Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers fire Kevin Dineen, name Peter Horachek interim coach

The Panthers decided to fire coach Kevin Dineen late Thursday night and officially made the move early Friday morning.

Dineen was told of his fate in a meeting with general manager Dale Tallon at the team hotel in Ottawa. Assistant coaches Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay were also released.

Peter Horachek was informed he would replace Dineen on Thursday and flew to Ottawa on Friday morning and met with the team and ran that day’s practice. Dineen, Murphy and Ramsay did not return calls seeking comment.

“He was unhappy and I don’t blame him,” Tallon said of his meeting with Dineen. “He’s a fiery guy and a fiery competitor and an emotional coach, and I don’t blame him for being upset. I didn’t expect anything less from him. He’s a class guy, hard-working guy. It’s one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”

The Panthers have lost seven in a row, their longest skid since the final weeks of Pete DeBoer’s time behind the bench at the end of the 2010-11 season. DeBoer was fired the day after the season ended and was replaced by Dineen.

Entering Friday, the Panthers were seven points behind Montreal for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“There are a lot of challenges, for sure,” said Horachek, Florida’s 12th coach. “I have to learn the personnel, get them to play the way they need to. There is so much for me to gather in a short period of time. I haven’t had a lot of sleep, but this is an exciting time.”

Horachek, who spent a decade as an assistant at Nashville before being fired after last season, was hired in June to coach Florida’s minor-league team in San Antonio. Horachek led the Orlando Solar Bears to the IHL’s Turner Cup in 2001 and was a minor-league coach for four seasons before joining the Predators in 2003.

Tallon said Horachek will be the interim head coach, but Horachek said, “That was never said to me. We just talked about the immediate change that needed to happen. That was the talk. I never heard the word ‘interim.’ ”

Original Florida captain Brian Skrudland — who had been serving as the team’s director of player development — and former Panthers center John Madden (2011-12) will replace Murphy and Ramsay.

Madden was in his first year as a pro scout for the Panthers.

Murphy was an original member of the Panthers and was a defenseman in Florida from 1993 to ’99. He joined DeBoer’s staff in 2010.

Ramsay was in his second stint with Florida, serving as an assistant coach from 1993 to ’95 before returning after winning the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay in 2004 and serving as the final head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers.

Horachek makes his NHL head coaching debut Saturday at 2 p.m. when the Panthers take on the host Senators.

Goalie coach Robb Tallas, video coach Jason Cipolla and strength and conditioning coach Craig Slaunwhite will remain on the staff.

“Kevin, Gord and Craig worked very hard. But for some reason the message was not getting through,” Tallon said.

“We’re all responsible for this record. This marks the first change to start turning this franchise around and become a winning organization.”

Dineen, who celebrated his 50th birthday just last week, went 56-63-38 in his two-plus seasons with the Panthers. In his first year, Dineen led Florida to its first Southeast Division title in franchise history and first playoff berth in 12 years.

Florida’s second season under Dineen was marred by a lockout-shortened and injury-riddled campaign. Florida finished last in the entire league for the first time.

This year got off to a good start with wins in the season opener Oct. 3 at Dallas and in the home opener Oct. 11 against Pittsburgh. But Florida has won only one other time — and that shootout win over Minnesota on Oct.19 will go down as Dineen’s final victory as Panthers coach.

“You hate to see these guys go,” alternate captain Brian Campbell said Friday afternoon.

In one of his final statements as coach of the Panthers following Thursday’s loss in Boston, Dineen said “[Friday] will be a big decision-making day for us.”

Dineen was talking specifically about the potential return of goalie Tim Thomas. Apparently the decision to fire him had already been made.

“This is the first of many changes that we’re making,” Tallon said. “There’s the old saying, ‘It’s easier to fire the coach than 23 players.’ ... We need to be better.”

• Panthers forward Jesse Winchester was suspended three games without pay by the NHL on Friday for elbowing Boston forward Chris Kelly on Thursday night.

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