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Panthers Looking to Take Big Step Forward

Will coaching change get the team to the playoffs?

NHL: Florida Panthers at Chicago Blackhawks Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

It's a story so weird, even non-fans of hockey are aware that it happened.

The Florida Panthers literally dumped coach Gerard Gallant on the side of the road after a 3-2 loss in Carolina to the Hurricanes. The news broke when Gallant and assistant coach Mike Kelly were spotted waiting for a taxi outside of PNC Arena after the game on Sunday.

In that game, Florida took an early 2-0 lead, but gave it all up in just a few minutes midway through the second and failed to come back. That dropped them to 11-10-1, which isn't a pretty start, but isn't exactly terrible either. Even now, those 23 points would leave them only a win behind the last wild card spot. Gallant was also nominated for coach of the year last year after the Panthers went 47-26-9 and won the Atlantic division, making his firing after just 22 games a real shock.

Reported clashes between Gallant and the analytics-minded front office may have caused the firing, and was the reason given for the move. Current GM Tom Rowe is moving behind the bench, and his recent experience coaching the Panthers' AHL affiliate should help him make the transition.

Rowe opened his tenure as coach by meeting with the players on Tuesday to explain the move. The players have expressed a variety of opinions on the subject both before and after, but as a whole their statements came down to one simple message: move forward. They'll try to win no matter what situation they're in, a reaction that Rowe seemed to have anticipated with his earlier comments about the players being professional athletes who deserved to know why the firing happened and would handle it in stride.

That meeting was followed by a game in Chicago that same night, where the Panthers scored in the third to force overtime only to lose the shootout 2-0 after Chicago's third shot. Rowe praised his team after the loss, calling their efforts to force overtime "incredible" and telling the media how proud he was.

While the loss came against the Blackhawks and largely because of a 38-save night from Corey Crawford followed by a shootout save (the other Florida shot went wide), it's undoubtedly not the result the Panthers' front office was hoping for. The point helps, but the team is still on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

Only time will tell if they made the right move, and Florida certainly has the players to climb back into the playoffs. However, it seems like a move that came too soon, and the departure from the arena was definitely mishandled. Hopefully the weird night wasn't a sign of things to come for the Panthers this season.