It’s been nothing if not trying for the Florida Panthers in 2016-17. Expected to contend for a second consecutive division title following an offseason spending splurge, the Cats have instead underachieved, resulting in the removal of 2015-16 Jack Adams finalist Gerard Gallant as the team’s head coach. That step has yet to pay off, with the Panthers winning just three of 11 since the change behind the bench.
The turmoil doesn’t end with the head coaching situation. Last year the team promoted former GM Dale Tallon to the role of president of hockey operations. Though it was referred to as a “promotion,” in effect it reduced the veteran executive’s influence within the organization, according to industry sources. Tom Rowe was promoted to take over the general manager spot and other organizational moves apparently were made to highlight the greater use of analytics in the player personnel department. With Rowe replacing Gallant behind the bench, it appears as if owner Vinny Viola has gone back to Tallon, offering at least some of the decision-making authority back to the respected hockey man.
It’s been a difficult start to 2016-17 in Florida, to say the least, and while the disconnect between the front office and Gallant certainly played some role in the early-season struggles of the team, Adam Gretz of Fan Rag Sports Network identifies three other factors which are also responsible in part for Florida’s failings.
Number one on Gretz’s list is the departure of veteran puck-moving blue liner Brian Campbell. Campbell spent five seasons skating primarily on the top pair in Florida and helped mentor former top overall draft selection Aaron Ekblad. Gretz argues that the loss of Campbell has been understated and overshadowed in some circles by the losses of Erik Gudbranson and Willie Mitchell. It may be easy to point the finger at the new, analytically-driven front office for allowing Campbell to leave while doling out huge free agent bucks to Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, But the 37-year-old blue liner returned to Chicago in the offseason on a well below-market, one-year deal worth $2.25MM (with a games-played bonus included), suggesting Campbell may have had little interest in coming back to Florida.
Gretz also points out that the goaltending simply hasn’t been good enough. The team added veteran backstop James Reimer in free agency to pair with Roberto Luongo between the pipes and while the strategy was sound the results simply haven’t been good enough. Reimer has a GAA of 2.77 and a Save % of 0.904, numbers that rank outside the top-30 among qualified goalies in the league. Luongo, meanwhile, started off the campaign strong but has scuffled of late. He has allowed 18 goals in his last five games and has won just one of his last six starts.
Lastly, injuries to key players have contributed to the team’s poor start. Top-line left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, who reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career in 2015-16, has yet to play a game this season. Nick Bjugstad missed the first six weeks and has just one point in 13 games since he returned. Finnish forward Jussi Jokinen, who finished second on the team last season with 60 points, missed 11 contests earlier in the campaign and has just five points.
Needless to say, much has gone wrong for Florida this season, and no matter who has final say in the front office, they’ll be an interesting team to watch leading into the trade deadline.