The Florida Panthers are getting another chance to put it all together and now they have the coach to do it. After the acrimonious firing of Gerard Gallant and the uninspiring interim era of Tom Rowe, the Cats have hired Bob Boughner to lead the charge.
Boughner comes from the San Jose Sharks, where he helped a moribund penalty-kill improve season over season in his two years as an assistant coach under Peter DeBoer. Boughner’s time with the Sharks’ defense corps also coincided with a noted rise in the impact of Brent Burns, who has been a Norris Trophy finalist both of those years – the first time that has happened for the bearded wonder.
But it all started for Boughner in Windsor. That’s where he and buddy Warren Rychel took over an OHL Spitfires team in dire straits and almost instantly turned them into back-to-back Memorial Cup champions. Building a foundation around Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis, Adam Henrique and Cam Fowler, among others, Rychel handled GM duties while Boughner ruled behind the bench.
Rychel, who just won his third Memorial Cup as GM in Windsor and still maintains an ownership stake in the club (as does Boughner), naturally thinks the Panthers made a great choice.
“Bob is very organized and calculated,” he said. “He knows how to press players’ buttons and he knows when to lean on a guy. Hall, Ellis, Fowler, Henrique – they all had times when they were leaned on and they responded.”
Boughner comes into a nice situation in Florida, albeit one that needs guidance. Injuries truly wounded the Panthers’ playoff hopes one year after the squad won the Atlantic Division, but there are still some non-believers out there, given the weakness of said division this season. Luckily, he’ll have some familiarity in Florida. Star defenseman Aaron Ekblad happens to be best friends with Boughner’s son, Brady, as Ekblad hails from just outside Windsor in tiny Belle River, Ont. Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie also played under Boughner in Columbus, when Boughner was an assistant coach with the Blue Jackets.
The real excitement will come not only through Ekblad, however, but also up front with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vince Trocheck leading the charge. All three players are still on the ascent in the NHL and Boughner’s history in Windsor suggests that merit will dictate opportunity over age (as it is, the young guns have been leading Florida in ice time lately anyway, with the exception of veteran D-man Keith Yandle).
Rychel, who remembers struggling to know his place in an NHL lineup due to some uncommunicative coaches in the 1990s, believes this will be another strength for Boughner.
“There’s no mystery or cloud – the player knows exactly what they have to do,” Rychel said. “He’ll make it real easy with his communication. The players will enjoy playing for him. But when it’s time to put the hammer down, he’ll put the hammer down.”
For a team such as the Panthers, which had pretty good possession numbers but flailed in one-goal games and had the worst winning percentage in the NHL when trailing after two periods, a little tough love can’t hurt. Boughner doesn’t have to be a screamer to get his point across and that’s probably for the best in this day and age.
The Panthers appear to be a team with a lot of unlocked potential and with a fresh mind behind the bench in Boughner, perhaps we’ll see that as soon as next season.
“His work ethic,” Rychel said, “is up there with anyone’s.”