Panthers

Florida Panthers defeat Ottawa Senators, fire assistant GM Mike Santos

 
 
Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck (67) scores a goal against Ottawa Senators goalie Robin Lehner (40) during the second period of an NHL hockey game at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on March 25, 2014.
Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck (67) scores a goal against Ottawa Senators goalie Robin Lehner (40) during the second period of an NHL hockey game at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on March 25, 2014.
Wilfredo Lee / AP

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

The Panthers front office was shook up a little Tuesday as assistant general manager Mike Santos was told he wouldn’t be returning next season.

General manager Dale Tallon said before Florida’s 3-2 shootout win over the visiting Senators that Santos, his assistant GM since 2010, would not have his contract renewed and was free to find employment elsewhere.

Santos has been general manager of Florida’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio and was instrumental in the team’s handling of contracts and bringing in a number of free agents.

“I thought about it long and hard,’’ Tallon said. “I feel we need to go in a different direction, I need a different set of eyes, another opinion, different ideas. It was a tough decision, have gone back-and-forth the past couple months.’’

With Tallon scouting last week, Santos traveled with the Panthers on their West Coast road trip.

Tallon, who lives next door to Santos off Fort Lauderdale beach, informed him of the news on Tuesday morning. Tallon said the move was made now — Santos is signed with the Panthers through June 30 — so he could potentially find work elsewhere before the NHL draft.

“He can have conversations now with other teams about future employment,’’ Tallon said.

Mike Dixon and Eric Joyce from hockey operations will take on more responsibility as will Tallon.

“We’ll have an extensive search but haven’t even looked at candidates,’’ Tallon said.

Travis Viola, son of team owner Vinnie, was named a vice president of hockey operations prior to the start of the season which made it look like Santos’ future with the team in jeopardy.

Tallon said Santos’ future with the Panthers is not tied to that of interim coach Peter Horachek. Horachek and Santos worked together with the Nashville Predators before Santos hired him to coach San Antonio over the summer.

Horachek, who took over the Panthers in November, is expected to seek a three-year deal from the Panthers once the season is complete, although Tallon and Florida’s management team could go a different direction there as well.

Tallon said a decision on Horachek’s future could come as late as May after he, Vinnie Viola and new CEO Rory Babich analyze the franchise.

TUESDAY’S GAME

•  Florida 3, Ottawa 2 (SO): The Panthers got their first shootout win since Roberto Luongo rejoined the team after Vincent Trocheck and Brandon Pirri scored in the extra session.

The Senators were trying for a rare Florida shootout sweep after beating the Lightning on Monday night. Florida snapped its three game losing streak.

Ottawa started off by scoring its first goal on its 29th shot with Florida’s porous defense allowing the Senators plenty of time to set up shop in front of Luongo (37 saves) and work the puck around before Mark Stone knocked it through.

Florida’s horrid penalty kill gave up a goal in its 10th straight game later in the second before Florida pounced and got a pair of quick goals to end the second and tie things up.

“We weathered the storm,’’ Luongo said afterward.

First up was Sean Bergenheim — who was robbed of an earlier goal via a quick whistle before ringing one off the post in the third — with 2:28 left. Moments later, Tomas Fleischmann picked off the puck and worked it up ice. Scottie Upshall and Trocheck went on the rush with the Trocheck beating Robin Lehner to make it 2-2.

• Jesse Winchester returned to the lineup after missing the past eight games. Winchester, who once played for the Sens, has scored a career-high nine goals for the Panthers this season.

• Defenseman Erik Gudbranson has missed the past nine games with a knee injury but skated with the team Tuesday and is expected to rejoin the team Thursday against Carolina.

Read more Florida Panthers stories from the Miami Herald

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