Gerard Gallant (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Florida said goodbye to seven players who played 20-plus games for the Panthers in 2015-16, and coach Gerrard Gallant didn’t expect to see so many new faces in his lineup. But the changes could see Florida continue to improve after last season’s division title.
The past campaign was the most successful regular season the Florida Panthers have ever put together, so you’ll forgive coach Gerrard Gallant if he didn’t expect to see his club shaken up this summer.
After coaching Florida to an Atlantic Division title and 103-point season, Gallant’s Panthers underwent somewhat of an overhaul in the front office, and that has in part led to a number of on-ice changes for the organization, as well. Dale Tallon was moved from his post as GM and Tom Rowe took over, the deck has been shuffled in the front office and Gallant has seen a few major pieces of the 2015-16 team head elsewhere this off-season.
"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 told the Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov. “It’s different than it used to be before. I definitely was a little bit surprised, but overall we got a pretty good club. You put it on the board and you’re pretty excited.’’
All told, the Panthers will be without four players who were a big part of Florida’s success this past season. Gone are defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson via trade — to Buffalo and Vancouver, respectively — and the Panthers also said goodbye to blueliner Brian Campbell and goaltender Al Montoya, both heading elsewhere as unrestricted free agents.
It doesn’t stop there, though. While they may not have been star skaters, Garrett Wilson, Quinton Howden and Rocco Grimaldi headed for greener pastures, with Grimaldi being dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for backup goaltender Reto Berra.
Even with all the changes, though, Rowe and Co. seem to have assembled a better team, at least on-paper, than the one the Panthers iced during the 2015-16 campaign. Amidst the departures are the additions of defensemen Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk, forwards Jared McCann, Jonathan Marchessault and Colton Sceviour and goaltender James Reimer could seriously challenge Roberto Luongo for the starting gig.
Overall, that looks like an improvement in talent, but it’s understandable why Gallant expected to see most of last season’s team back come 2016-17. However, if the Panthers are looking for sustained success, changes certainly needed to happen. Even with their 103-point campaign and division title, the Panthers flamed out of the post-season in the first round against the New York Islanders and Florida ranked 20th in puck possession numbers with a 48.7 shot attempts for percent, which means there’s ample room for improvement there.
If the changes can help improve the Panthers’ puck possession, if Reimer can help sustain Florida’s stellar goaltending and if the offense is given a boost by the puck-moving ability of Yandle, Gallant could go from runner-up for the Jack Adams Award in 2015-16 to hoisting the hardware this coming campaign.
“I wanted us to be a better team and we are going to be a better team,’’ Gallant told Fialkov. “On paper I think we are, but you got to do it on the ice…Let’s put it together and see what happens. I’m not taking anything away from last year’s 103-points. We were a really good team that took big steps. We got to be better again.’’
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