Florida Panthers Fire Bob Boughner and Why it didn’t Work.

A few months ago, it seemed certain that the Florida Panthers would give Bob Boughner another year behind the bench as the Panthers head coach, but as the season played out toward another year of missing the playoffs, his seat became warmer and the rumors started about the Panthers moving in another direction. This morning that new direction was confirmed as Bob Boughner was fired after two seasons as the Panthers head coach. Assistant Coach Paul McFarland was also let go.

The change had to be made. Boughner is a good man, but his two year tenure was filled with disappointment. Last season, a slow start doomed the season as the players “learned a new system.” Never-mind that there was an expansion team in Las Vegas who managed to get a bunch of players who had never played together before on the same page almost right away on the way to winning the Western Conference. The learning the system excuse was a bad one last season, but the furious finish to end the season masked that issue.

However, when the slow start reared it’s ugly head once again, there was no learning the system excuse to cover it up. Slow starts aren’t entirely the coaches fault, but at the same time, it was his job to get his team ready to play and he didn’t have the Panthers ready in either of the last two seasons. Two years in a row of having to dig out of the bottom of the NHL with this roster was not acceptable

The issues I have with Bob Boughner as the head coach go deeper then just slow starts. His strategy and in game/season adjustments left a lot to be desired. The defense was an issue all season. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out the flaws. Turnovers and catastrophic errors have plagued this team all season. They didn’t give up a ton of chances, but when they did, they were premium ones. When you don’t have elite goaltending, you are going to have a bad time.

Instead of making changes to either the system or the pairings, the Panthers rolled out the same pairings pretty much all season. Aaron Ekblad played most of the season with Keith Yandle and a little bit with Mike Matheson. Neither pairing worked on the defensive end as they gave up premium chance after premium chance.

Image courtesy of @ChartingHockey and moneypuck.com

Notice how few pairings the Panthers used this year. (The bigger the logo the more the pairing was together.) Notice how there isn’t a single paring that was in the “Good” quadrant. You’d think if a team didn’t have a definitively good defensive pairing, you’d be making changes all the time to try and find a mix that works, but Boughner didn’t do that. He kept the status quo all year and the defensive pairings continued to trade high danger chances all season hence the Yandle-Ekblad pairing living in the”Fun” bottom-right quadrant.

This doesn’t even include Mike Matheson’s season long troubles with turnovers. Matheson had a disastrous season and it seemed like nothing was ever done to try and help him out. Move him down the lineup to give him easier matchups, put him in the press box for a week to give him a chance to re-set himself. Instead, Boughner kept Matheson on the 2nd pairing all season and let him continuously turn the puck over. Matheson will be the first to say that he needs to be better, but he wasn’t put in the best position to succeed.

The question has to be asked, why weren’t changes made? Why weren’t guys like Bogdan Kiselevich and Jacob MacDonald given a real chance by Boughner? MacDonald was excellent in the pre-season and looked more then capable filling in early in the season. Yet MacDonald hasn’t been seen since the first weeks of the season and Kiselevich seemed to live in Boughners’ dog house. There is a pattern here that I will eventually get into. Jack Capuano shares a lot of the blame here because the defense is his responsibility, but ultimately, the buck stops with the head coach. While Capuano wasn’t mentioned during the firings today, his contract has expired and I would be shocked if he returns.

As for the offense, despite the Panthers being about league average in goals scored, there are still plenty of issues. When you list off names like Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Henrik Borgstrom, Evgenii Dadonov, and Frank Vatrano, do you think of a skill based team or a grit based team? The answer is pretty obvious.

The Panthers are a team built on speed and skill. They have the ability to possess the puck for long stretches of time in the offensive zone wearing down opponents before eventually creating a premium scoring chance. But the Panthers didn’t play that way at 5 on 5 at all this season. They played a perimeter game where they took shots from the outside and then crashed the net. It didn’t work well. The Panthers were one of the worst 5 on 5 teams in the NHL this year. Their 160 5 on 5 goals for is 15th best in the NHL, a thoroughly mediocre number considering how much offensive talent is on the roster. Where the numbers get really ugly is when you look into the Panthers’ scoring chances this season. They are 28th in the NHL for both scoring chances (1561) and high danger scoring chances (616). Those are absolutely pathetic numbers considering the make up of the roster.

This all comes down to strategy. For reason’s I do not understand, the Panthers focused on getting pucks on net and then crashing the net for rebounds, a strategy that did not work at all this season. If you are saying to yourself that I am wrong and that the Panthers scored plenty of “pretty” goals this season, here is the proof.

