If you watched the Florida Panthers last season, you might have seen a team reminiscent of the 2015-2016 team that made it to the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs after advancing to the conference quarterfinals twice in 17 seasons.
The Panthers could not find their groove at the beginning — going 19-22-6.
Then after the all-star break, something clicked.
“It took us a while to create chemistry,” said Florida Panthers coach Bob Boughner, who is starting his second season at the helm. “ The guys took a little while to build that trust with me but once they did — and bought in and accepted the new culture and system — things got better.”
Boughner said early-season injuries to forward Evgenii Dadonov and goalie Roberto Luongo was a factor as well. A 25-5-3 finish helped Florida pick up its third-most points (96) in franchise history and a fourth-place finish (44-30-8) in the Atlantic division.
“Once the team bought into the system and saw the results it got, it became contagious,” Boughner said. “We set the record for home wins. We created a culture that you’re in for a tough game when you play the panthers...”
Despite a great second half, those 96 points left the Panthers one point shy of making the playoffs.
“It was great to be one of the best teams in the second half, when games are harder to win,” Boughner said. “It taught us a lesson, but also left a bad taste in our mouth.
This coach is not new to hard work and determination.
He is also not new to the Florida Panthers.
The Ontario native was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1989 NHL Draft. He signed with the Florida Panthers as a free agent in 1994, playing with their minor-league affiliates. Boughner played his first professional game with the Buffalo Sabres in 1996 and scored his first career NHL goal in February of 1997 in his 85th career game.
“The dream is to make it to be a pro hockey player,” Boughner said. “I broke into the American League and dealt with a lot of injuries early on in my career.”
After an 11-year career and playing for eight different teams, he began his coaching career.
“I took the great things from the great coaches I’ve had and rolled it into my philosophy,” Boughner said of his style. “Former players have a good grip on what players go through every day. They know to push the right buttons.”
Boughner served as the head coach of his hometown team, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Boughner, who purchased the team for $6 million in 2006, led them to two consecutive Memorial Cup Championships, two consecutive Western Conference Championships and two consecutive OHL Championships. For his efforts, he was named the OHL and Canadian Hockey League’s Coach of the Year in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
“The Windsor Spitfires was a team I grew up watching and used to idolize the players,” Boughner wrote in an email to the Miami Herald. “So pretty special when I had chance to purchase and coach [that] same team. Unbelievable to be able to bring two Championships back to my hometown. The team had never gotten that far before ... Huge sense of pride.”
The Windsor native brought unparalleled success to the Spitfires, with the two best regular-season finishes in team history — a 57-win, 115-point 2008-2009 season and 50 wins with 106 points the following season.
“We were a very young team off the bat and struggled our first year, but we continued on the path and improved each year,” Boughner said “What we did was come in and run a team like a mini-NHL environment. Made it a fun place to come everyday and stressed details, accountability, consistency, and built a culture of Family. Those were the key ingredients.”
He then served as assistant coach for the San Jose Sharks for two seasons before being named the head coach of the Panthers.
“The two things I concentrated on the most [in my first year with the Panthers] was to create a sense of stability and I worked on the culture,” Boughner said. “There was turmoil the year before.”
Boughner now resides in Fort Lauderdale with his family — his wife, Jennifer, and two of their children. His other two kids are going to college in Canada.
“South Florida is an amazing place to live and work,” the coach said. “I don’t think there’s any other market in the NHL that I’d rather be in. It’s great to reward this market with a winning team; you have die hard hockey fans down here.”
In addition to his coaching, Boughner has gotten involved in the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive — a business that the Coaches Association has worked with previously. Not only do the coaches donate suits back, but they also help with awareness — getting the message out there about the drive.
“We donate the suits back that we wear, assisting unemployed individuals get back into the workforce, Boughner said. “It’s important that we feel fortunate for the position we’re in, so giving something back is a great initiative.”
Boughner said that as a player, he got involved in a lot of different foundations and charity organizations.
“What’s unique about hockey is that most guys are from small towns, and this is part of their DNA,” the former player said. “They know they’re fortunate and whenever they get a chance to help an organization monetarily, as the face, or by speaking about it, they know it’s important that they give back.”
Looking forward to next season, Boughner and the Panthers plan to build on last year’s strong finish.
“It left them a little hungry. There were a lot of good parts, and we want to make sure we’re playing in the postseason this year. With the goal of making the playoffs, we want to hit the ground running faster this year.”
The Cats hope to be more consistent this season, using the established culture and stability created at the end of last season to “hit the ground running.” Along with this, the Panthers expect to return their offensive core, including Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgeni Dadonov.
“We’re on the way up, everyone who follows us realizes that. I think it’s going to be a fun year.”