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Panthers fire Horachek, seek experienced coach

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said it's time to have an experienced coach.

Tallon made that clear Tuesday after interim coach Peter Horachek was relieved of his duties. Like Kevin Dineen, the man he replaced in November, and Dineen's predecessor Peter DeBoer, Horachek had never been an NHL coach before leading the Panthers.

"We just felt as a group that it wasn't quite the right fit with the direction we're headed in," Tallon said in a conference call. "The last few coaches have had no NHL coaching experience, and as a group we thought we needed to get somebody with probably more NHL coaching experience. That was the reason behind this.

"We're going to identify the guys that are available and get the best available candidate that has the most experience probably."

Tallon said he was planning on conducting an extensive search and was looking to have a new coach in place before the 2014 NHL Draft in late June at the latest.

Peter Laviolette, who won the Stanley Cup as coach the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and was fired early this season by the Philadelphia Flyers, is on the list of candidates Tallon will be contacting. Although he wouldn't confirm he was a candidate, Tallon said recently fired Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz is "a hell of a coach."

"We're going to interview every possible candidate and take our time and make the right decision," Tallon said. "However long it takes. If we decide to do it tomorrow, it'll be tomorrow. But I???don't foresee that happening. We're going to take our time and interview a lot of candidates."

The Panthers were 3-9-4 when Horachek replaced Dineen on Nov. 8. They went 18-15-3 in Horachek's first 36 games but stumbled to an 8-21-1 finish and ended up 29th in the NHL standings.

Despite Florida missing the playoffs 12 of the past 13 seasons, Tallon said he believes the coaching job is attractive because of the large collection of young prospects either on the roster last season or on their way, and also because owner Vinnie Viola has said he will spend close to the salary cap.

"We have a commitment from Vinnie Viola to win and to go after the top players in free agency and make this team a winning team right away," Tallon said. "That's what we're selling.

"We're not starting over. We've got a lot of young players on our team now, we'll have a few more added each year as we move forward. Now we have to surround them with the right NHL???players and pieces that we will attack in free agency, or by trading some of these assets that we have."

Horachek, who ended up with a 26-36-4 record, will not be involved in the organization moving forward. Tallon said his new coach would have an influence on the fate of assistants Brian Skrudland and John Madden, but he would recommend they be kept.

Tallon said it didn't matter to him whether he has a history with a coaching candidate.

"I want the best coach, period," Tallon said. "It's very important (to get this one right). It took me three in Chicago to get it right. It's not an easy task. It's all about getting it right. It's important, that's why we're going to take our time and really investigate and interview various candidates and do our homework and try to get the right fit."

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