When word got out that Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville had resigned and Andrew Brunette was named interim head coach, the next topic was “who will the Panthers get to take the job?”
We floated the names of a number of veteran coaches who were available with the caveat of the Panthers potentially wanting to hire someone with experience to guide a championship-caliber team.
It’s not known whether the Panthers are thinking along those lines or not.
General manager Bill Zito has said that the Panthers are “taking their time” and won’t be rushed into any decision on how they proceed this season.
Florida’s fast start — the team is 8-0-1 — has built some serious equity when it comes to the Atlantic Division. Zito won’t be rushed because he doesn’t need to rush.
His team is doing just fine, thank you very much.
”Much appreciation to Andrew for stepping up and helping,” Zito said on ESPN before the Detroit game. “We’re methodical, we’re not going to rush out and chase anything for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. We’re going to take our time and go through the process.
“For now, Andrew Brunette is the interim coach and I can’t really tell you what the temporal scope is other than honestly, we’re worried about tonight.”
Although Brunette doesn’t have any head coaching experience, that does not mean he is inexperienced.
Not only did he play in 1,110 games but he was on two expansion teams (Nashville in 1998, Atlanta in 1999) and scored the first goal in Predators history. He was on five playoff teams over his career and has been either an assistant coach or assistant GM with Minnesota and Florida since 2015.
Brunette knows this team as well as anyone (he was one of Quenneville’s first hires in 2019) and the team has plenty of respect for him.
One thing Zito is watching is whether Brunette looks like he is in over his head.
If it appears that is the case, perhaps the team starts making some calls.
On the ESPN+ broadcast the other night, John Tortorella emphasized he has not had even a text message from the Panthers. Of course, he had to say something exactly like that. Torts has been around.
But here’s the thing: Brunette has looked right at home behind the bench. His press conferences have been concise and professional.
We know he has the knowledge. In his two days in his new job, he has certainly looked the part.
Now comes the big test.
Things are going to settle down around the Panthers this week. Brunette took over a team in a maelstrom and did better than anyone could have hoped. He settled things down. Having a familiar face take the reins during such a tumultuous time was the prudent move by Zito & Co.
We’ll see how things go.
The Panthers will spend this week at practice before playing a pair of home games against two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Washington Capitals are the first to visit Sunrise as they come to town on Thursday. On Saturday, the unbeaten Carolina Hurricanes visit for the first time since they went 6-0-2 against the Panthers last season and beat Florida out for the Central Division title by a point.
It is not believed that the Panthers are actively looking to replace Brunette. For now, the job is his.
Although he joked Friday he was going “day to day,’’ he wasn’t laughing. Interim means placeholder.
But could the interim tag be taken off? Could Brunette keep the job?
Andrew Brunette may not be the flashiest name out there, but he may be the right person at the right time to coach the Panthers.
There have been plenty of examples in sports of a coach being fired, someone from the staff promoted and finding immediate success.
A recent example came in 2019 when Mike Yeo was fired by the St. Louis Blues, Craig Berube was promoted and the team ended up winning it all.
Locally, some may remember 2001 when Butch Davis left the Miami Hurricanes for the NFL and, although there were bigger names out there, Larry Coker was promoted despite having no head coaching experience. Things worked out pretty good, at least for a while, in Coral Gables.
This Panthers team probably has more in common with those 2001 Hurricanes than the 2018-19 Blues.
St. Louis was underachieving under Yeo and really didn’t catch fire until January when rookie goalie Jordan Binnington took over and changed everything. Berube also had head coaching experience in Philadelphia.
The Panthers are already on fire.
They are the team on the rise just like those Hurricanes were when Davis left.
Those Hurricanes players rallied around Coker and it appears the same is happening in Sunrise. The Panthers, understandably, are happy with the way things are going. Brunette offers stability and continuity.
That may overshadow any experienced big names out there who may want to head south.
And, make no mistake, everyone wants to come south to coach this team.
Would bringing in someone new help or hurt?
“Yeah, he’s great,’’ Sasha Barkov said of Brunette. “He’s one of the smartest hockey guys I have ever been around. He always has those little things that not everyone sees on the ice and in practices. He has a really high Hockey IQ and it’s really good to have him on the team. We love playing in front of him.”