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First coach opts out of NHL’s Return to Play as Mike Kitchen decides to stay home

The 68 year old veteran coach is forced to make a tough decision.

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In case you missed it yesterday, Florida Panthers assistant coach Mike Kitchen announced that he has opted out of the NHL’s Return to Play. He made the announcement via the Panthers’ PR account yesterday afternoon.

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#FlaPanthers  Assistant Coach Mike Kitchen has opted out of the NHL’s Return to Play program.
“It was a difficult decision to say the least, but the right decision for me and my family.” – Kitchen. 
The Florida Panthers fully support this decision.

Kitchen joined the Panthers last offseason season after spending years alongside Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville  in various stops around the NHL. The pair, obviously, had tremendous success together during their time with the Chicago Blackhawks. 

The 68 year old veteran coach has been behind an NHL bench since 1990 serving as an assistant for the Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Blackhawks and Panthers, with a short stint as the Blues’ head coach for parts of three seasons. Prior to coaching, Kitchen had an eight year career in the NHL as a rugged, stay at home defenseman. He played 474 games for the Colorado Rockies and New Jersey Devils franchise.

It’s worth noting that Kitchen has the full support of the Panthers’ organization regarding his decision to opt out of the team’s return to play. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects the Panthers' preparation for their best of five, "play in" series against the New York Islanders. Particularly, Quenneville will be forced to rely on former Panthers captain turned assistant coach Derek MacKenzie. Assistant coach Andrew Brunette's responsibilities lie mostly with the team's forwards and powerplay strategies, while Kitchen deals with the defense. Now, that job will presumably fall to the rookie coach MacKenzie. 

Ironically though, this is the same situation Quenneville found himself in with the Blackhawks during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons after GM Stan Bowman relieved Kitchen of his duties while retaining Quenneville on staff. Quenneville, of course, was shown the door by Bowman early in the 2018-19 season only to resurface with the Panthers this past offseason. As fate would have it, Kitchen would join Quenneville's new staff in Florida almost immediately upon the head coach's hiring.