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Panthers new coach Bob Boughner says team's future is bright

The Associated Press — By TIM REYNOLDS - AP Sports Writer

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Panthers went into this offseason with a very specific plan regarding what they thought they wanted for the team's next head coach.

Then they met with Bob Boughner.

And their plan changed on the spot.

Boughner was introduced Monday as the Panthers' 15th coach in 24 years — and the fifth to hold the job since 2011. It's the first time Boughner has gotten the reins of an NHL team, and he comes to Florida after spending the last two years as an assistant coach under former Panthers coach Peter DeBoer in San Jose.

"I think we have a lot of great pieces here to build something special in South Florida," Boughner said.

General manager Dale Tallon said Boughner sees the game in a modern way and is the right leader to get the Panthers back toward competing for the Stanley Cup. Tallon said the Panthers quickly decided after interviewing Boughner that he was the pick, and went forward with the rest of their lengthy search anyway — no one knowing those subsequent talks were in vain.

"Of all the interviews and of all the people, Bob Boughner impressed us like no one else," Tallon said. "All the years I've been in the business interviewing coaches, firing coaches, meeting coaches, Bob was the most prepared. His performance, his preparation, his passion knocked us out of the park. It really did. It was incredible to see."

Added Panthers President Matthew Caldwell: "He blew us away. He's the right fit for us."

DeBoer said the Sharks hated to see Boughner leave.

"This is a terrific opportunity for Bob to become a head coach in the National Hockey League and one that he deserves," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said.

Boughner is the fifth coach to be hired since the regular season ended, a list that includes the Vegas Golden Knights choosing Gerard Gallant as their first coach. Gallant was fired by the Panthers early this past season, getting replaced by then-general manager Tom Rowe. But Florida never found the same form it had a year ago on the way to the Atlantic Division title, and missed the playoffs by 14 points.

That led to the Panthers going back to what has worked in the past: Tallon squarely in charge again as general manager, and his first major move of the offseason is bringing in a 46-year-old — he shared the ice with Panthers free agent forward Jaromir Jagr both as a teammate and an opponent — to take over a team that believes it should be right back in the playoff mix next spring.

Panthers captain Derek Mackenzie said players had no doubt Tallon would make the right call.

"Given the makeup of our team and knowing the way he played, I think it's kind of the perfect combination for our team right now," Mackenzie said.

Boughner's only previous experience as a head coach came in the Ontario Hockey League with the Windsor Spitfires, over two stints spanning eight seasons. He led Windsor to a pair of Memorial Cups and he was twice selected as the OHL's coach of the year. He also spent the 2010-11 season as an NHL assistant in Columbus.

He now takes over a team with a young core led by one of Windsor's favorite natives — Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, a 21-year-old who has already been an All-Star and is one of the biggest keys for Florida's hopes over the next few seasons.

Ekblad has been close to Boughner for years, usually calling him "Bougs" or "Boogie."

"I'm probably going to have to start calling him something maybe a little more formal now," Ekblad said.

Boughner's hiring follows a formula that the Panthers have used quite often in recent years: Bring in a coach who has never been in charge of an NHL team. Of the Panthers' last six coaches, five — DeBoer, Kevin Dineen, Peter Horachek, Rowe and now Boughner — were not previously NHL coaches before getting the chance in Florida.

For now, Boughner is one of only two true first-time coaches in the NHL. Vancouver's Travis Green was hired in April, and he's never before coached in any league higher than the AHL.

"I know this league and I know the game," Boughner said. "And I'm ready for this challenge."

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed.

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