The words most frequently used to describe the situation in Florida these days? Gong show.
By now, the story of how general manager Dale Tallon, who built the Florida Panthers into a team on the brink of perennial contention but was then pushed aside last offseason as ownership opted to go with a different management group, has now been asked by ownership to take a more hands-on role after a slapstick series of personnel decisions.
The story was first reported by TSN’s Darren Dreger and has been hotly debated ever since.
Ownership has shaded the truth, with Vinnie Viola telling Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Tallon has always had final say over hockey decisions, even after being moved to head of hockey operations in favor of Tom Rowe, now the team’s head coach. That simply flies in the face of what multiple sources in the hockey community believe to be true: that Tallon had been stripped of most if not all of his decision-making powers after the original restructuring.
But whether Tallon has regained full or partial control over the hockey operations is moot because the toothpaste is out of the tube in South Florida.
Tallon would not have agreed to fire coach-of-the-year finalist Gerard Gallant had he had the same control he did a year ago. Nor is it likely he would have signed Keith Yandle, Jason Demers or James Reimer to the long-term deals inked by new front-office decision-makers in the summer.
Yandle was signed to a seven-year deal with a $6.35 million annual cap hit. He has one goal this season and has collected three assists in his past 11 games.
Demers signed a five-year deal worth $4.5 million annually. He is without a point in five games and has two points in his past 13 games.
Reimer was inked to a five-year deal worth $3.4 million annually, which might not have been bad had he showed he might be a nice transition from Luongo as time passes. But Reimer has been average at best, with an .896 save percentage.
It’s also unlikely Tallon would have OK’d the trading of high-end draft picks Erik Gudbranson or Lawson Crouse, deals that were at least in part about freeing up cap space for the aforementioned signings.
And now Tallon is supposed to make things better? Good luck to Tallon, one of the most respected team builders in the game.
Whether it’s connected or coincidence, an offseason of off-ice upheaval has been followed by regression from key young components.
Aaron Ekblad, who meshed so nicely with veteran Brian Campbell en route to being named rookie of the year two seasons ago, signed an eight-year extension in July worth $60 million. Campbell left in the summer for the Chicago Blackhawks and Ekblad has struggled with his evolution, producing just 10 points in 31 games while boasting an ugly minus-15.
Vincent Trochek has struggled along with the rest of the team as the Panthers have staggered to just two wins in the nine games they’ve played since Rowe moved from GM to head coach when Gallant was kicked to the curb.
The toothpaste isn’t just out of the tube, it’s smeared all over the sink.
This is Viola’s team. He can do whatever he wants with it. That’s how ownership works.
But in hindsight, if Viola was determined to change course away from the old-school Tallon, he should have made a clean break and fired the veteran executive and moved on.
That he didn’t has now put Tallon in an awkward position of trying to resurrect the team he restored to relevancy but had little hand in disrupting.
Meanwhile, ownership is left to ponder how it allowed such unbridled optimism be replaced with the ridicule that has marked so much of this franchise’s existence.
They might first look in the mirror for such answers.