The Florida Panthers are coming off their most successful regular season ever, posting 100-plus points for the first time in franchise history and winning the Cats’ second division title in two decades. So of course, they moved their GM.
OK, so Dale Tallon has been promoted to the new position of president of hockey operations, but the timing is interesting. Tom Rowe is now the GM, with advanced stat guys Eric Joyce and Steve Werier as assistant GMs. From the way the Panthers are talking, this new arrangement is far from a vote of non-confidence on Tallon and more an affirmation of the democratic nature of how a modern sports team is run now.
“Make no mistake, this is Dale’s team,” Rowe said. “He built it, he found the players. I’m here to support Dale.”
Rowe came to the Panthers from the Carolina Hurricanes organization, where Tallon got a glowing recommendation from then-Canes GM Jim Rutherford. Up until now, Rowe has been a coach, not a manager, but his boss is fine with that – Tallon himself went from broadcaster to executive once upon a time.
“I like his professionalism and his hard work,” Tallon said. “He’s old school in some ways and contemporary in others.”
Which brings us to the most compelling question surrounding the South Florida Shake-Up: How big will analytics be in the Panthers’ future? After all, that’s where Joyce and Werier made their bones. According to Rowe, it will be a factor, but not the only measurement. Live scouting, advanced stats and video scouting will work together to make evaluations and there will still be a place in the Florida dressing room for guys who bring intangibles (Shawn Thornton and Willie Mitchell being recent examples) more than they do great possession numbers.
“Chemistry in the locker room is very important,” Rowe said. “We talk about it seven days a week. That’s the way you win Stanley Cups, through leadership.”
The biggest takeaway from the announcement seems to be that Tallon doesn’t have to worry about paperwork as much anymore. That tripped him up in Chicago years ago, ultimately costing him his job when a bevy of restricted free agents didn’t get their qualifying offers in time. Unloading contract stuff on Rowe and company seems to be A-OK with Tallon, who would much rather be scouting.
“I wasn’t a big fan of doing contracts,” Tallon said. “This frees me up to do the things I think I do best. I like going to rinks and freezing my rear end off.”
Looking at Florida’s calendar, this is probably a good time to experiment with a more democratic front office. In terms of free agents, the Panthers don’t have a lot of work to do: a decision must be made on Mitchell (does he perhaps even retire?), as well as Brian Campbell, trade deadline rentals Teddy Purcell and Jiri Hudler and backup goalie Al Montoya.
The Cats are also poised to have a quiet draft weekend (though that can change fast) with just one selection in the first three rounds (23rd overall) and five picks overall. But it is interesting to see the division of labor here. The Panthers aren’t the first franchise to diversify front office roles and with the salary cap only pertaining to the on-ice product, other teams have super-sized their executive rosters in an effort to gain an advantage.
Do titles such as “GM” mean as much as they used to? It’s beginning to look as though they don’t. As long as the talent is respected and given a role that person believes they can thrive on, it may not matter what the business card says.
Of course, the best answer to these questions is always to win hockey games, something Tallon is well aware of. Yes, Florida made it into the post-season as the Atlantic’s No. 1 seed, but the wild card Islanders dusted them in the first round.
“We had a great year,” he said. “But we’re not satisfied.”