Florida Panthers' head coaching search entering final stages
JUN 11, 2014 12:05p ET
Besides being in possession of this year's No. 1 overall draft pick, the Panthers will soon make their first big splash of the offseason as they prepare to name a new head coach.
After having as many as 12 coaches in the mix at one point, the Panthers will meet with six finalists in New York City this week, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
Of these six would-be coaches, perhaps the most intriguing name is former Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma.
Fired by Pittsburgh on June 6, Bylsma had a 252-117-32 record as head coach of the Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 after replacing Michel Therrien with just 25 games left in the regular season.
Winner of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's best coach in 2011, the Penguins made the playoffs in each of Bylsma's six seasons behind the bench, but only advanced to the conference final once after winning the Cup. The Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers in this year's Eastern Conference semifinals.
In addition to Bylsma, the Sun Sentinel says the Panthers will also interview former Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, Montreal Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant, former Avalanche coach Marc Crawford and Detroit Red Wings assistants Tom Renney and Bill Peters. All five have already been in contact with Panthers general manager Dale Tallon and will convene with owner Vincent Viola, vice chairman Douglas Cifu, and CEO and president Rory Babich this week.
With NHL head coaching experience an important factor in their final decision, five of the Panthers' six remaining candidates have coached at least 100 games in the NHL, and four have reached the playoffs at least once. Only Red Wings assistant Bill Peters has never coached an NHL game. Peters served as head coach of the AHL's Rockford IceHogs from 2008 to 2011.
As for the draft, Tallon has reportedly received at least one fair offer for this year's No. 1 pick, but isn't ready to jump on any proposal just yet.
According the Sun Sentinel, Tallon is leaning towards selecting Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad if the team does ultimately end up keeping this year's top pick.
Only the second player in OHL history to earn exceptional player status (the first being New York Islanders captain John Tavares), Ekblad finished the 2013-14 season with 53 points (23-30-54) in 58 games and was named the top-ranked North American defenseman in NHL Central Scouting's final pre-draft rankings.
Standing 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Ekblad already possesses the size that teams covet in an NHL defensemen and is widely considered to be the most NHL-ready player in this year's draft. But don't expect NHL-readiness to be the only deciding factor in Tallon's decision.
"A lot of them are NHL-ready," Tallon told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a better draft than we thought based on what we saw in the spring. There's a lot of good players in the first round and we should get two good players [at No. 1] and at 32. It's exciting; we'll do well."
The 2014 NHL Draft will be held June 27-28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.