How the Panthers' poor decisions helped fuel Vegas' hot start
Head coach Gerard Gallant and forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have all been key ingredients to the Golden Knights' historic 7-1-0 start, but the team wouldn't have any of these three important figures if it weren't for some horrible mismanagement from the Florida Panthers organization.
Let's backtrack to 2014-15. The Panthers were coming off a disastrous 29-win season. The franchise had only made the playoffs four times in their 20-year history. In stepped Gallant, the newly-minted head coach. He led the team to a 91-point season - a 25-point increase from the season prior - and the fifth-most in franchise history at the time.
Gallant followed up this promising campaign with a club record 103 points, and was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the league's top coach. Finally, the Panthers seemed to have some stability behind the bench after being a recycling bin for coaches in their existence. However, Gallant was relieved of his coaching duties after the Panthers got off to an 11-9-1 start the following season.
In April of 2017, Gallant was hired as the head coach of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. He has taken a team largely made up of misfits, and has led them to a terrific start, as they currently rank second in the Western Conference with 14 points. He has done so through adversity too, having to deal with injuries to both his starting and backup goalie.
While Gallant certainly deserves plenty of credit for Vegas' success, in the end, it's the players who play the game. Two of their most important players - Marchessault and Smith - are also products of poor decisions made by the Panthers.
One of the biggest stories of the expansion draft was the fact that the Panthers left Marchessault exposed. The 26-year-old was coming off a breakout 30-goal season, and was only scheduled to make $750,000 for the upcoming season.
Marchessault was left exposed because the Panthers were determined to get Smith's contract off their hands. Although he's owed $25 million over the next five years, the winger is just 26 years old and already has two 50-point seasons under his belt.
Essentially, Florida just gave Marchessault to Vegas so the Golden Knights would take on Smith's contract.
Instead of keeping both Smith and Marchessault, Florida preferred to have a fourth-round pick from Vegas, and protect the likes of Mark Pysyk, Alex Petrovic, and Nick Bjugstad from being taken in the expansion draft.
The Panthers used part of the $5 million from Smith's absence to sign Radim Vrbata (one-year, $2.5 million), Evgeny Dadonov (three years, $12 million), and extend Mike Matheson (eight years, $39 million).
Marchessault has missed three games due to injury this season, but still has a respectable two goals in five games. Smith on the other hand, sits second on the team with seven points in eight games. Both players would undoubtedly provide a boost to Florida's middle-of-the-pack offense.
While it's certainly too early to evaluate Bob Boughner eight games into his NHL head coaching career, with a record of 3-5-0, it must be awfully tough for Panthers management to look at the NHL standings and see the Golden Knights near the top, led by three contributors whom the organization essentially gift-wrapped for Vegas.
If Vegas' miraculous run continues and it actually ends up making the playoffs, it can give a big thank you to the Panthers' brass.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)