This past off-season began with fireworks, to put it lightly.
Dale Tallon got promoted to President of Hockey Operations. A braintrust of Tom Rowe, Eric Joyce, and Steve Werier was installed below him. Trainers, scouts, and hockey ops staff were let go in waves. It was a seismic shift in front office structure, after the best regular season in team history. It was unusual, and impossible to ignore.
We leveled quite a bit of criticism on this site on the moves. The issue for us was that ownership elected to undergo a front office purge usually reserved for basement dwellers. The changes were followed up with explanations that ranged from curious to head scratching. The whole ordeal was a remarkable and odd event.
I won’t rehash those arguments here, that’s not the purpose of this article. Rather, I want to take a look back at what happened, connect that to the present, and move on.
I do not regret raising a single question. I would do it all over again if given the opportunity. I am also proud of my writers here at The Sunshine Skate. It is natural to ask questions when something unusual happens. This ordeal was without a doubt unusual. If something like this doesn’t raise questions, then one of three things is true:
a. You’re being Pollyanna about the situation (Delusional, but fair)
b. Your job requires you to sell a certain point of view or narrative (Fair)
c. You’re carrying water for someone else because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Hey, it’s your life)
A lot has happened since the changes happened. The Draft occurred. Free agency came and went. The Panthers put a lock on the core. The question now is how good was our first look at the new Panthers front office? My answer: good.
Now, for those about to accuse me of flip flopping, understand this: I never said it wouldn’t work. Nor did I say that it was a bad idea, nor was I rooting against the moves’ efficacy. My big concern was being able to trust the quality of the new front office. There were a lot of question marks and unproven assertions. Less than three years of ownership isn’t enough make me trust you intrinsically. That goes double when it comes to changing the job description of a man who has been part of my hockey experience for as long as I can remember. An experience that includes three Stanley Cups on the foundation of his work.
The moves made this summer were a good first step in building up my trust. I like most of the moves that were made. I only have concerns about two transactions: the signing of Keith Yandle, and the trade of Dave Bolland at the expense of Lawson Crouse. The rest of the moves I feel anywhere from neutral to good about.
I feel particularly good about the acquisitions of Jason Demers and James Reimer. In Demers case, his presence should ease the departure of Dmitry Kulikov. In Reimer’s case, the Panthers needed a more robust backup for Roberto Luongo than Al Montoya.
The best feature of the off season though was how the young Panthers core all got locked up. No bridge deals here, the Panthers went for broke and made sure their best young players would remain their players for the foreseeable future. It is a good turn of fortune for a team that has lost its fair share of young talent over the years.
(Aside: I will be exploring these topics in more depth soon.)
Now, there is a new big question that needs to be answered: Will these moves work?
Obviously, I feel good about these moves now. I gather that most fans also feel good about these moves. The feeling is warranted, because the team looks good on paper. Therein lies the rub though: on paper. We have not seen this group, in action, on the ice, and that’s what matters the most.
It should work, in theory, but we do not know that for sure. Analytics were a big selling point of the front office shift. They give you an advantage, and help you make moves that improve your odds of success. I still wonder how big analytics weighed in the changes compared to other motives. However, the moves made do seem to be analytically-driven on some level. The team is no worse than last year at a minimum. Bad contracts weren’t thrown at players like Matt Martin in the name of “heart”. That is a good start, but we will need to see more beyond that.
It is important to remeber that analytics are not a silver bullet though. There is no statistic that is going to give you 100% perfect odds every time. Failure is always an option. Sometimes, you can make the best decision available, and it will still fall flat. That’s life.
You have to guard yourself against falling too far in love with these moves just yet. It is too early to declare that these moves are a roaring success. That would be counting your chickens before they have hatched. There is still a chance that things do not work out as expected. Should they not work out, you can bet there will be a new round of questions to ask.
Until then, it’s time to move on, and focus on the season at hand.