Image courtesy of www.hockeyviz.com

That big blue cold spot in the slot is the exact opposite of what the Panthers’ heat map should look like. It was infuriating to watch the Panthers take shots from the outside all season. There is no excuse.

Last year, the big mystery with Boughner’s lineup decisions was his undying loyalty to a 4th line that included Derek MacKenzie and Michael Haley despite every stat possible showing them being one of the worst lines in the NHL. This year the mystery is why Henrik Borgstrom averages 4th line minutes. You aren’t going to develop your top forward prospect by burying him on the 4th line with replacement level players. How has he not gotten an opportunity to play with some of the team’s most talented players. Remember how much of a positive impact Jaromir Jagr had on Barkov and Huberdeau? Why not see if Barkov can have the same impact on Borgstrom especially once it became obvious to everyone that the Panthers weren’t making the playoffs. It makes no sense. Again, more on this trend later.

Now to my issues with how Boughner handled the goaltenders. There isn’t much to discuss here because both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer have been so mediocre over the past two years. But here is my issue. Last year, when Luongo was out with and injury and James Reimer had to be the #1 goalie, Boughner rode Reimer into the ground. Reimer started something like 14 games in a row while #3 goaltender Harri Sateri sat on the bench waiting. It wasn’t until James Reimer was also injured that Sateri got his shot.

As you all know, Sateri was excellent and jump started the turnaround that almost resulted in a playoff berth. The question was asked why didn’t Sateri get an opportunity sooner? That question will remain unanswered.

Fast forward to this year and both Luongo and Reimer are having disastrous seasons. The goaltending is an absolute mess and new #3 goalie Michael Hutchinson wasn’t any better. Hutchinson was traded which promoted Samuel Montembeault to the #3 goalie by default. Monty was having an excellent season in the AHL while Luongo and Reimer continued to be one of the worst tandem’s in the NHL. Monty stayed in the AHL. The Philadelphia Flyers called up their young stud goalie in hopes of saving their season. (While not relevant to the Panthers, it shows that giving a young goalie a shot isn’t completely out of the question.) Monty stayed in the AHL. It took James Reimer suffering an injury and a b2b game for Monty to finally get his chance. Monty was very good in his first few starts and finished his season with an excellent performance against the Islanders.

Once again, the question has to be asked, why did it take so long to give Monty a shot? I will fully admit that I was vocal about being cautious with Monty because you don’t want to kill a goalie’s confidence trying to save a doomed season, but at the same time, a couple starts to see if he could provide the team a spark won’t really cause much long term damage.

Here is where we finally get to the trend I have been promising to discuss. Coach Boughner has a certifiable trend of not trusting his players that don’t have a lot of NHL experience. We saw it with Monty this year and Sateri last year. We saw it with Borgstrom, Kiselevich, and McDonald. We see these players get shuffled down the lineup or to the AHL while under performing veterans get consistent ice time. It is infuriating to watch. It makes no sense and is arguably Boughner’s biggest flaw. He has a roster loaded with young talent. A lot of it has little NHL experience. When your season is in trouble and the veterans that should be relied upon aren’t getting the job done, changes MUST be made. Boughner has fought those changes every step of the way. His loyalty to established veterans despite their poor play on the ice is his biggest weakness and for that reason alone, he needed to be replaced. The Panthers are an organization that is trying to build through drafting and developing young talent. He wasn’t the right guy for this organization because he wouldn’t give that young talent opportunities to succeed.

Who replaces Boughner? This one is obvious. Former Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quennville is the guy that should be the new head coach. He’s the #1 option on the market. He won’t come cheap, but in my opinion, it is a much needed investment. The time is now to invest in a coach with a proven track record. Q will immediately give the organization credibility and would give them a great recruiting tool during the upcoming make or break free agency where one of his former players, Artemi Panarin is the big prize.

Then there is this…

Transformative: Check

Experienced: Check

Stanley Cup Experience: Check Check Check

Oh, and George Richards of The Athletic has already confirmed the Panthers plan to reach out to Quennville. So it’s pretty clear that he is the prime target.

If Quennville isn’t the guy, I really don’t know where the Panthers go from there. Elliotte Friedman recently linked former Canucks and Rangers head coach Allan Vigneault to the Panthers if a change is made, but personally I don’t see him as a fit. He has the same antiquated mindset as Boughner where he values veterans and grit over skill. Other then that, I don’t know. Kind of like the upcoming free agency frenzy, it’s go big or go home for me.

In an off-season that promises to bring a lot of change, the first domino has fallen and it was the one that needed to happen most.

Stay tuned for more news this off season as it come.

Thanks for reading and as always, please give me a follow on Twitter @C3234.