Fired Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant deserved better

January 9, 2017, 11:31 AM

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But the firing of Gerard Gallant by the Florida Panthers?on Sunday night hit a collective nerve. Even tough hockey decisions normally meet a threshold of fairness, but it doesn't feel like this one did.

The response I got to Gallant's firing from team executives and coaches around the league was a universal shaking of the head. A coach who was nominated for the Jack Adams Award last season is gone just 22 games into the 2016-17 campaign -- while his team is over .500 and has battled key injuries since the get-go.

The fact that photos surfaced of Gallant having to hail his own cab in Raleigh, North Carolina, after being told he was fired -- well, that just adds to the level of outrage for many.

I suspect that Gallant knew he was on the clock from the moment former GM Dale Tallon was "promoted" to president of hockey operations last spring. Gallant had been Tallon's coach. And now Tallon had been punted from the day-to-day hockey decision-making.

You can't fire a coach right after he has been nominated for coach of the year, can you? But the Panthers canned Gallant. For no justifiable reason.

Some of this has to do with a clash between the Panthers' analytics group and old-school guys such as Tallon and Gallant. And I'm not here to fan the flames of that debate. I think you need to keep an open mind to both analytics and how best to use that information, within the context of understanding what makes a player useful just from knowing the game. There's room for both schools of thought in hockey, and I'm mighty tired of people trying to make you pick a side.

The silver lining for Gallant is that he has two more years on his contract past this season. He has time to make his next coaching gig a good one. And he will get another opportunity, to be sure. He's too good a coach not to get another look soon. As my colleagues Craig Custance and Joe McDonald suggested, perhaps Las Vegas GM George McPhee will consider Gallant as a candidate to be the first coach of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

What will be fascinating in Florida is how people assess credit/blame for the Panthers' performance moving forward. Florida still has a great core, one that Tallon built and Gallant molded, players who love their former coach. If and when the Panthers achieve sustained success, will the narrative be about the new regime bringing the program to the next level or that the Tallon-Gallant partnership gave this team its true kick-start?

There will be probably room for both. But what is clear is that Gallant deserved better.