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Andrew Brunette Moved on After ‘Heartbreak’ with Florida Panthers



Nashville Predators head coach Andrew Brunette takes in the action Thursday night in Sunrise with assistant coach Derek MacKenzie. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)

SUNRISE — Andrew Brunette was devestated when the Florida Panthers opted not to bring him back after he coached them to the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history.

As Florida’s interim coach following Joel Quenneville’s sudden resignation, Brunette not only kept the Panthers afloat, but they thrived.

Brunette ended up finishing second in Coach of the Year voting.

Yet, the Panthers moved on.

“It was heartbreaking,” Brunette said on Thursday morning. “I love that group.

“But kind of like when I was a player, they don’t want you anymore, so you move on.”

Brunette was back in Sunrise Thursday for the first time as a head coach since Florida let him go.

His Nashville Predators are the NHL’s hottest team and they left town with a 3-0 win against the Panthers to extend their franchise-record point streak to 16 games (14-0-2).

Brunette led the Panthers to a 58-18-6 record in 2021-22, but Florida decided it needed a change after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in an embarrassing second-round sweep.

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The Panthers hired Paul Maurice instead, and while they reportedly offered Brunette another position within the organization, he declined and spent a year under Lindy Ruff as an associate head coach with the Devils before returning to Nashville where he played on the Preds’ first-ever team.

“With New Jersey, I thought it was a great opportunity with a good, young team,” Brunette said. “A fast team, and I kind of wanted to learn off Lindy a bit if I was going that road and I had a wonderful experience there. I grew and became a better coach from that experience.”

There is not a lot of regret on either side with how things went these days.

The Panthers made the Stanley Cup Final last year in their first season under Maurice and remain one of the best teams in the league this year at 45-20-4.

Nashville has been rolling under Brunette, as well; the Predators hold the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference at 41-25-4.

Former Florida captain and assistant coach Derek MacKenzie, who was let go in 2022, was honored by the Panthers during the game as this was his first regular-season game back.

Brunette got his ‘welcome back’ moment last year while with the Devils.

Brunette is proud of the contributions he made to the Panthers over his three seasons in South Florida, which included two years as an assistant coach on Quenneville’s staff.

Yet he is at peace with how things ended and focused on reaching new heights in his first full season as a head coach.

“I mean, you’re proud of them, obviously,” Brunette said. “The growth we had with that group, watching [Sasha Barkov] and these guys grow from when we first got there four or five years ago to where they’re at now.

“Just to be part of their progression, it’s a small part, but it’s a part, it’s kind of like your kids when you see them play. It’s never fun playing against them. We had a lot of really good times together, but things change and I’m in a different place now. But you always keep your eye on them.”

When Brunette returned to Amerant Bank Arena for the first time, a lot of those memories flashed through his head.

From the loud “We Want 10” chants fans started when his high-flying Cats flirted with double digits to Carter Verhaeghe‘s Game 6 goal against the Washington Capitals to give the Panthers their first playoff series win since 1993, a lot of them were certainly made in his year as head coach.

“It’s always different coming into a building where you have so many fond memories,” Brunette said. “It’s bittersweet in different ways.

“I’ve played and coached long enough to be in a lot of different buildings, moved to many teams, but this one sticks with you. The group we had was a special group and I enjoyed every day I was here.”



  • When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
  • TV/Streaming: ABC, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • Last Season: Rangers won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Lead 2-0) — At Florida: Panthers 4 Rangers 3 (Dec. 29). At MSG: Panthers 4, Rangers 2 (March 4); Saturday
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 60-34-8, 6 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Sunday at Philadelphia Flyers, 6 p.m.

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