On Monday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced assistant coach Mike Kitchen would not be joining the team for its restart due to concerns over the coronavirus.
Kitchen, 64, is in his first year back with the Panthers as an assistant under close friend and former Colorado Rockies and New Jersey Devils teammate Joel Quenneville.
“It was a difficult decision to say the least,” Kitchen was quoted as saying in Monday’s team release, “but the right decision for me and my family.”
The team ended the brief statement with: ‘The Florida Panthers fully support this decision.’
Although not on the ice with the Panthers during the NHL’s Return to Play, Quenneville said Kitchen would continue to contribute to the team’s coaching albeit remotely.
“We wish him the best of health as we go through this,” Quenneville said. “Obviously we will be in touch with Kitch. He will be a part of our staff. He is influential in the decisions we make and how we change the D, run the PK.”
Replacing Kitchen on the defensive side of the bench when play resumes, Quenneville said, would be assistant coach Andrew Brunette who had been working with the forwards.
Former team captain Derek MacKenzie will move down from the press box level where he had been the team’s ‘eye in the sky’ and work the forward side.
Geordie Kinnear has been Florida’s AHL coach in Springfield the past four seasons and has joined the Panthers’ staff in Coral Springs.
Quenneville said Kinnear will replace MacKenzie at press box level “right off the bat” and communicate with the coaching staff during games.
“We are going to be sharing a lot of responsibilities,” Quenneville said.
Kinnear has, obviously, worked closely with Florida’s younger players who had gone through Springfield over the years and has worked with veteran players at training camp.
#FlaPanthers Assistant Coach Mike Kitchen has opted out of the NHL’s Return to Play program.
“It was a difficult decision to say the least, but the right decision for me and my family.” – Kitchen.
The Florida Panthers fully support this decision.
— Florida Panthers PR (@FlaPanthersPR) July 13, 2020
Tuesday, he was behind one of the benches (Brunette was on the other) for a scrimmage.
Last summer, Kitchen explained part of the reason he had not worked in the NHL after being fired by the Blackhawks in 2017 (which led to more distrust between Quenneville and that team’s front office) was because he was dealing with some medical problems within his family.
“When I got fired by Chicago, I had a lot of interest to come back but it was my choice to take two years off because we had a family illness,’’ Kitchen told me last June without going into specifics.
“So, I had to be around family at that time. I interviewed, had a job last year and I had to say no, I can’t do it. Things are settled with family now. Then I had this opportunity, a chance to come back into the game. When you’re out of it for that period of time, well, sometimes you are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and you could be done.
“To come back and come to a young team like this with the potential we have here is was exciting for me.”
Kitchen and Quenneville obviously have a long history dating back to their playing days.
The two also worked together in St. Louis where Kitchen was hired by Quenneville only to replace him as head coach in 2004 when Quenneville was fired.
The two where reunited in Chicago after Kitchen left Pete DeBoer’s staff in Florida in 2010.
Kitchen was on two Stanley Cup championship coaching staffs with the Blackhawks.
“We have a great rapport and have always worked well together,” Quenneville said in January before the two returned to Chicago with the Panthers.
“Kitch is one of those coaches who has a great feel for the team and the players. He is technically aware, takes care of the defense and is very effective with the penalty kill.
“But more than that, he is a great person. Guys like him, love his excitement level either in practices or in meetings. He had a great experience in Florida and was thrilled to come back here. It has worked out.”
TRAINING CAMP, DAY 2
The Florida Panthers again had full participation in their second day back on the ice.
After around a 20-minute practice session on the stadium rink at the IceDen (which was closed to the media due to policies limiting movement within the complex), the team returned to their main sheet for a spirited scrimmage.
“I thought the guys did alright, they worked hard,” Quenneville said. “I liked their approach, liked their enthusiasm and thought it was an effective day.”
Erik Haula, centering a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Mike Hoffman, scored the tying goal for the White team with Noel Acciari getting the game-winner in a 3-1 victory.
“It is kind of a different circumstance in all aspects of the situation,” said Haula, who played in just seven games with the Panthers after being acquired in the Vincent Trocheck deal with Carolina at the trade deadline.
“I was here for two weeks so I am still getting to know the guys and especially the younger guys. I had never met them before. It is a little bit different so I am taking it a day at a time.”
— Quenneville said Tuesday that center Henrik Borgstrom was left off the roster because he still has not fully recovered from an undisclosed injury which happened in March while with Springfield.
“He is not fit to play, that’s where Borgie is at,” Quenneville said. “He was injured late in the year and that’s where he is at today.”
— The Panthers have 30 players in camp with 26 skaters. Goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger played the entire scrimmage while Sam Montembeault and Philipe Desrosiers worked on the stadium rink.
“I thought the goaltending has been solid, thought both goalies looked extremely patient in the net and they did their job,’’ Quenneville said.
“Bob has had a good start and Driedger is one of those guys who shows a lot of patience in the net which we liked going into the stretch. Goaltending has been very good. … They are up to speed and had a good approach coming in.”
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) July 14, 2020
— With 10 defenseman (nine counting Mark Pysyk as a fourth-line winger), Quenneville split Chase Priskie and Brady Keeper as forwards during the scrimmage.
“We are thinking about those guys strictly as defensemen but on a need and numbers basis, that’s why we moved them up,” Quenneville said. “I like them both.
“Look at Keeper, the way he improved over the course of the beginning of the year to where we are today. He did a great job of putting himself in better condition and has great patience with the puck.
“Chase, got to see him today for the first time in a scrimmage — hockey-type setting — and thought he did a nice job. He looks like a hockey player, sees and read things well. He likes the puck, wants the puck and is pretty handy with it. That’s a nice sign for a defenseman.
“We will get more of a look at him and see how he plays defense but he looks pretty good. He is very eager to learn. I like his approach and attitude.”
— Florida’s starting defensive pairings look like: Aaron Ekblad-MacKenzie Weegar; Anton Stralman-Riley Stillman; Keith Yandle-Mike Matheson.