If you’ve said in August that Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers would have both changed coach and were limping toward the end of the season at the start of March, you would have been tested for a strong substance.
Yet, that’s exactly where we are with two of the league’s supposed ‘big teams’ in a campaign to forget for both of them for all sorts of different reasons.
Nottingham Panthers were always going to transition this year after Corey Neilson’s departure, putting their faith in Rich Chernomaz to help them mount some kind of title challenge.
In Sheffield, Paul Thompson had to more or less start from scratch with a team that were beaten in the play-off finals as players were released, contracts ended or even retired.
Regardless of the context of both situations, you still expected them to be hanging around in the higher echelons of the table. That’s the expectation.
Steelers started poorly and Thompson resigned, bringing in Tom Barrasso to get them going again and he moved on some of players recruited by his predecessor and built something of a team from others who came in.
In Nottingham, they started well, but started tailing off and despite sitting in the top three for a large part of the season, the results weren’t coming and Chernomaz left in January on a run of four wins in 16 and four straight losses.
Straight away, Rick Strachan stepped up from assistant coach and as things stand, have won only six in 15. On the road, they’ve won once in seven.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there will be changes for next season for both clubs. It’s been indicated, winked at and heavily suggested without actually saying it that Barrasso won’t be in the Elite League next season, with rumours that Steelers are talking to and maybe even have a new coach in mind.
As for Panthers, it’s a harder one to read. On the face of it, Strachan won’t be in charge next season, if results are the indicator when you consider the reasons stated for Chernomaz’s exit.
That being said, do they give him a season with his own players or at the very least, return him to be assistant coach and work with the new man, whoever it may be? The second option may be preferable. After all, Strachs knows the club inside out.
The other thought is, do Panthers begin to move away from the Neilson era altogether and start afresh. New coach, new ideas, new team etc. and see where it takes them. Either option is a gamble and another season of transition was certainly not on the cards.
Looking at both clubs, their next appointment they have to get right. There will be plenty of candidates around Europe that may look at those jobs and fancy the challenge of getting them back to where they feel they deserve.
Whatever their path is, they can’t afford another season like this one. Failure for either team is not an option.