We’re a little over three weeks removed from the Florida Panthers fall from grace at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Panthers still haven’t resolved their coaching status. After the disgraced resignation of Joel Quenneville, interim head coach Andrew Brunette led the team to put up an impressive 51-18-6 during his run and helped guide the team to their first playoff series win since 1996. However, the playoffs were ugly for the Panthers. Brunette was thoroughly outmaneuvered tactic-wise by Peter Laviolette and Jon Cooper and only made it past the Capitals thanks to the post and Carter Verhaeghe. Although the Panthers playoff performance was awful, Brunette still managed to do something only one other Panthers HC has ever done in franchise history, win a playoff series. The Panthers were horrific in the playoffs, and their dominant offense shriveled against Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Panthers powerplay, run by Brunette, was historically awful, putting together one of the league’s worst postseason performances by a powerplay in history. Jonathan Huberdeau’s failure to adapt to the simple game and trying to do too much, Aaron Ekblad not at 100% and Sasha Barkov’s timidness created such a poor powerplay, even national broadcasters were apoplectic.
Naturally, a Panthers team in win now mode would explore their options, especially with a bountiful coaching free agency class. Names like Barry Trotz and Bruce Cassidy (who would go to Vegas) and potentially a return of Joel Quenneville (which seems unlikely to happen this season as indicated by Gary Bettman) have the Panthers looking into other options. This is fine, but only for a short time. Brunette has shown he has the potential to be a great coach. His employment of Quenneville’s constant line shifting tactics were phenomenal and his powerplay was normally very good. He’s a raw talent, and needs experience, but is he the right fit for a team looking to win now? One would think Brunette may be an ideal candidate for Steve Yzerman’s rebuild in Detroit, which is mirroring the same thing he did in Tampa, as Brunette can develop on the job there on a rebuilding squad, that when it is ready to take off, so will he. However, Brunette is loved by his players in Florida and his record speaks for itself, regardless of postseason struggles. Unless Brunette has angered some of his players (potentially Jonathan Huberdeau), the Panthers should bring him back.
The Panthers are clearly enamored with Barry Trotz. Trotz led the Capitals to a Stanley Cup and took the Islanders to back to back conference finals. Trotz is a successful coach, who is attracting a bidding war for his services. Trotz wants to take his time, which he has every right to do so, but the Panthers need a candidate with urgency. Brunette has publicly expressed interest in taking over the HC job permanently, and it is a classless move to let him hang in the wind with his fate undetermined. It’s like if a girl tells you that although she likes you, she wants to keep exploring her options, and if he she doesn’t find what she wants, she’ll go with you. No one wants to feel like that. Sure you get the girl if none of the other options work out, but it’s a blow to your self-confidence and self-esteem. Basically, life lesson is if a girl does that, do not wait for her. Back to the subject. Why would Brunette, who although raw in coaching experience, was still able to put together a successful campaign, want to come back to the team, if they are treating him like an afterthought, especially if he may be an attractive option for another club. Brunette still has a year on his contract, so the answer would be he is contractually obligated to, but you don’t want a guy just showing up because he has to, especially if he feels spurned by his employer.
Brunette’s popularity with the locker room and his treatment by management may also potentially lead to dissatisfaction in the locker room and the alienation of the locker room. Sports is a system that requires all parts working in balance to thrive. The Panthers seem to be going all in on Trotz, which is foolish, because he isn’t seemingly willing to go all in on them. Although it is understandable for the man to want to take his time, the Panthers should have the leverage here not Trotz. Trotz is the one who doesn’t have a job right now, the Panthers are contenders ready to win, which is something Trotz wants. Vinnie Viola isn’t shy about throwing money at management to get the best, and money wouldn’t be an issue. Not to mention Florida’s natural advantages- no state income tax, beaches, warm winters, lack of pressure, etc. If Trotz is dragging his feet on accepting the Panthers proposal, and the Panthers are keeping Brunette as a backup option, the Panthers should pull out of the Trotz sweepstakes, and just roll with Bruno. Every day that goes by will create a bigger gap between Brunette/possibly the locker room and management. Time is ticking. The search has already been a catastrophic failure, with Brunette being undermined and Bruce Cassidy being snatched by Vegas. If Trotz doesn’t want to come when he finally makes his decision, which is likely a few weeks away, the Panthers are stuck. There are other job openings. The Panthers no longer are the ones who have to beg for big names to come to them, they are the ones who big names should be begging to come to. The way I see it, is if Trotz doesn’t take the Florida job quickly and sits on it, he isn’t interested and isn’t worth pursuing, especially if there are other coaches out there who would love to coach this team, especially if your backup option is already the interim HC of your club that is popular with the locker room, just go with the backup option. Every day that goes by creates a bigger and bigger mess. A decision is needed ASAP or the Panthers risk falling back into dysfunction.