Shocking news out of South Florida tonight, as multiple sources around the NHL have reported that Florida Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant has been relieved of his duties.
This comes as very unexpected news to the masses considering less than a year ago, Gallant received a two-year extension from the Panthers club. Many are saying the firing has a lot to do with the extensive front office reorganization that the Panthers have undergone over the past few months.
Back in May, director of hockey operations Mike Dixon, assistant GM Mike Santos, and assistant coach John Madden were all fired to make room for multiple front office promotions. Steve Werier, VP of legal and business, was promoted to assistant general manager along with Eric Joyce, continuing GM of the Panthers affiliate Portland Pirates. Tom Rowe was promoted from associate general manager to general manager.
Just a note, reports are now indicating that Rowe is officially the new Florida Panthers head coach as of this evening.
And the changes don’t stop there. With Tom Rowe being promoted to GM, Dale Tallon was shifted from that position to a president role. Sure, this may sound like a cushier gig, but taking Tallon out of a position that had a surefire impact on the 103-point season left a lot of hockey purists very confused.
The buck clearly stops with this new breed of front office that the Panthers have acquired. As James Mirtle from The Globe and Mail highlighted, this new Panthers team all starts with owner Vinnie Viola. Three years ago, Viola came in to a team that was hemorrhaging money, averaging an NHL-low 11,000 fans per game, and basically giving tickets away. He turned the team around with his crass, no nonsense business style and helped remind Floridians that Tampa Bay wasn’t the only hockey city in the state.
But Viola didn’t get to be the deft businessman that he is by pulling punches. Coming from a military academy —and then Wall Street— background, Viola has an unorthodox style when it comes to ownership. Along with minority partner Doug Cifu, he set out to turn a reeling franchise on its head.
And turn it on its head, they did. 103 points a year ago. A 44-year old forward that many had written off in Jaromir Jagr. An uptempo playing style that many were shocked to see from a Panthers offense. The club has, for the most part, been riding high the past couple of years. Clearly though, one great season, a season ending in an unfortunate game-7 loss in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, wasn’t good enough for Viola.
His disciplined, results-based lifestyle has obviously given him the mindset that causes him to make quick, unexpected shake-ups when things aren’t going the way they need to with his hockey team. An 11-10-1 start for these Florida Panthers wasn’t good enough for Viola, and he felt the need to do something about it.
So why not fire Gallant and, once again, promote his guy from within? Because GM/head coaches in major sports have so often had such amazing track records, right? Looking at you, Chip Kelly.
This is just truly a shock for NHL fans as Gerard Gallant was certainly not a coach who was knowingly on the chopping block. Gallant, in just his third season with the Panthers, was boasting a very solid 96-64-25 record in 185 games. Last season, he led the team to a franchise-record 103 points and an Atlantic Division title.
One might point to the less than stellar 11-10-1 start to the Panthers’ current season as an indicator for Gallant’s firing. However, the Panthers have been marred by injuries to major forwards including Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad. Clearly, the loss of top line talent has had an impact on the team in the early goings of the 2016-17 season.
You have to feel for Gallant, especially when it’s being reported that he was fired barely 20 minutes after their 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. He has apparently been seen trying to hail a cab outside of PNC Arena, as the Panthers have already left the scene and boarded their flight to Chicago.
We’ll see what happens to this Panthers team going forward, but reports are already saying that the players are extremely unhappy and taken aback by this coaching change. Gallant was a gruff, hard-nosed coach, but any casual hockey fan could see that he had the respect of his players. When he could get a 44-year old to play as hard as Jagr did, you know he was doing something right.
In the hockey world, just as in the regular world, life will go on. But the question is, will the Panthers live and florish after this coaching change? Or will they stagnate and die, reverting back to the team that they were when Vinnie Viola found them?
Whatever happens, we wish you the best, Gerrard. This Panthers season is not on you anymore, it’s on Viola.