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Florida Panthers fire coach Gerard Gallant, cite 'philosophical differences'

Gerard Gallant, center, former Florida Panthers head coach, approaches a cab after being fired following an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C.

Karl B DeBlaker/AP

Gerard Gallant wanted the Florida Panthers to play one way, and his bosses wanted another.

As such, they're not his bosses anymore.

The Panthers cited philosophical differences Monday as the primary reason why they fired Gallant, a coach of the year finalist last season who made it through only 22 games this season. Tom Rowe will essentially take a hiatus from being general manager to fill the coaching spot for the rest of the year, starting with Tuesday's game in Chicago.

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"We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, could move the puck quickly, pressure the puck in all three zones," Rowe said. "Gerard and I talked about it. He said he wanted a little bit more size, and we just decided to go in a different direction. Were we on the same page every day of the week? No ... philosophy was different."

Florida is 11-10-1, starting Monday only two points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference even after dealing with some serious injuries so far this season. But the Panthers have simply been mediocre in some areas, including power-play (21st out of 30 teams) and penalty-killing (19th).

The team's longest winning streak so far this season is two, something the Panthers have managed three times. The last straw apparently was how Florida wasted a 2-0 lead in what became a 3-2 loss at Carolina on Sunday night, though the Panthers' front office had discussions long before that collapse about making a change.

"We've been unhappy with the inconsistent performance," Panthers President and CEO Matthew Caldwell said. "I just think we can be playing better at this stage of the season. So we decided a change is necessary to move in a different direction."

Players were off Monday, though Rowe was meeting with them to discuss both the decision to fire Gallant and how he wants certain defensive schemes to change on the ice.

Gallant was a standout left wing as a player, primarily for the Detroit Red Wings — scoring at least 34 goals in four straight seasons from 1986 through 1990 and finishing his NHL career with 211 goals in 615 games. He was drawing rave reviews as Florida's coach, especially after last season when he steered the team to the best regular season in franchise history.

He was under contract through the 2018-19 season, having signed an extension back in January.

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And then it all came to a most unceremonious end Sunday night, when his luggage was taken off the bus that was carrying the Panthers to the airport from the arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. A taxi soon arrived to pick up Gallant, as the Panthers took off for their trip to Chicago.

The Panthers' ownership and other team officials rely heavily on advanced statistics, and Gallant was not the biggest fan of analytics. He spoke openly about how his views differed from the perspective of Florida's management on the analytics issue in August 2015, at a fundraising event hosted by the University of Prince Edward Island.

Gallant told a story about how an unnamed former Florida player looked great to the analytics staff but wasn't the sort of player he wanted.

"I couldn't stand watching him on the ice," Gallant said that night in Canada. "I didn't like the way he played one bit."

Part of Florida's issues has clearly been injury-related.

Jonathan Huberdeau has not played yet this season and isn't expected back for several more weeks, Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen have missed significant amounts of time and Alex Petrovic is now expected to miss up to two months with an ankle injury.

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Plus, Jaromir Jagr has just three goals so far this season after leading the Panthers in scoring a year ago. And while all that was taken into consideration, it wasn't enough to get Gallant and assistant coach Mike Kelly — who also was fired — any more time in Florida.

"It's a tough business," said Rowe, the Panthers' 14th coach in their 23-year history. "But when the results aren't there, decisions have to be made that aren't easy."

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