Last week, we passed along this interesting-but-seemingly-innocuous tidbit out of Florida, in which Panthers coach Gerard Gallant — sorry, Panthers ex-coach Gerard Gallant — admitted concern about his club’s lack of toughness.
More: Panthers fire Gallant
The gist? Given the departures of Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov, the injury to Alex Petrovic and Shawn Thornton‘s diminishing game (he’s been a routine healthy scratch), Gallant didn’t think the Panthers had enough snarl.
And last Tuesday, they didn’t have anyone to respond when the Flyers took physical liberties with them.
The Panthers had no suitable enforcer to respond Tuesday when Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds got feisty or when Radko Gudas flattened Vincent Trocheck with a headshot. Gallant said he regretted not having Thornton available.
“You always think that when things happen to your team. It’s frustrating to see that happen, especially in your own building,” Gallant said. “The Simmonds situation and then the Gudas hit on Trocheck, you’d like a response on that.
“But when you don’t have personnel to put out there for that it shows.”
Perhaps we should’ve made more of that last line.
Especially the “personnel” part.
The Panthers, as has been well-documented, made a drastic organizational overhaul this summer. Changes were everywhere — in the front office, behind the bench (remember, assistant coach John Madden was turfed) and most notably on the ice.
The Panthers brought in Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, James Reimer, Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault. They traded Gudbranson and a budding young power forward in Lawson Crouse. They tinkered significantly with a squad that won a franchise-record 47 games last year, and made the playoffs for just the second time in 15 seasons.
Gallant played a big role in that success, but so too did physical presences like Gudbranson, Kulikov and Willie Mitchell (who played half a season before concussion issues sidelined him). Those three are gone, along with less significant pieces like Quinton Howden, a grinding, energetic forward who finished sixth on the team in hits last year, with 116, despite playing in only 58 games.
Gudbranson, though, sounds like he’s the embodiment of Florida’s missing toughness.
Gallant would never admit it (at least not before Sunday), but he hated seeing Erik Gudbranson traded. In a cap world, someone had to go. Losing him and Willie Mitchell changed the complexion of the blue line.
Gallant valued Gudbranson’s game, how hard he could make it on opposing forwards. But Florida’s front office values a different kind of defender, and with one season remaining until his free agency, they weren’t going to ante up for Gudbranson’s skillset.
So Gallant’s questioning of the club’s direction probably began in May, when Gubranson was flipped to Vancouver.
It hasn’t stopped since.
In July, Gallant — just months removed from being named a Jack Adams finalist for coach of the year — said he was “definitely a little bit surprised” at all changes made.
“You’d like to have your team back as a coach but at the same time there’s salary-cap issues that come into play,’’ Gallant said, per the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “It’s different than it used to be before.”
In the end, this might’ve been his biggest undoing. It wasn’t that Florida was off to an average start, or that players tuned him out.
It was that Florida had a vision that Gallant didn’t agree with, and wasn’t going to let him openly challenge it anymore.
For further confirmation, just consider what owner Vinnie Viola said — and how he said it — in announcing Gallant’s dismissal.
“In seeking to earn a second consecutive playoff berth and bring a Stanley Cup to South Florida,” Viola said, “we believe that new leadership is required immediately.”