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Florida Panthers: Ain't no Sunshine When He's Gone

The hockey world was shocked this week when the Florida Panthers, seemingly out of nowhere, fired head coach Gerard Gallant after a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Given the injuries the Cats have had this year, their 11-10-1 record seemed commendable and Gallant was in the midst of a division title-defending season.

It has become clear that ownership wanted to take the team in a different direction than Gallant was willing to and there were reports of friction between the two parties when the 53-year-old coach refused to adopt analytics. Tom Rowe, the man taking over as the Panthers' interim bench boss, expressed willingness to use analytics within his coaching style and that ultimately led to Gallant’s demise.

When I heard this news, my first reaction was to feel bad for Gallant. That sorrow quickly subsided, however, when I received the numbers of how NHL teams have done in their first game with a new coach and realized that there is significant money to be made in fading the Panthers.

Since the start of the 2014-15 season, teams with new head coaches are 8-17 in their first games under new leadership. That’s a bet that’s cashed 68 percent of the time if you’ve faded the team with a new bench boss.

If you look at this another way and only take into consideration coaches who started with their teams midseason, however, that record falls to 1-6 – a cash rate of 85.7.

The Panthers will play the Chicago Blackhawks tonight in their first game under Rowe and I see very few scenarios where the Panthers win this game. Not only will the Panthers have to adapt to a brand new system with just two days of turnaround, they will also have to do it against a ’Hawks team that’s playing its first game at home in over two weeks.

Although they’ve been slumping a bit recently, the Blackhawks are 8-1-2 at the United Center this year and will be relishing the opportunity to play this reeling team on home ice.

I am a big fan of analytics and what they can do for the game of hockey but what we’ve seen from teams who have gone gangbusters with letting stats guide their decision-making and hockey philosophy – it’s not an easy transition.

The Arizona Coyotes are a great example of this. They made headline news during the offseason when they hired a 26-year-old, John Chayka, as their general manager. This decision was based solely on Chayka’s analytical background and so far it hasn’t exactly paid off. The ’Yotes have just eight wins this year and are tied for dead last in the league.

I love the Panthers’ – fully healthy – roster and I suspect this decision pays off in the long run but for tonight, and probably a while going forward, Florida is prime fade material. Things could be getting much darker before the sun comes up in Sunrise.

Here are the odds for their game with the Blackhawks tonight:

Florida Panthers vs Chicago Blackhawks 
Panthers+1.5 (-275)+1155 (-105) OVER
Blackhawks-1.5 (+235)-1355 (-115) UNDER

Odds as of November 29 at Bovada