Greg Cote

Panthers should have gone after championship coach, but here's why they had no interest

Head coach Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals celebrates with the Stanley Cup after his team defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5. He would resign 11 days later and was a free agent available to all - until Thursday.
Head coach Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals celebrates with the Stanley Cup after his team defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5. He would resign 11 days later and was a free agent available to all - until Thursday. Getty Images

South Florida's always-too-easy-to-overlook fourth professional team had a chance to make a summer splash that would have been the talk of the NHL and instantly elevated the franchise's stature league-wide and in its own crowded home market.

Instead, Barry Trotz is the one that got away.

The Florida Panthers should have thought on a grand scale and gone hard after the coach who this month resigned from the Washington Capitals over money just 11 days after raising the Stanley Cup trophy.

It wasn't that sitting Panthers coach Bob Boughner deserves to be fired. He rallied to do OK as a first-year NHL head coach last season, finishing strong and very narrowly missing the playoffs. But the sudden, unexpected availability of Trotz meant these were not ordinary circumstances.

That's what I think, anyway.

Dale Tallon wouldn't hear it.

The Panthers' general manager cut me off (though not impolitely) as I began to ask why the Cats didn't go after Trotz.

"We love our coach. That never even crossed my mind," Tallon said from Dallas, where the two-day NHL Draft begins Friday. "Boogie's our guy and will be for a long time. I know this."

Somebody needs to be.. The Panthers have suffered from too much coaching turmoil (15 in 24 seasons) as they approach their silver season. That's instability wrought by impatience. Perfect example: In 2016 they fired very capable Gerard Gallant, who this week was named NHL Coach of the Year for leading the expansion Vegas team to the finals.

Another change now would have continued the pattern of upheaval, but in the special case of Trotz there was the potential to end it with a man who could be a long-term hire. Trotz coached Nashville for 15 seasons, making the playoffs seven of the last 10. In Washington the past four years he has had the best record (205-89-34) in the NHL.

Florida has the young nucleus of ascending talent to have enticed a top coach. If it had the money to match, there was a chance with Trotz. The Capitals were going to give him a modest raise to $1.8 million next season, low for a veteran NHL head coach, let alone a champion. Florida could have afforded to do what the fast-acting Isles did..

The coachless Islanders were the favorites to land him. But Minnesota and a handful of other teams with coaches were reportedly poised to enter the Trotz Sweepstakes. Why not Florida?

It would have been unfair to Boughner, except nobody said the business of sports was fair. The Dolphins nudged Don Shula into retirement because Jimmy Johnson was available. Boughner ain't Shula.

Trotz-to-Cats felt like perfect timing in the same way it was when the Miami Hurricanes were looking for a football coach right around the same time Georgia and Mark Richt parted ways. If something makes perfect sense, you strike fast. I wish the Cats had.

It's a busy time for Tallon and his team.

This week they traded for left wing Mike Hoffman, who had 104 goals for Ottawa the past four seasons.

The 2018-19 regular season schedule was revealed Thursday.

The NHL Draft is Friday and Saturday, with Florida's first of five picks the 15th overall.

And the team's developmental camp for draftees and young players is next week.

Adding Hoffman affords the team a bit more leeway to maybe top-draft a defenseman.

Getting Hoffman appears a good deal, on ice. Second, fourth and fifth round picks are not a lot to give up for a steady, proven scorer in his prime. But Hoffman brings the baggage of a bizarre cyberbullying mess in which his fiance was accused by the wife of the Ottawa captain of anonymous, cruel taunts on Instagram. Hoffman and his fiance deny any wrongdoing, but the controversy is why he was traded by Ottawa to San Jose, and then here.

"I don't think it's a problem," said Tallon. "He's a good player and a good person. We've done our homework. He's a scorer who fits our plan. He'll be a [30-plus goals] scorer with our centers, and make our power-play more dangerous."

Adding Hoffman's goal-getting talent was a good way to start a week that Tallon hopes he can end with a productive draft as the Panthers try to take the elusive next step.

I wish Barry Trotz was being introduced to lead the charge, but Tallon is all in with his guy. So now let's see if the status quo beats the status hire.