As the Florida Panthers introduce another new head coach, in this case former NHL defenseman Bob Boughner, I turn once more to the three things that were taught to me when first covering the sport in South Florida’s expansion season of 1993-94.
First, a good nickname will get you a long way in hockey. Boughner, pronounced BOOG-nur, was known as The Boogieman in his days as a player with Buffalo, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Calgary and, oh, just about every other team in the league.
Second, it’s a good thing when your goalie is standing on his head. This is hockey talk. It need bear no relation to reality.
Third, things happen in an almighty hurry in the NHL, especially when it comes to the hiring and firing of head coaches. This makes six of them in the last seven years for the Panthers, who are doing the near impossible by keeping pace with Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.
Way back in 2000, the Panthers were playing New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs and I was doing my best to appear somewhat knowledgable in preview coverage of the series. Hockey is not my sport. Having grown up in South Florida, it is barely my planet. Still, it was so far so good until the Devils fired their head coach Robbie Ftorek with eight games remaining in the regular season and the playoffs just ahead.
New Jersey was first in the Eastern Conference at the time, and Ftorek, though dealing with a late-season slump, had a two-year winning percentage of .641 as the Devils’ coach. Crazy? Yes, but so was the production of his replacement, Larry Robinson, who was behind the bench for a first-round sweep of the Panthers and, eventually, a win over the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final.
Does it really matter who is coaching a hockey team? Seems to me it’s more about developing momentum among a group of players who trust each other enough to fight together and kill penalties together and grow beards together. That, plus a whole lot of goaltenders standing on their heads.
The whole thing is a mystery to me, as strange as being in Nashville last month for a vacation and seeing “Welcome Hockey Fans” at the entrance to every honky-tonk on Broadway.
Good luck to Boughner finding that same kind of magic in Sunrise. It happened once before in Miami, with the Panthers reaching the Stanley Cup Final in only their third year of existence and briefly turning South Beach into the North Pole.
They, too, had a fiery rookie head coach, a guy named Doug MacLean, and he really had it going for a while. Two playoff appearances in two seasons, and then an abrupt firing just 23 games into the third.
Is this any way to run a hockey franchise?
Apparently, it’s the only way.