After only 22 games this season the Florida Panthers decided to fire their head coach Gerard Gallant. Replacing him was the Panthers’ own General Manager Tom Rowe. Rowe has since coached the team through 20 games. But has this switch brought any improvements to the team? Many criticized the team’s management for their decision to fire Gallant and the team’s results have not done much to back up the decision, but has the team benefited at all from the coaching replacement?
The first thing to look at is of course the results. After all, no matter what some other stats may say all that matters in the end is if you win or lose. Gallant was 11-10-1 at the beginning of the season giving him a points percentage of 52.3% while Rowe has gone 8-6-7 and 57.5% since he was named interim coach. Neither of those records are anything to be particularly proud of. If you take into consideration the past two seasons where Gallant had coached and led the team to the playoffs, he had a points percentage of 58.3%. Even then Gallant and Rowe have similar results, although Rowe has not coached for nearly enough time to say anything for certain. Looking purely at their records, firing Gallant does not seem to have harmed the team more than keeping him would have.
A philosophical divide on the usage of advanced statistics between Gallant and upper management was the biggest reason given for the dismissal of Gallant. Rowe and others were apparently dissatisfied with how the team was performing in terms of the newer advanced stats that have become more popular with teams around the league such as puck possession and shot attempts. If an improvement in those numbers is what the Panthers were expecting by changing coaches they have achieved it. The team has gone from 19th in the league last year in unblocked shot attempts to 9th this year. Unblocked shot attempts, or Fenwick, is one of the most used advanced statistics as it correlates highly with puck possession.
But behind the numbers lies something more important to the team’s success: the impact it had on the players themselves. While many players brushed off the impact it has had, such as alternate captain Aaron Ekblad calling it “nothing that the players have to worry about,” it is hard to argue that a team with its third new coach in four seasons is unaffected by the change. Especially when it involves a respected coach like Gallant who is known as a coach liked by his players, and has the best winning percentage as a coach in the history of the Florida Panthers. Surely this change has caused damage to the confidence of the players.
As of now the Panthers sit only two points out of a playoff spot in the weak Atlantic Division. The team’s first ever back-to-back playoff appearances are still a possibility and we have seen this team perform at a better level last year under Gallant when they won the division. If the Panthers fail to claw their way into a playoff spot this year, General Manager Tom Rowe and Panthers management will be forced to shoulder a large part of the blame.