Peter Dineen also played in the NHL. Kevin also had to older brothers that were hockey players, Shawn and Jerry, who both played minor league hockey. With hockey basically being in his blood, it was no surprise to anyone when Dineen decided to join the family business. At the age of 17 Dineen began to play Junior “B” Hockey with the St. Michaels Buzzers. After a successful junior hockey career and college career, Dineen was drafted in the third round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by the Hartford Whalers (now Carolina Hurricanes).
His playing career lasted from 1984-2002. That is a long time in the league and just two years after retirement, Dineen returned to hockey, however, as a coach. In 2005, Dineen was named the head coach of the Portland Pirates, who at the time was the main AHL affiliate for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (now Anaheim Ducks). In his six seasons as the Pirates head coach, Dineen was successful in five of them. Excluding his second season as a coach, the team was able to make the postseason 5 times. Despite not winning a championship, Dineen was able to turn around an affiliate team, as he continuously built players potential. The season before Dineen took over, the team finished sixth in the Atlantic Division, in his first season as coach, the team finished in first place in the division.
Dineen’s time as a coach finally came on May 31st, 2011, when the Panthers decided to name him as their new head coach. Dineen took over a team that needed a lot of work. At the time, the Panthers were dealing with many players that weren’t going to return and fans that were getting anxious. About a month after he was named the head coach, free agency began. As we all know, the Panthers won the award for most aggressive team last year. The team went straight to work signing veteran goalie, Jose Theodore, experienced defender, Ed Jovanovski, and unwanted winger, Tomas Fleischmann. The Panthers also traded for now All-Star defender, Brian Campbell and speedster Kris Versteeg. With the vets in place, the team also had a lot of younger guys that were under contract. Prior to the start of the season, Dineen had to figure out what to do with youngsters, Keaton Ellerby, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, and Shawn Matthias.
Luckily for us, Dineen was smart in his role of developing these younger players. His patience with players such as Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov was phenomenal. Dineen looked as if he has been a NHL coach for years. His idea of slowly developing these players worked to perfection. Instead of rushing the development of these guys, Dineen worked with them throughout the offseason and into the season. When the season kicked off in New York, Erik Gudbranson saw very little minutes. This wasn’t for only one game. Dineen let Gudbranson get used to the style of play in the NHL. After a couple of months of playing for a limited time, Gudbranson took on a much bigger role for the team, as he provided a much needed physical presence to the game. Perhaps one of the biggest things Dineen did for Gudbranson last season was having Erik spend most of the season as Ed Jovanovski’s blue line partner. These two players are almost exactly alike. Both of them are tough players who don’t take anything from anyone. The experienced Jovanovski is definitely playing a huge role in the development of Gudbranson and it was the right call by Dineen matching these two up.
When a coach is a rookie in any league, whether its football, baseball, or basketball, the veterans on the team might be a lot less interested in what the coach has to say. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case in Florida. The vets embraced the rookie head coach and the young players on the team. This mix of youth and experience, both on the coaching side and the player’s side was a big reason why the team was so successful. It takes a special blend of experience, but also youth for success. The two sides balanced out equally, which was a great thing for Florida.
In just his first season as a head coach in the NHL, Dineen took what was one of the lowest franchises in the NHL for more than a decade and turned them into a winner. I’ll admit, it was a perfect season for Dineen as he was still learning the ins and outs of a head coach in the NHL. After a decade of dysfunction, the Panthers had finally found the right players and the right head coach. Dineen was one of the most successful coaches last season. His success last season was not based on wins or by loses; it was determined by the showing of a new direction for the team. Yes, they did make the playoffs and for any rookie head coach that is huge, but even if the team did not make the playoffs, the Panthers played with more aggression and more knowledge of the game last year, than they did for ten years. It is definitely a bonus that they made the playoffs though.
Now, heading into next season with Dineen they’re still questions. Was last season just a fluke? Can they keep up the good work in South Florida? No matter what the question is, I am 100% confident, that last season was not a fluke. With Dale Tallon as our general manager and Kevin Dineen as the head coach, this team has the potential to be successful for many years. You can easily argue the fact that Dineen should have won Coach of the Year Award last season, but he didn’t. While the award would have been a nice thing to have for Dineen, it is perfectly fine with him that he didn’t win. In only his first season as a coach, Dineen took this franchise and turned it around. The vets bought into what he was selling them and the younger players bought into what he was teaching them. Last season was just his first season as a head coach in the NHL and it was a very successful one. Imagine what next season and seasons down the road will be like.
With the team having such success last season, every single player, executive, assistant and fan is behind Kevin Dineen. While next season still might have its downs, Dineen is still learning the ropes of being a NHL head coach. It is certainly not an easy job. We Panther fans know that. With Dineen’s pure love and knowledge of the game of hockey, next season might be just as good as the last one. The nerves should now be fully gone for Dineen as he has complete control of this team. Next season should be another great one for Kevin and for the Florida Panthers.
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Topics: 1982 NHL Draft, Anaheim Ducks, Bill Dineen, Brian Campbell, Carolina Hurricanes, Dale Tallon, Dmirty Kulikov, Ed Jovanovski, Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers, Hartford Whalers, Keaton Ellerby, Kevin Dineen, Kris Versteeg, Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim, Portland Pirates, Shawn Matthias, St. Michaels Buzzers, Tomas Fleischmann