Before the start of the 2014-2015 NHL season, one thing that I constantly harped upon was finding a coach that would develop or utilize a system that highlighted the team's strengths, and resulted in a positive shot attempt differential.
Gerard Gallant's 5-on-5 system in his first year behind the Florida Panthers bench did both of those things, and though he may have made some questionable roster decisions, it's hard to be upset with how he handled himself and his team for the majority of the season. Let's dig deeper into his performance, and look ahead to what could be in store for the Cats during the 2015-2016 season.
The first thing that Gallant succeeded in doing during his first season with the Panthers was highlight the team's strengths. Going into the season, the ability of the team to prevent goals was never really in question. With Roberto Luongo in net, and Brian Campbell, Willie Mitchell, Dmitry Kulikov, and Erik Gudbranson (Aaron Ekblad and Dylan Olsen were unproven) on the blue line, it was safe to say that the team wouldn't be giving up 3.20 goals a game, like they did in 2013-2014.
The ability of the team to create goals, however, was uncertain. Of the free agents signed by Dale Tallon on July 1, 2014, only Jussi Jokinen was expected to bring offensive talent to the roster; the rest were there to improve the squad defensively.
So, what Gallant did was build a defensively capable team that would restrict goals as much as it could, while hoping that the offense would come about thanks to a cycle in the offensive zone. As a result, there weren't many scoring chances for the Panthers or their opponents, leading to them having the lowest Scoring Chance Pace (For and Against) per 60 minutes of even strength play, courtesy of War-On-Ice.com.
For a great visual of this, we turn to the team's Hextally, which again comes courtesy of War-On-Ice.com.
For those who need a refresher on how to read these, red is above average, blue is below average, and green (which isn't in the pictures above) is average.
As we can see, the areas in front of the net are dark blue, regardless of whether we look at the "For FLA" or the "Against FLA" chart. Instead of risking his team get burned defensively, Gallant played to their strengths, and kept the amount of scoring chances low. This style of hockey resulted in low scoring games, and lots of overtime opportunities for the team to steal points. Though the team ended up going 9-15 in games that lasted longer than the typical 60 minutes, it was encouraging to see a young team battle with the rest of the NHL in those situations, and hopefully the team will fare better this season.
When it comes to shot attempt differential, the team was generally positive. Despite a stretch in between the halfway point of the season and the acquisition of Jaromir Jagr, the team's 20-game rolling average stayed above 50-percent.
In total, the team's score adjusted shot attempts percentage was 51.1%. Though 17th in the league isn't impressive, we have to take into account the fact that Gallant wasn't able to utilize the dominant trio of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jagr for most of the season. If we look at the stats starting after Tallon traded for the 43-year-old veteran, the sc-adj SAT% is bumped up to 51.9%, which doesn't sound like much, but happens to be enough to place the Cats into 13th place in the league during that timeframe. With the development of the young guns and a full year of Jagr, there's no reason why Gallant can't get this team to be in the league's top-ten in sc-adj. SAT%.
Overall, Gallant had a solid first year with the Cats. His system played to the team's strengths, and helped the players possess the puck. Though he could have done better with the roster he was given, he also could have done much worse, and if he gets the team playing the same way they were at the end of last season, the playoffs should be considered a goal, and not just a possibility.