The Florida Panthers have officially relieved assistant coach Mike Kitchen of his duties following a report from TSN on Tuesday.
According to national TSN reporters Frank Seravalli and Darren Dreger, Kitchen was involved in an altercation with a yet-unnamed Florida player on the bench this past season.
On Tuesday evening, the Panthers announced Kitchen would not return — along with other front office moves.
Coach Joel Quenneville, a longtime friend and former teammate of Kitchen, said earlier this month that the coaching staff would remain intact for the 2020-21 season.
Reporting with @DarrenDreger: Multiple sources say #FlaPanthers expected to soon part ways with assistant coach Mike Kitchen after an alleged physical altercation with Panthers player on the bench this season.
Kitchen opted out of RTP participation.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) September 15, 2020
“No plans on that,’’ Quenneville said when asked if there would be any changes.
“That is something we haven’t talked about with Bill yet as far as looking at that option going forward as a coach. Right now, it looks status quo.
“It was a disappointing way to end the season, it was a series that we felt we had a chance in. When you look back over the course of the year … I know Kitch, and in a lot of ways I know exactly what makes him work and I think we’ve got a great working relationship.“
Kitchen, 64, was in his second stint as a defensive coach with the Panthers after leaving Pete DeBoer’s staff in 2010 to join Quenneville in Chicago.
The incident in question, Seravalli reports, came during a game in Minnesota on Jan. 20 (not as I previously suggested may have been during the Panthers’ February loss in Las Vegas just before the trade deadline).
In the Panthers’ 5-4 win over the Wild, Saravelli reports a Florida player slammed a water bottle onto the ground in disgust and the liquid hit Kitchen standing behind him.
Kitchen kicked the player in the back — but remained on the Florida bench through that game and in he and Quenneville’s return to Chicago the following day.
On Feb. 25, Kitchen was not with the team in Arizona as the team explained he was absent for a “personal matter.”
#FlaPanthers assistant coach Mike Kitchen away from the team for a personal issue; former team captain Derek MacKenzie makes his debut behind the bench tonight. Mac has been part of coaching staff since getting hurt in last year’s opener.
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) February 25, 2020
Derek MacKenzie moved down from being Florida’s ‘eye in the sky’ coach and moved to the bench for the first time — and stayed there for much of the remainder of the regular season.
When the NHL resumed from its Covid-19 break, Kitchen did not rejoin the Panthers as he opted out citing concerns over the coronavirus.
“It was a difficult decision to say the least,” Kitchen was quoted in a 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, Quenneville said Kitchen would continue to contribute to the team’s coaching albeit remotely.
Quenneville later said Kitchen was involved in team coaching upon their return.
“We wish him the best of health as we go through this,” Quenneville said in July.
“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.”
Last summer, Kitchen explained part of the reason he had not worked in the NHL after being fired by the Blackhawks in 2017 (against Quenneville’s wishes) was because his family had been dealing with some medical concerns.
Kitchen and Quenneville have been friends a long time and were first teammates with the Colorado Rockies before both moved with the team when it became the New Jersey Devils.
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.
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.”