At the 20 game mark of this season, the Florida Panthers management group came together to evaluate the team’s progress to that point.
With a 10-9-1 record, the team sat just two points out of a playoff spot. It was at that mark that management decided a change might be in order.
“We had very high expectations for this season with Gerard Gallant as our coach and our voice in the room,” said Panthers CEO and President Matthew Caldwell on a conference call with reporters Monday, ” [The management team had] been unhappy with the inconsistency and performance, and just think that we could be playing better at this stage in the season. We decided a change was necessary to move in a different direction.”
After that 20-game mark, the Panthers gave Gallant two more games behind the bench. The team beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shootout. The next night against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Panthers blew a 2-0 lead in the second period to fall, 3-2.
The way the team lost put the proverbial nail in Gallant’s coffin. Gallant met with reporters for a post-game scrum. Afterwards, GM and now interim-head coach, Tom Rowe, took Gallant aside.
“We just said we were going to be making a coaching change,” said Rowe. “We didn’t go into a whole lot of detail. We just said the inconsistency of the team and we wanted to take the team in a different direction.”
The word “we” was used multiple times on the call by all the Panthers brass. It appears as if it’s going to ‘take a village’ to raise this hockey team.
Dale Tallon, who was replaced by Rowe as GM after moving upstairs to President of Hockey Operations, made it clear how management makes decision now versus when he was GM: “We’re doing things differently. We’re doing things by committee and I’m fine with it.”
He’s probably fine with it because he’s basically assuming his old role again. Rowe will still be the general manager; yet it seems to be in title only.
“I’m going to be totally focused on the coaching,” said Rowe. “Dale [Tallon], Steve [Werier] and Eric [Joyce] will be making the decisions on personnel, trades, anything we do in the future.” Joyce and Werier are both assistant GMs.
After the massive shakeups in the front office during the offseason, the committee got together on deciding how they wanted this team to look and play. The only problem was that they didn’t seem to include Gallant on this decision.
“There was a philosophical divide,” Rowe said. “We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, that moved the puck quickly that attacked the offensive net, pressure the puck in all three zones.”
“Gerard and I talked about it. He said he wanted to get a little more size. We decided to go in a different direction. Were we on the same page every day of the week? No … [We] had a philosophy that was different and that did weigh into the decision.”
Gallant, who coached the team out of a lull at this point last season and to an Atlantic Division title, was also critical of some of the moves made to restructure the team. This led to rumors of friction between the coach and GM.
“There was actually no friction. We disagreed, obviously,” said Rowe. “We had meetings behind closed doors you’re not always going to agree with each other, but there wasn’t any friction. As a matter of fact, I had a real good relationship with Gerard. We spent about 35-40 minutes together last night after Gerrard and [assistant coach Mike Kelly] were informed of the decision.
“So as far as the friction goes, there really wasn’t any. You have disagreements within a family, like you would anywhere, and we had disagreements, but we definitely worked together … He’s a great guy. The players loved him. But when the results aren’t there, decisions have to be made that aren’t easy.”
Another strike against Gallant was his reported lack of embracing advanced analytics as part of his coaching arsenal. The team’s moves in the front office were driven by a desire to become a more analytics-based franchise. A coach that didn’t buy fully wasn’t going to fly for very long and it went into the decision to let him go.
“It was definitely part of it,” said Rowe. “I wouldn’t say Gerard was totally against what we were doing. I know the hockey world looks at us as straight analytics type team. It’s a part of what we do … We do think it’s a tool we can use to analyze our play and analyze our opposition’s play.
“Gerard and I had a lot of conversations about it. He’s a great guy to work with. He definitely wanted to have a little more size. I understand that. I would say that would be the biggest difference we had.” Talk about a pivot in one soundbite…
(Now would be a good time to remind readers that his is Rowe’s first ever GM job in the NHL. He’d been the franchise’s AHL coach for three seasons prior to this year.)
Per Rowe, Gallant’s success last season could have been a part of his downfall: “Expectations were higher than a year before. You hit a hundred [points] and you [don’t] continue on that pace and I guess that’s probably what forced the change.”
As for the players, they really liked playing for Gallant.
In many cases where a coach gets canned, the players stop listening. This wasn’t the case in Florida, at least to the committee; all they saw was inconsistency.
“I informed [the players] of the coaching changes. Other than that I didn’t want to get into detail,” said Rowe. “Pretty emotional night. I told the guys, you know, get on the plane, get to Chicago. We’re going to have a day to regroup. I’ll meet with our leadership group [Monday] afternoon and then I’ll meet with the whole team tomorrow before our game in Chicago [on Tuesday].”
Now Rowe has to earn the trust and respect of his new charges.
“It’s something we’re definitely going to have to talk about as a group,” said Rowe. “I’ve got to lay out what our plan is; how we’re going to do things differently.
“The reason the players loved Gerard so much is he treated them with respect. He held them accountable. I’m not too much different than that.”
The plan is that Rowe will be the interim-head coach for the rest of this season. According Caldwell, the committee looked at no one else to replace Gallant but Rowe.
One last piece of news addressed last night was the viral photo sensation that was Gallant outside the arena in Raleigh. The Associate Press took pictures the just-fired coach waiting for his ride. It looked like he was ‘thrown to the curb’ by the Panthers.
This was something Rowe was quick to counter.
“I know what the optics look like, but what you didn’t see was I was out there with him,” said Rowe. “We were having a conversation in the parking lot.” (Note: no pictures we saw included Rowe.)
“I think you can appreciate the situation after the game. It was pretty hectic. I wanted to get Gerard away from the locker room and so we went outside. We had a car service coming to pick him up because we were heading to Chicago. We weren’t heading back to Florida.”
It sounds like Gallant didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to his players.
Through Darren Dreger of TSN, Gallant released the following statement on Monday:
Gerrard Gallant responds. “Would like to thank Panthers for 2 great years and giving me opportunity to be a head coach in the NHL.”…
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) November 28, 2016
Gallant continued: “really going to miss my players and staff, thanks.”
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) November 28, 2016