Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has shown that he’s capable of quick and decisive action. He has yet to show that he really understands what the problems are with his NHL team.
Tallon fired Kevin Dineen and two assistant coaches on Friday, announcing that head coach of the team's AHL affiliate in San Antonio, Peter Horachek, would take over, along with a pair of new assistants:
In an interview with The Fan 590, recorded yesterday, Tallon offered us a glimpse into his mindset when he complained that the team’s best players simply weren’t getting the job done:
The other thing is too, the guys that we’re counting on, the high-salaried guys that we have that helped us get to the playoffs two years ago, are not performing. So our better players are not playing, and I don’t understand why. It’s kind of frustrating to see that they were able to do it two years ago and last year, obviously, was an aberration with the injuries and the shortened season but this season there’s no excuse. That’s what’s really frustrating.
Before we get to the forwards, let’s look at some key indicators for the Panthers as a team the last few seasons. We’ll start in 2010-11, the year before Florida's run to the playoffs:
|Season||Result||Points||Goal Diff.||5-on-5 Shots%|
|2010-11||15th in the East||72||-34||49.6|
|2011-12||3rd in the East||94||-24||49.0|
|2012-13||15th in the East*||62||-101||48.2|
|2013-14||14th in the East*||51||-128||49.5|
The point totals for both this season and the lockout shortened 2013 campaign are extrapolated over an 82-game schedule.
The most interesting piece of the chart is the column on the far right, indicating what percentage of five-on-five shots were taken by the Panthers (with 50 percent representing the break even mark). We see precious little fluctuation; the team hovers around the 49 percent mark.
In other words, the Panthers' forwards and defencemen are doing as good a job at generating shots for/against as they did both when former coach Peter DeBoer was fired and when Dineen triumphantly led Florida to the playoffs.
So why was there such a big gap in the performance of those teams? Two key reasons.
The first is that the standings gave a false impression that Florida was a better team than it was. Here’s a chart of the worst teams by goal differential to make the playoffs since 2005-06:
|T4||2008-09||New York Rangers||7||-8|
|T4||2006-07||Tampa Bay Lightning||7||-8|
|T4||2005-06||Tampa Bay Lightning||8||-8|
No team with a negative goal differential, other than Florida, started the playoffs with home-ice advantage. Florida’s team plus/minus is worse than the second- and third-worst playoff teams combined.
How did they get in despite being outscored so badly? The so-called “loser point.” Florida took home 18 points in overtime/shootout losses, a record only one other team has ever matched (the 2008-09 Lightning, also on the chart above).
The second reason is reflected in the goal differentials on our first chart. Despite keeping shots relatively steady, the Panthers have allowed a lot more goals the last two seasons. Why?
This chart shows how the Panther’s goal differential has varied with shooting and save percentage:
|Season||Goal Diff.||5-on-5 Shots%||Team SH%||Team SV%|
What do the last two seasons have in common? Wretched goaltending.
Florida had Tomas Vokoun in 2010-11, and he helped stabilize that goal differential (incidentally, just as the Panthers record was worse than their performance in 2011-12, the reverse was true in 2010-11). Jose Theodore was excellent in 2011-12, and he did the same.
Then Theodore and backup Scott Clemmensen imploded at the same time. Jacob Markstrom doubtless did his best, but it wasn't good enough. A huge save percentage decline, more than any other single factor, sank the Panthers last season.
This season, the goaltending remains wretched, but in the early going, another factor has emerged: shooting percentage. Not only are the Panthers not getting saves, but they aren't converting their shots into goals.
This is where we circle back to Tallon’s quote above. He sees the Panthers’ miracle run in 2011-12 as the team’s true talent level, not comprehending that this is much the same team and he got awfully lucky that year.
The Panthers problems are three-fold. One, they weren't very good to begin with. Two, the goaltending has been awful. Three—and this one should self-correct—they aren't converting shots into goals early.
Tallon can’t do much about the third problem, but he hasn't addressed the second and doesn't seem to realize the first even exists. Instead, he’s fired the coach. That move gives him a temporary scapegoat, but not much else.