Gerard Gallant liked Shaw, even though the winger was not a Panther this season. He felt Shaw gave them a hard-to-play-against presence on a team that needed it — especially when Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau were out with injuries.
The Panthers front office, maybe the most analytically inclined in the NHL, saw it differently. They viewed Sgarbossa as a worthwhile gamble at age 24, the Ontario Hockey League’s leading scorer in 2012 — ahead of two current Panthers, Vincent Trocheck and Seth Griffith. Even if it didn’t work at the NHL level, their American League team in Springfield could use some offensive punch.
On a team that made changes, even the small ones were a philosophical split.
Florida locked up a ton of its core. Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Reilly Smith, Trocheck and Huberdeau signed long-term deals. Can’t imagine anyone had a problem with that. This group will grow together and be very strong. Its other changes definitely added skill — Jonathan Marchessault looks to be a particularly good call — but took away the edge.
Gerard Gallant would never admit it (at least not before Sunday), but he hated seeing Erik Gudbranson traded. In a cap world, someone had to go. Losing him and Willie Mitchell changed the complexion of the blue line. Gallant valued Gudbranson’s game, how hard he could make it on opposing forwards. But Florida’s front office values a different kind of defender, and with one season remaining until his free agency, they weren’t going to ante up for Gudbranson’s skillset.
That, as much as anything else, is why Gallant (and close friend Mike Kelly) are no longer on the Florida bench. There was plenty of anger in the NHL community over the dismissal. There were a lot of surprised and angry texts from people I rarely hear from. Gallant righted a wayward ship and won a franchise-record 47 games last season, getting them to the playoffs for the second time in 15 years.
Being fired sucks. There’s no other way to put it. Gallant received a three-year extension at approximately $1M per in 2016-17, so at least there’s a golden handshake. Considering how he and the front office weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, maybe it’s better for everyone, because he is definitely going to land on his feet.
Not all coaches are popular with their players. Gallant was. They were in shock, very disappointed. That will be Tom Rowe’s big initial challenge, making sure that the move doesn’t ruin a good team’s season. I suspect they will be pros and compete hard. They were very much in the playoff picture despite key injuries, and undoubtedly were aware of the internal divide. They’re not going to quit.
The other question is whether or not Rowe keeps the GM title. For a while now, the belief is assistant GM Eric Joyce — who runs AHL Springfield as part of his duties — would eventually take over. His time may be now. It’s impossible to be both coach and GM in the NHL.
Undoubtedly, we’re going to hear a lot more over the next few days.