For an organization with such strong ties to the military, the Florida Panthers spent the past year or so answering questions as to who, exactly, was in charge of their hockey team.
“You would think we’d get chain of command straight,” team president Matthew Caldwell, a former U.S. Army captain and West Point graduate said.
Well, on Monday, the Panthers tried to make it as clear as they could: Dale Tallon is running things again.
Tallon, Florida’s general manager from 2010 until being moved upstairs in a reshuffling last spring, was moved back into his old position on Monday.
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Tom Rowe, who replaced Tallon as GM officially last May, was removed as interim head coach and is giving up his front office title.
Rowe will stay on as an advisory role.
“We’re turning the page on a disappointing season. From today, we’re moving forward with a singular voice under my leadership in hockey operations,” Tallon said as he opened a press conference at BB&T Center.
“We’re going to have one agenda and one agenda only and that is winning.”
Caldwell stresses that Tallon wasn’t “pushed aside” as has been widely reported since he was moved up to president of hockey operations while Rowe was named GM with Eric Joyce and Steve Werier promoted to assistant GMs.
“Everything was done with the best intentions,” Caldwell said. “We want to win. We want to look at a lot of things that were out there, a lot of voices, but I think what we learned is that having a singular voice who listens to everything — listens to analytics, listens to scouts, listens to his gut for many, many years — and have one single voice that reports to ownership is most important.
“So we live and learn and still have a lot of great things going on with the company and we’re looking forward.”
Tallon appeared to grab the reigns in December, weeks after Rowe replaced coach Gerard Gallant behind the bench and gave up his day-to-day GM duties.
The Panthers were still struggling and Tallon, who hadn’t been seen around the team very much, was back reportedly on direction of owner Vinnie Viola.
When the trade deadline came, Rowe made sure Tallon was credited for swinging a deal with Detroit for forward Thomas Vanek.
At the time, Florida was a point out of the playoffs before falling off a cliff as it ended far out of the playoffs just a season removed from a franchise-best 103 points and a divisional title.
“We [messed] our pants,” Tallon said.
Although the Panthers ended with back-to-back wins to close the season, they still dropped 16 of their final 23 including a season-high six consecutive losses before beating Buffalo in the home finale on Saturday night.
“Today is a day that we look forward and I’m not thinking about what’s happened in the last two months,” Tallon said.
“I’m excited about moving forward. I’ve never been more energized than I am right now to return us back to the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup. I’m excited about this role.”
Tallon and Caldwell both said Joyce and Werier will continue in their roles and have a say in what the Panthers do.
“It’s still a collaborative effort,” Tallon said, “but they’ve got to come through me. And we’ve worked really well together the last few months and I look forward to working with them for a long time.”
Rowe is expected to have a voice in moving forward as well, although Tallon said he wouldn’t be part of Florida’s exit meetings with players on Tuesday. Tallon and Rowe met Monday morning.
“There was no friction,” Tallon said. “[Rowe] handled himself with a lot of class. It was a very positive meeting. He understood. He put himself in a tough situation and it showed a lot of courage to do that.
“We had a great discussion this morning and I’m looking forward to working with him in a lot of different areas of the team.”
As for Florida’s newest coaching search, Tallon said he hoped to have a new hire in place before the June draft and that the Panthers have “a list of young coaches that we’re interested in and we’re going to go in that direction.”
Florida is thought to have serious interest in University of Denver coach Jim Montgomery, a former NHL player whose Pioneers won the NCAA national title this past weekend in Chicago. Tallon, coincidence or not, was there for the Frozen Four.
Other candidates the Panthers could have interest in include Geordie Kinnear who coaches their AHL team in Massachussetts; Sheldon Keefe who coaches the Toronto Marlies of the AHL; and Travis Green, the AHL coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
As far as experienced coaches go, former Dallas Stars head coach (and former Florida assistant) Lindy Ruff, Jack Capuano (Islanders) and South Florida resident Michel Therrien (Penguins/Canadiens) are among those recently made available.
Gallant, who has been splitting his spare time between Germany and Florida’s west coast, has two years remaining on his Florida contract but Tallon said he would not be considered for a return.
“We’re moving on,” Tallon said.
Assistant coaches Dave Barr and Scott Allen have been removed from the team website with Tallon saying the new coach would be able to hire his own coaches.
Longtime goalie coach Robb Tallas will remain on staff.
“We’re going to tweak everything here and there,” Tallon said, “and make us a better team.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS GMs
Bob Clarke 1993-94
Bryan Murray 1994-2000^
Bill Torrey 2000-01*
Chuck Fletcher 2001-02*
Rick Dudley 2002-04
Mike Keenan 2004-06
Jacques Martin 2006-09
Randy Sexton 2009-10
Dale Tallon 2010-16, 2017-present
Tom Rowe 2016-17
(*) — Denotes interim GM
(^) — Denotes fired during season