Dineen firing first of many moves in Florida
November, 8, 2013
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
This won’t be the last time this season the Florida Panthers make news.
"This is just the beginning of our changes that need to be made. If our players don’t respond to this, then they won't be Panthers for very long," fiery GM Dale Tallon told the media on a call Friday after dismissing most of his coaching staff, including head coach Kevin Dineen.
Peter Horachek takes over as interim head coach, but the players whom the longtime Predators assistant will have at his disposal in Florida could be in flux, to say the least.
We told you a few weeks back in a Rumblings blog that Tallon was looking to shake up his roster, but despite working the phones feverishly over the past few weeks, he's been unable to make a deal, needing to find a trade partner to comply this early in the season.
"We're trying extremely hard every day, numerous phone calls with numerous teams," said Tallon. "Hopefully something will hit in the near future."
No point listing which Panthers are available; it will take less time to tell you that outside of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and a few other youngsters, pretty much any other player is for sale, especially veterans. Other changes began almost immediately, the Panthers on Friday placing veteran blue-liner Ryan Whitney on waivers.
"It's easier to fire a coach than to fire 23 players, but we're on the phone constantly and we're going to make changes as we go," said Tallon. "We want people that want to be Panthers, and if they don't want to be, we'll accommodate them."
It isn't clear how many of those veterans will generate much interest, though. The name that has garnered the most traction is 23-year-old blueliner Dmitry Kulikov.
Meanwhile, you wonder why there's so much angst from Panthers management. After all, look around at any preseason prediction, and most of us had the Panthers near the basement as the long-term, youth-focused planning continued in South Florida, and most of us were fine with that. Building around Huberdeau and Barkov and the other prospects coming up the pipeline from the last few drafts seems like just the right thing to do.
So why all the fuss because the team has started 3-9-4? That's pretty much what a lot of us had expected.
And there's where the tricky part lies for Tallon and the Panthers. After making the playoffs just once in 12 seasons, you can't just sell the future once again in a soft market that's rarely seen winning.
Tallon has the delicate juggling act of building a long-term winner while also caring about the wins and losses right now. It's similar to what GM Jim Nill has on his hands in Dallas, placating both the short-term and long-term objectives because of a need to sell tickets now while building for the future.
It's awfully difficult to do both.
"We need to do everything we can to get into the playoff hunt ... without jeopardizing our future as well," Tallon said in confirming his difficult dual challenge.
The importance of developing Huberdeau and Barkov and others into future leaders and stars is also key here, as is the culture these kids grow up in.
"Oh, yeah, that's a big part of it. I want them to be in a winning environment and be led by veteran players that really have strong leadership ability and have great work ethic," said Tallon. "I'm not seeing that right now from our so-called better players."
In Horachek, Tallon installs a coach who has had success in the past in Nashville helping mold young players.
"Peter is a good coach; I'm really happy for him," Predators head coach Barry Trotz, who had Horachek in Nashville for nine years, told ESPN.com Friday. "Peter has a good head for the game, very detailed, a strong conviction in his beliefs in how you have to play; he's a believer in culture and team structure, he'll bring a lot of order there. He's very prepared. He'll take the time to teach. Obviously, you don't like seeing anyone moved in this business. I know those coaches [Dineen, Craig Ramsay, Gord Murphy], but it's part of the business and I'm glad Peter got an opportunity. He's going to do a good job there."
Horachek gets promoted with the interim tag.
"He's an interim coach. Obviously, if he does well, then he'll stay; we'll evaluate after the season," Tallon said.
Finally, let's not forget another important element in all this: There's new ownership in South Florida. Say what you want, but in any field of work, when there's a new boss in the office, you want to show him you're doing something. Tallon indeed noted that the decision to fire the coaching staff was made in consultation with new owner Vinnie Viola.
"Vinnie Viola demands excellence at every level in the organization and is committed to winning and putting a winning product on the ice for our fans," Tallon said during his address at the start of the media call.
In Tallon's defense, he's had his hands tied for a few years by the limited finances of the previous ownership. Now, with Viola in charge, Tallon gets to finally build this team the way he's always wanted to. And he's certainly going to give it his best shot.