Twenty-two games into a disappointing season, the Florida Panthers fired head coach Gerard Gallant last night, and while the decision is questionable enough, the way it went down is awkward as hell. For one, the team didn’t officially announce the move until about an hour ago, leaving it to media to spread the word. For another, the Panthers told Gallant just as the team was headed to the airport, leaving him to find his own damn way home.
Gallant was informed of his dismissal after the Panthers’ 3-2 loss at the Hurricanes Sunday evening, their first of a six-game road trip. With the team headed to Chicago, Gallant was forced to take his stuff off the team bus, call a taxi, and wait for his ride outside the arena in Raleigh as photographers snapped away.
The Panthers are a curious case. Last season they racked up a franchise record 103 points, and Gallant, who signed a contract extension in January, was runner-up for the Jack Adams Award for best coach. This year, they’re underachieving with an 11-10-1 start, but the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Jussi Jokinen, Nick Bjugstad, and Alex Petrovic have missed time with injury.
It’s very unclear what to make of the Panthers this season, but I can think of a handful of NHL coaches who deserved to be fired before Gallant. (Which in itself isn’t a reason not to fire him, mind you.)
Gallant is beloved by his players, but he’s clashed with management over roster moves and organizational philosophies, and this deeper dispute no doubt had more to do with his firing than the slow start. While it’s far too simplistic to lay this on the fundamental differences between an analytically minded front office and an old-school head coach, it’s not wrong to describe it that way either.
The Panthers will now have the chance to implement their philosophies top-down, as GM Tom Rowe has been named interim coach. Maybe it’ll work. (Or maybe they’ll start winning when they get healthy, and that would’ve happened under Gallant anyway.) Still, this is very curious timing for a coach firing, and the visuals could not be shittier.