The Panthers officially announced on Monday the front office changes that broke last weekend. Dale Tallon is now President of Hockey Operations, Tom Rowe is General Manager, and Eric Joyce and Steve Werier are both Assistant General Managers.
In my piece last week, you can see some of the reservations I had. While not all of my questions have been answered, my thoughts on the situation have evolved.
First, it was kind of eerie to me just how similar the comments were from Tallon, Rowe, and Luukko. A lot of emphasis was placed on collaboration, as was a desire to allow Tallon to focus more on scouting. It was also said that the team has been operating like this for some time. This is expected, because that is the front the team wants to put out there. It’s unification on all fronts, everyone is happy, everything is fine. If there are any reservations behind the scenes, that is not going to come out. Not directly at least. Any admitted weakness in this transition would harm the public perception of this whole move.
For that reason, it is hard to ignore the reservations coming from outside the organization. Elliotte Friedman, a respected insider, went on sports radio in Calgary on Monday morning, and expressed a more dour take on the transition. He feels Dale Tallon’s influence in the front office is waning with this move, and that decisions will be made by committee, with Assistant GM Eric Joyce wielding a lot of power. Friedman knows his words carry weight, I doubt he would share that kind of sentiment if he was not given a reason to do so. It makes sense when you look at the setup presented. It’s clear decisions will be made by the new braintrust going forward and that Dale, while on top, no longer has autonomous control over hockey operations.
The truth likely lies somewhere between the relentlessly positive message from the Panthers front office and the pessimism expressed abroad. I think it is plausible that Tallon has a genuine desire to delegate responsibilities in a collaborative environment. However, I would not be surprised if ownership exerted their power to put their people in place, rather than allow Tallon to assemble a braintrust as he saw fit. For example, I have a hard time believing that a Dale Tallon controlled braintrust would not have included Mike Dixon. He worked closely with Dale and appeared to have earned his trust. The men who were named Assistant GMs, a position Dixon would have been most likely up for, are all people brought in by the current ownership group.
Ownership is well within their rights to select the people they see fit. However, there is something to be said about the history of activist owners. It is not always the wisest course of action. The decisive action by Panthers ownership should not be lauded sight unseen for that reason. We can trace the roots of this braintrust back to November at the earliest. That’s not a particularly long period of time, certainly not enough to strongly influence the success of 2015-16. The jury remains out on the wisdom of this move.
I am also put off by the general response from some around the team. It feels like there is an expectation, an entitlement to trust in this situation. No reason to distrust is not a reason to trust. Given the small sample size there is no reason to believe that Florida is saved nor doomed. Instead, the situation is in flux. It is too early to trust what is being sold, and you cannot command a fan to trust the front office. You have to earn that trust.
To that end, I will give Eric Joyce his due for his response to our very own Angie:
There is not a veiled command to trust, there is no swiping at someone expressing a valid concern. Instead, there is an apparent understanding that trust will need to be earned. I respect the sentiment.
This is not all about the people at the top though. There are others like Brian MacDonald, Cam Lawrence (@MoneyPuck_) and Josh Weissbock who all excite me for their involvement in this front office. There’s a wealth of good solid work out there from this group, such as MacDonald’s Greater Than Plus Minus blog, and the Prospect Cohort Success score developed by Lawrence and Weissbock during their time at Canucks Army. I still find it curious that MacDonald is not mentioned at all in these moves. However, I will not get too hung up on that point.
What I will get hung up on though is what happens with the draft. This will be the first draft for this braintrust, and it will be the first draft for Lawrence and Weissbock. Here we will see how harmonious things are. Elliotte Friedman shared in 30 Thoughts today that a meeting has occurred between Lawrence, Weissbock, and the Panthers scouting staff. This comes amid some reservations from scouts about whether they are about to be pushed out. However, indications are that the meeting went well, which is a good sign. The Panthers need this draft to go well, it will help set the tone for what is to come.
Friedman had the best line though: “In researching Florida, there is one inescapable conclusion. There are smart people here who see things from different perspectives. The Panthers benefit if they find a path to co-existence.”
Amen. Let’s go!