The Florida Panthers recently fired their coach, Gerard Gallant. Many others have covered this topic, but I have been without a laptop until recently and seeing as the Panthers are the NHL team I follow the most, I felt like writing this article, even if it is a couple of days late.
Anyways, Gallant’s firing comes just one season after the team finished first place in the Atlantic Division with a 47-26-9 record, and a total of 103 points (a franchise record!). I can assure you that 13-year-old me would have been absolutely flabbergasted, as firing a coach who just led your team to a franchise best season just seems like a bad idea.
Granted, the Panthers were “struggling” to start the season, going 11-10-1 under Gallant. Struggling is in quotations because they managed to reach .500 despite missing Jonathan Huberdeau for all 22 games, Nick Bjugstad for 19 games, and Jussi Jokinen for 10 games. That’s three of the team’s top seven forwards from last year, and they all missed significant chunks of time. Obviously there’s no way to tell for sure, but I’d be willing to put money down that if Huberdeau and Bjugstad had been healthy for the whole season, Gallant would still have a job.
There are a lot of questions to be asked, and a lot of questions to be answered here. Let’s begin!
So Gallant was fired for struggling out of the gate; what’s the big deal?
As previously mentioned, there’s an argument to be made that the team wasn’t exactly struggling (at least by win-loss record; we’ll dig deeper into this later). Also, that’s not the only reason the organization gave for firing him. There was an apparent “philosophical divide” between management and Gallant, and many have taken this to mean that the 53-year-old wasn’t on board with the numbers based direction the team was headed.
So he was fired because he doesn’t like numbers?
Pretty much? Considering how much Gallant and management disagreed, his dismissal was all but guaranteed at some point. Kind of like how you know you’re going to move out of your apartment soon, because you moved in with your friends from high school and you figured you would get along with them, but one of them is a complete and utter slob with no concept of cleanliness, and the other plays death metal screamo at four in the morning, and the other constantly has his girlfriend over and all they do is fight, fight, fight, and then fight some more, and why the hell does she control the thermostat if she doesn’t even live here or pay rent? You know you’re moving out of there, and it just becomes a matter of when.
Gallant and the Panthers were going to separate at some point; it was just a matter of when.
Did he deserve to be fired?
Let’s break it down.
Gallant was definitely an old-school kind of coach who valued size and toughness maybe a bit more than he should have, so he wasn’t exactly the best option for a team looking to develop into a puck possession machine.
His lineup and roster decisions were often perplexing; last season, pairing Erik Gudbranson with WIllie Mitchell was astoundingly bad, and this year, Derek Mackenzie has somehow managed to average 12 minutes of ice time per game (around 10 of those minutes are at 5v5!!!).
His systems were fine at 5v5, and the Panthers posted decent shot attempt metrics while he was behind the bench. At the very least, they performed to their talent level; Gallant didn’t get a lot of extra stuff from his players, but he definitely didn’t squander their skills. This wasn’t a Patrick Roy situation, and it wasn’t a Mike Babcock situation. Gallant’s systems were mostly average.
This season, things were going well, as the team posted a 52.3 percent Corsi For percentage, good for eight in the league.
Even strength and special teams are two different stories though. Special teams struggled massively under Gallant. Here’s their ranks on the power play and penalty kill over the past three seasons:
Season PP PK
2014-2015 24th 24th
2015-2016 23rd 24th
2016-2017 21st 19th
Those numbers are below average. No way around it; Gallant was not good when it came to special teams. Sure, you could say that there was an assistant coach in charge of the power play or penalty kill, but at the end of the day, Gallant was the head coach; he should have had final say.
Was Gallant a good coach? No. Was he a bad coach? Not really. He was somewhere in between, more mediocre than anything else. There are definitely better options available, but there are also plenty of worse coaches who currently have jobs on NHL teams.
That’s what makes it hard to say that the Panthers were right in firing him. There’s no definitive answer to the question, and there’s a ton of gray area, but if I had to pick, I would say that yes, the firing is probably justified.
(how’s that for a hot taek!)
So what’s all the commotion about?
The Panthers didn’t go about the firing the right way, at all. The team offered him a car to take him from the rink to the airport, but Gallant opted to take a taxi instead, gracing the internet with pictures like this.
Definitely not a good look, and one that could have been avoided.
Well, return to the part where the Panthers went a franchise best 47-26-9 last year under Gallant. Traditional analysts don’t see a mediocre coach; they see a Jack Adams finalist from last season.
They also see a “Good Hockey Guy” getting unfairly ousted from his job simply because the upstart Computer Nerds want to run the show.
On the hockey lifer’s “Scale of Things That Are Unfair”, this has to be near the tippy-top.
Yep. And all of this ridiculous fixation on the “take-over of the calculators” has completely cast aside actual, relevant discussion of Gallant’s firing.
Oh man, where to begin.
First off, why in the world would you wait until this point of the season? If you knew Gallant wasn’t going to be your guy (which, again, based on the whole “philosophical divide thing”, they probably knew this for some time) why wouldn’t you try to find a way to start the season with a coach who is fully behind your vision for the team?
They could have hired Bruce Boudreau, too. The decision to wait is just perplexing.
Second, why is no one talking about Tom Rowe? If Gallant was a hockey lifer, than Rowe is definitely a hockey lifer, too. Look at the guy’s Elite Prospects page. That’s eight full seasons split between the NHL and AHL, one 30-goal season, and then 26 straight seasons fulfilling some management role within a professional hockey organization (scout, assistant coach, VP of Hockey Operations, you name it).
He seems to be lumped in with the Calculator Crew™, but unless Rowe has undergone a drastic change in ideology recently, I’m not buying the idea that Rowe is a huge analytics proponent.
I’ll believe that he’s open to using them, and that he sees the value in them, but to believe that he makes decisions based solely off of them? Come on. That’s just asinine.
Third, remember when I said Gerard Gallant played Derek Mackenzie way too often? There’s no way to know if that’s because Gallant loved him, or because the owners do.
— Doug Cifu (@Dougielarge) January 1, 2016
For real? A team full that consists of 19 copies of Derek Mackenzie and one fully healthy Roberto Luongo wouldn’t even make the playoffs, let alone “win every year”.
So was Gallant playing Mackenzie 12 minutes a night because he wanted to? Or because he wanted to make ownership happy?
Fourth, there was a whole discussion about Gallant wanting more size while the Panthers wanted more speed. I’m not quite sure if more size is the solution, but it’s clear that Gallant noticed something about his team and wanted the problem fixed.
The problem I’m alluding to is the fact that the Panther have a scoring chances for percentage below 47 percent despite their Corsi For percentage being over 52 percent. The result is an expected goals percentage below 50 percent, and it really makes you wonder; maybe Gallant noticed his team couldn’t control the slot area? Last year the Panthers had a SCF% over 50 percent; just some food for thought.
At this point, there’s no way for the Panthers to “un-fire” Gallant, though there’s not really evidence that they should. It will be interesting to see how Tom Rowe does behind the bench, and whether he not he can improve the performance of the team before all of the players return to health.