The Florida Panthers are off to their best start in franchise history with wins in their first seven games — and now they are looking for a new head coach after Joel Quenneville resigned on Thursday in the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks sexual assault scandal.
Quenneville went to New York on Thursday along with team president Matt Caldwell and general manager Bill Zito to meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was also part of the meeting.
The NHL has not said what was relayed to the Florida group, but Quenneville tendered his resignation following the meeting.
One could assume Bettman, who does not have the power to fire an employee of a team but can ban or suspend, made it clear Quenneville would not be coaching for a while.
Assistant coach Andrew Brunette will take over as the team’s interim coach — the 17th coach in the 28-year history of the franchise.
The team is looking for a permanent coach.
“After the release of the Jenner & Block investigative report on Tuesday afternoon, we have continued to diligently review the information within that report, in addition to new information that has recently become available,’’ Caldwell said in a statement.
“It should go without saying that the conduct described in that report is troubling and inexcusable. It stands in direct contrast to our values as an organization and what the Florida Panthers stand for.
“No one should ever have to endure what Kyle Beach experienced during, and long after, his time in Chicago. Quite simply, he was failed. We praise his bravery and courage in coming forward.
“Following a meeting today with Commissioner Bettman at National Hockey League offices, which was part of the league’s process to decide how to move forward, Joel made the decision to resign and the Florida Panthers accepted that resignation.”
The terms of the separation between the Panthers and Quenneville are not known.
Florida signed Quenneville to a six-year deal in 2019 that is thought to pay close to $6 million per season.
In parts of three seasons with the Panthers, Quenneville was 79-40-13.
The second-winningest coach in NHL history, Quenneville is 31 wins away from hitting 1,000 — something he likely would have done this season with Florida.
Kevin Weekes, an analyst on ESPN who was once a goalie for the Panthers, was first with the news that Quenneville was done in Florida.
Weekes also reported that former Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is a candidate for the Florida job.
Tortorella obviously worked with Zito in Columbus. He also coached current Panthers Sergei Bobrovsky, Anthony Duclair and Markus Nutivaara with the Jackets — and due to that past history with those three makes Tortorella’s potential candidacy feel a little forced.
rtorella has been the head coach of the Rangers (twice), the Lightning, Canucks and Blue Jackets.
He and Columbus parted ways after his contract expired this past season and he joined ESPN where he was heard gushing over Panthers captain Sasha Barkov on Thursday.
The coach of the Lightning’s first Cup championship team in 2004, Tortorella is 673-541-123 with 37 ties.
Other candidates for the vacancy would be former Bruins and Canadiens coach Claude Julien, former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma (who is working for Florida’s AHL team but is under contract to Seattle), Mike Babcock, Rick Tocchet, David Quinn or someone currently on the Panthers’ coaching staff.
Quenneville’s Panthers are off to their best start in franchise history after winning their seventh consecutive game on Wednesday night against the Boston Bruins at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise.
Quenneville traveled to New York for his afternoon meeting with Bettman while his team left for Friday’s game in Detroit without him.
The firing stems from the results of an extensive independent investigation by the Jenner & Block firm into an alleged sexual assault of a Chicago player by video coach Brad Aldrich during the 2010 playoffs.
A number of Chicago front office executives, including team president Stan Bowman, had already resigned or were fired by the Blackhawks.
Quenneville said in July that he had only heard about the allegations “through the media” but the investigation found that he had been pulled into a meeting with the Blackhawks’ front office to discuss the incident.
On Wednesday, just before the Panthers played the Bruins, Kyle Beach identified himself as the player who was assaulted in an interview with TSN in Canada.
Beach said that there was “no way,” Quenneville “can deny knowing” about the incident before this past summer.
On Wednesday night, Zito addressed the media in place of Quenneville citing the “deeply troubling” interview Beach made.
“As an organization we commend Kyle Beach for his courage in coming forward this evening to bring to light the pain he endured in his time in Chicago,’’ Zito read from a prepared statement, although he did appear to go off script at least once.
“The information that has become available is deeply troubling. There is no question that the events described in yesterday’s report are serious and severe.
”We are working closely with the National Hockey League to assist with the ongoing process. With respect to that, we won’t comment further until after the commissioner’s meeting with Joel.”