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Are management decisions hindering the Panthers' bid for a playoff spot?

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Tallon and Gallant have been merely adequate this season. Adequate's not looking good enough.

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL has an 82-game season, where teams will move in and out of playoff berths before the sixteen teams who will take place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally decided. The Florida Panthers currently sit just three points out of a playoff spot, and have played the same number of games as the team ahead of them, the Boston Bruins.

The only problem is that in the second half of the season (their last 18 games played), the team is 6-9-3, and definitely trending downward.

The power play, which was the team's most glaring flaw from the first half of the season, seems to be fixed, however, meaning that they shouldn't really be losing these games. Their conversion rate before the All-Star Break was 14%. It's gone up to 19.4% since then (from 29th in the league to 11th, in those respective time frames), and their shooting statistics show that the increased conversion percentage isn't just a result of luck.

(The team's average shot rate on the power play has gone up, going from about 70 unblocked shot attempts for every 60 minutes to between 80-85.)

If the team fixed it's most glaring flaw, then why are they still losing games?

For starters, the Cats were at least above average during 5-on-5 hockey for the first half of the season, ranking 14th in the league with a 51.4% Goals For Percentage at even strength.

Goals, however, can be mainly percentage driven, so we look at other metrics to see how a team has performed over a stretch of time so that we can predict their future results more accurately. Over the first half of the season, the Panthers were 8th in the league with a score adjusted Scoring Chances For percent of 53.0% and tied for 10th in the league with a score adjusted Corsi For percentage of 52.5%.

So at 5-on-5, the team was in the top third of the league. This is what got them most of their wins. Both their power play and their penalty kill units were in the bottom third of the league, balancing out the good 5-on-5 work and the Cats were an average team, fighting for 15th place in terms of point percentage.

Since then, they've been absolutely horrid at 5-on-5. In the past ten games, looking at the same score adjusted metrics, they're 21st in SCF% (49.8%), and 24th in CF% (48.4%). It's resulted in a GF% of 43.1%, good for 26th in the league.

The better special teams units haven't been enough to compensate, and the team is sliding right out of a playoff spot. They currently stand at 19th in the league at points percentage.

A team that once looked so promising, and that had around a 70% chance to make the playoffs, now stands at 16.1%.

Now that we know the problem lies at 5-on-5, it isn't hard to diagnose.

Dave Bolland was put back in the lineup on December 8th, against the St. Louis Blues, after missing 21 games due to injury. Since then, the team's playoff chances have dropped from about 70% to the aforementioned 16.1%. The problem hasn't all been Bolland, however. He's one player on a roster of 20.

So what's another significant date to look at? How about, January 19th? The last game before the All-Star Break?

The significance of that day is that it was the first game Sean Bergenheim was a healthy scratch, as well as the last time Vincent Trocheck would play for the Cats until he was recalled for Sunday's loss against the Penguins. Bergenheim hasn't played in ten of the sixteen games that followed, and Trocheck was in San Antonio.

So if we isolate the Panthers playoff chances, and look at how they've fared after those two days, what type of trends do we see?

Downward. To make matters worse, Shawn Thornton returned to the lineup on January 29th, after missing 21 games due to injury. He's only missed two games since returning.

The team's CF% has taken a nose dive since then. It's not hard to see why.

Player SCF% RelSCF% CF% RelCF%
Sean Bergenheim 57.9% 3.8% 55.6% 3.2%
Vincent Trocheck 56.4% 5.3% 53.4% 1.0%
Dave Bolland 50.6% -2.9% 48.5% -3.3%
Shawn Thornton 38.3% -13.9% 46.9% -3.8%

So, the team has gotten worse because these two have been in the lineup. Both of them were brought in during the offseason. Both were predicted to be bad signings, by publicly available data.

I don't see how people can still be happy with the way that Dale Tallon and Gerard Gallant have handled this team.

Gallant has pushed the team's best possession forward out of the lineup and most likely off the team. He also consistently plays Shawn Thornton, even though he could put other players in the lineup and give himself the ability to roll four lines.

Tallon has brought in two pieces of deadweight who hurt the team at 5-on-5, and kept players who can actually help (Vincent Trocheck and Drew Shore) in the minors. Not only has this affected the team's on ice play, it also led to the trading of Shore, for very little in return.

I've held back for a while. I've trusted management for a while. I hoped they knew what was right. They have an analytics guy who is there to help, I told myself. They have someone they can get this information from.

I was wrong. They are drastically misusing Brian MacDonald. From ESPN's Great Analytics Rankings, which came out today (emphasis my own):

The Panthers were wise to pick Brian Macdonald as the team's director of analytics last summer, although they still have a skeleton crew compared to some other teams around the league.

Integrating him into the team's decision-making has been a season-long process because of when he was hired, and his impact may not be felt until next season.

"Anywhere there is data in this organization, I've tried to get my hands in it a little bit," Macdonald said. "That includes the business side of things now, also. The past couple months, I've been doing more business than hockey."

Let's break that quote down.

"Anywhere there is data in this organization, I've tried to get my hands in it a little bit."

Ok. That's good. I would hope that, as the Director of HOCKEY Analytics, this means he's trying to look at the big picture stats, like Corsi, as well as micro stats like zone entries, and passes. That would be great, to get the coach some info as well as the general manager.

"That includes the business side of things now, also."

Wait, I thought he was the Director of HOCKEY Analytics?

"The past couple months, I've been doing more business than hockey."

Oh well.

This was a playoff caliber team. It isn't anymore. Management made too many mistakes this season, and it's not like they weren't predictable mistakes.

People have a right to be pissed off at Tallon Inc. I would love to watch playoff hockey in South Florida this season. I doubt I'll get the chance to now.