Interesting 24 hours for the Florida Panthers, eh?
On Wednesday night, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that former general manager Dale Tallon had been given back the reins of the daily hockey operations decisions for the Panthers. Tallon moved into a president of hockey operations role after last season’s division title run for the Panthers, with Tom Rowe taking over as general manager. Rowe is now also the interim head coach of the Panthers, having fired Gerard Gallant, the coach who led the team to that aforementioned division title, but was fired a quarter into this season.
Ah, but wait! The Panthers pushed back through Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet and their own local media, claiming that the Tallon report was simply restating the power structure that was already in place, and that nothing had changed.
[CEO Matthew] Caldwell told the Sun Sentinel on Wednesday night that Tallon has always been the “main voice” on personnel decisions but that those decisions were always made in a group. It was believed that both Tallon and Gallant were upset about the trades of defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson during the offseason.
Another team source said: “There has been absolutely no change. This is our team. We have full confidence in these guys and this team is going to be successful now and for a long time to come. Dale’s role hasn’t changed.”
Tallon and owner Vinny Viola met Wednesday, the morning after an ugly 5-1 loss in Minnesota that dropped Florida to 2-6 since Gerard Gallant was fired. Hours later, there was a report Tallon resumed control of the franchise’s day-to-day operations.
A few sources backed the information, indicating they were under the impression Tallon received increased responsibility. That included both agents and executives from other NHL teams. (Tallon himself could not be reached for comment.) However, owner Vinny Viola, reached Wednesday night, indicated nothing has changed.
“As far as I am concerned, Dale has always had final say over hockey decisions,” Viola said by telephone. “What we had done is bifurcate Dale from some things he didn’t need to worry about anymore [negotiating contracts, for example]. But, in terms of player decisions, it is his call.”
But that doesn’t square with the reporting at the time of Rowe’s hiring.
When the Panthers restructured their front office, they bumped up Tallon, promoted Rowe and gave assistant general manager duties to Eric Joyce and Steve Werier, with the intention of shifting their philosophy more towards an analytics approach. (Joyce, in particular, was given a much stronger voice.)
When Rowe was moved into the head coaching gig, George Richards of the Miami Herald wrote the following:
Although Rowe still holds the title of GM while serving as interim head coach, he said day-to-day decisions would be made by Joyce and Werier with Tallon, highly respected throughout NHL circles, having some say.
“Having some say” is a hell of a lot different than “having the final say,” which is what Viola told Friedman. And there’s evidence to the fact that Tallon does not, in fact, have the final say.
As Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel noted, there have been some personnel moves made in the last several months that didn’t seem to square with Tallon’s previous team-building. They fired his head scout. They fired other team personnel. They moved Tallon upstairs and out of the GM seat. Again, after a division championship season for a team that makes the playoffs about as often as some comets pass through our solar system.
And are we really going to swallow the notion that Dale Tallon, who handed Gallant a contract extension in January, would have the “final say” in firing him in November?
It’s entirely possible that Dreger’s information was inaccurate, even though Friedman heard something similar, and that the pushback from the Panthers that “nothing has changed” is true. In fact, we’d say the odds are good that Dreger is being used as a megaphone for those who really, really would like to see the ‘new boys network’ stats-based Panthers management — that cleared aside the ‘old boys network’ guys to the outrage of the hockey establishment — look like clown shoes.
But it’s also clear that if nothing has changed, then Tallon is still just a voice in the room rather than the voice in the room. Which makes the last 24 hours in Sunrise all the more bizarre — why claim otherwise if you’re Vinny Viola?
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