Hard to believe, but the Florida Panthers are looking at candidates to be their new head coach just seven — soon to be eight — games into their season.
And it’s not because the Panthers are on some historic losing streak, far from it.
The Panthers are, in fact, off to their best start in history and one of the best starts in the entire history of the NHL.
Yet with the shocking turn of events over the past couple of days — which saw Joel Quenneville turn in his resignation on Thursday — the Panthers are now in the market for a new coach.
Not the best time to be making such a search, but so it goes.
Many of the top coaching candidates already got jobs during the offseason although one of the top coaching free agents in 2021 — Gerard Gallant — probably wouldn’t come back to Sunrise anyway.
There are a number of experienced coaches out on the free agent market although all of them carry some degree of baggage.
The good thing is, this Florida team looks like it could run on autopilot, at least for a while.
Florida is said to be looking for a head coach who has won in the NHL in the past.
Nothing against new interim coach Andrew Brunette, but his coaching experience is limited to being an assistant: first with the Minnesota Wild and then the past three seasons here with the Panthers.
If general manager Bill Zito is looking for a coach with some wins on his resume, he doesn’t have to look far.
With the way the Panthers look right now, this job will not be a tough sell.
In fact, one potential candidate appeared to be interviewing for the gig on ESPN on Wednesday afternoon.
POTENTIAL FLORIDA PANTHERS COACHING CANDIDATES
John Tortorella: The top rumored candidate for the opening, Tortorella and Zito have a long history and the Florida GM is a fan of the hot-tempered coach who is now working for ESPN.
Tortorella is a different guy off the ice as Zito knows first-hand. Tortorella is also a winner, leading Tampa Bay to its first Cup in 2004 and lead the Rangers to the playoffs in four of his five seasons there.
Zito saw what Tortorella did for the stumbling Blue Jackets when he left his first TV gig midseason to return to the bench in 2015 as he helped turned that franchise around.
But Roberto Luongo, now a trusted member of the Panthers’ front office, probably doesn’t remember his one year with Tortorella in Vancouver very foundly.
Panthers fans can thank Tortorella for facilitating that trade which brought Luongo back to Florida.
As much as Zito likes Tortorella, he knows that some of his players in Columbus weren’t always that happy playing for him. And a couple of them — most notably Sergei Bobrovsky — are now in Florida.
Torts knows how to win, no one can argue that.
Bruce Boudreau: When Boudreau takes over a team, it usually takes off but the Panthers may not be the right fit for the 66-year-old coach.
No one would be more popular in South Florida coaching circles than Boudreau if he were to come down here. Did you know he was in Slap Shot?
On the ice, Boudreau found plenty of success early on with the Washington Capitals and then with the Anaheim Ducks. He made the playoffs in his first two years with Minnesota but was fired midway through his fourth and has been out of the coaching game since.
Boudreau’s teams are known for great regular season success but struggle in the playoffs. In 10 playoff appearances with three teams, he has only been to the conference finals once.
Claude Julien: The coach of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Bruins (which probably does not endure himself to Luongo), Julien has as much coaching experience as anyone on this list.
Julien has been the coach of the Devils, Canadiens (twice) and Bruins. Julien has 667 wins on his resume not to mention the Stanley Cup win.
The 61-year-old returned to the Canadiens after being fired by the Bruins during the 2016-17 season as Montreal ended up winning the Atlantic that season.
His final few years with the Canadiens weren’t as successful and even though Montreal went to the Cup Finals last season, he wasn’t there after being fired in February.
Dan Bylsma: The Panthers certainly know how to get ahold of Byslma as he is an assistant coach for their AHL team in Charlotte. They simply couldn’t promote him, however, since he is under contract with Seattle and is scheduled to coach its AHL team in Palm Springs next year.
Bylsma, who has interviewed with the Panthers twice before, has championship experience as his Penguins won the Cup in 2009 during his first season behind the bench in Pittsburgh. The Penguins never made it back to the Finals under Bylsma and he was fired in 2014.
He was a finalist for the Florida vacancy which went to Gallant that summer. Bylsma spent two seasons as coach of the Buffalo Sabres before being fired and then spent time as an assistant with the Red Wings.
Mike Babcock: A two-time Cup champion with the Red Wings, Babcock was the highest-paid NHL coach in history when he left Detroit as a free agent and signed with the Maple Leafs.
He ended up being fired there after a six-game losing streak coincided with a lot of drama going on in Toronto as Babcock was accused of fostering a toxic work environment both there and in Detroit.
He is currently working on television and is the volunteer head coach at the University of Saskatchewan.
David Quinn: The New York Rangers hired Quinn out of Boston University in 2018 and in three seasons, the Rangers did not make the playoffs. He was fired last year and replaced by Gallant.
Quinn has been doing some work with USA Hockey and has been spotted at practices in both Sunrise and Tampa Bay.
Rick Tocchet: Now doing studio work for TNT, Tocchet was the coach in Tampa Bay and most recently in Arizona where he had a little success.
Tocchet has a gambling conviction in his past but was cleared by Gary Bettman. As a former player, he relates well to players and could be seen as a dark horse candidate.