The 2016-2017 NHL season may still be pretty young, but it already has its first coaching casualty. On Sunday night, the Florida Panthers fired their head coach, Gerard Gallant.
The news was shocking, for a few reasons. First, the Panthers weren’t playing that poorly. Their 11-10-1 start to the year under Gallant was a little disappointing, but not fatal or inexplicable. The team has endured more than just a few injuries to key contributors in the first quarter of the season, including to star forward Jonathan Huberdeau. It’s hard to play your best hockey when your best hockey players aren’t on the ice.
Secondly, Gallant was a Jack Adams Award (given to the coach of the year) finalist last season after leading the Panthers to a division title behind a 47-26-9 regular-season record. Yes, they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Islanders, but the surprising 103-point season was more than respectable. Gallant managed to overachieve and lay a strong foundation with the mostly young group he had last year. It should have been enough to keep him behind the bench for more than just a few months this season.
But it wasn’t, and it proves that the team is in disarray at the moment. This canning is a move that wreaks of desperation, overreaction and dysfunction.
The Panthers, a franchise that has been a target for mockery, are desperate to win. After building a talented young foundation through the draft, they began dishing out big-time free agency checks this summer in hopes that it would put them over the top and make them a Stanley Cup contender. With the Tampa Bay Lightning already established as one of the best teams in the east, it seemed like the Panthers were sick of being Florida’s less accomplished younger sibling and, thus, doing their best to keep pace in an intrastate arms race of sorts.
That kind of desperation can lead to overreaction when things don’t go exactly as planned, and that overreaction can cost a man his job. The Panthers spent the past few years gathering too much momentum for Gallant to get the boot in November of a new season.
But then again, it could be more about organizational dysfunction than anything. There have been rumblings that, despite his success behind the bench last season, Gallant and Panthers current ownership haven’t had the greatest of relationships regarding the team’s operations. Gallant was hired by former Florida general manager Dale Tallon, who was"promoted" (more like "pushed into") an executive job this offseason as the team sought a more analytical front office. There’s reason to believe Gallant’s philosophy falls more in line with Tallon’s, who may not be the most appreciated gentleman within the organization.
Tom Rowe, the former AHL coach who replaced Tallon as general manager despite having very little managerial experience, will also now replace Gallant. The team’s new general manager sliding in behind the bench certainly lends to the idea that Gallant’s relationship with those upstairs — not his coaching ability — was the issue. That’s unfortunate, because he was a good coach, and will continue to be a good coach when he gets another job in the NHL in the not-so-distant future. (The Vegas Golden Knights are on line one, Gerrard.)