Monday, 28 November 2016

Kicked To The Curb

By now, you've probably heard the news that Gerard Gallant was relieved of his coaching duties by the Florida Panthers on Sunday night. As shock and reactions took over social media and the various mainstream media outlets, many people weighed in that this is the new direction that the Florida Panthers are taking after they focused the front office on analytics and statistical breakdowns. While there's nothing wrong with this approach, firing your former head coach on a road trip is tough. Firing him prior to his leaving the opposing team's rink and not providing a way back to the hotel? That's low.

For a guy who has a 96-65-25 record in two-plus seasons with the Panthers, it's hard to argue with results. Gallant had led the Panthers to franchise-bests of 47 wins and 103 points last season, was a runner-up for the Jack Adams Award last season, and signed a two-year extension in the summer to stay with the club. It appeared that Gallant was going to be given a chance to work with the new management team after posting some great numbers with the youthful Panthers.

The prevailing thought from most hockey people closer to the NHL than I am is that Gallant and management had been at odds for some time over the personnel and makeup of the Panthers. Gallant reportedly wasn't happy when Erik Gudbranson was traded to Vancouver that netted them Jared McCann who is currently with the AHL's Springfield Thunderbirds. He was reportedly unhappy with the Logan Shaw-Michael Sgarbossa deal. Gallant seems to have wanted a grittier, tougher team while management wanted a puck possession, speedier team.

I guess we know which team we'll be seeing in the future.

Look, I've been in situations where management is right even when they're wrong. I've done the same thing that Gallant did in forging my own path and speaking out where I disagreed with the philosophy. Anyone who has been in that situation knows, however, that management's decisions are normally accepted as being the path to take while those who stray are often left behind just as Gallant was. Some in the workforce have coined the term "Adapt or Die" as a way to accept this solution when one finds one's self in a rather difficult position.

According to Dale Tallon, this decision to make changes happened two games ago. "We took everything into consideration at our quarterly meeting," he said, "and as a group decided to go in a different direction."

Rowe was much more upfront, stating "that management had planned to evaluate Gallant based on the entire six-game road trip before making any decisions, but 'after we collapsed in the second period last night, it came to a head a lot quicker.'"

It's hard to blame Gallant for the 10-11-1 record the Panthers currently have. He's been without Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, and Jussi Jokinen. Aaron Ekblad got off to a horrendous start to his season, but is beginning to turn the corner. James Reimer flubbed a number of saves against the Maple Leafs and has yet to look entirely comfortable playing behind the Florida defence. While it is Gallant's job to correct the mistakes once they've been witnessed, it's hard to blame a coach who is missing three of his top-six forwards, a blue chip defenceman who looked lost on the ice, and a goaltender who turned glove saves into goals-against.

In the end, though, hockey is a results-based industry. Team president Matt Caldwell laid it out very clearly to reporters.
"We're very proud of the season we had last year, a great turnaround year, made the playoffs for first time in a while, and we made a number of great moves this offseason. We had very high expectations for our season with Gerard Gallant as our coach...

"But as the management team came together at the 20-game mark, we've been unhappy with the inconsistent performance and just think we should be playing better at this stage of the season. We decided the change is necessary to move in a different direction."
So be it. Gerard Gallant is out despite the team being just two points out of a playoff spot and having a better record at the same point as last season. GM Tom Rowe, who has coached in the AHL and in Russia, takes over behind the bench, Dale Tallon shifts back to the GM role after Rowe announced he will focus solely on coaching, and the Florida Panthers move on.

Gerard Gallant will still receive the next two years' worth of pay if he so desires it. My guess is that there will be a lot of suitors lining up for his to coach their teams, and I suspect he'll be back behind a bench by the All-Star Game if he chooses to be. Gallant is a smart guy, a good coach, and a great person - something every organization desires.

However, like the photo above, Gallant got stuck holding the bag in this situation. It's truly a cutthroat industry in professional coaching jobs. Let's only hope the next team has the courtesy to book him a flight back to the city they call home.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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