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A ‘philosophical divide’ led to Gallant firing

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The Florida Panthers want to play like the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they didn’t feel that Gerard Gallant was the right coach to show them how.

“This team is built for speed and skill,” interim head coach Tom Rowe said Monday. “That’s the way the National Hockey League is going. All you have to do is watch what Pittsburgh did last year, the way they played, the way they attacked the puck, the way they made every step of the opponent difficult, by pressuring, is how we want to play.”

Gerrard was fired yesterday after a 3-2 loss in Carolina — a game the Panthers led 2-0 after the first period.

“After we collapsed in the second period last night, it came to a head a lot quicker,” said Rowe, who will relinquish his general manager duties to Dale Tallon, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier in order to focus “totally” on coaching.

Though Rowe rejected the notion that there was any “friction” between Gallant and the front office, he did concede there were differences in opinions.

“There was definitely a philosophical divide,” said Rowe. “We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, that moved the puck quickly, attack the offensive net and pressure the puck in all three zones. Gerard and I talked about it, he said he wanted to get a little more size. And we decided to go in a different direction.”

Read more: Did Gallant’s plea for more toughness cost him his job?

It’s no secret that the Panthers have taken an analytics-based approach to building their team, with the full support of ownership. At the end of last season, Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey ops, with Rowe becoming the new GM.

Not long after, the Panthers began the dramatic reshaping of their defense, which included the trading of big, tough Erik Gudbranson and the signing of puck-movers Keith Yandle and Jason Demers.

“Obviously, we changed some dynamics on our team,” Gallant said prior to the start of the season. “We’re more puck movers, more skill, quicker. Hopefully, that pays off.”

But it hasn’t so far. The Panthers are 11-10-1 after 22 games, just outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Though they’ve had a number of key injuries, the decision was still made to relieve Gallant of his duties.

“We took everything into consideration in our meeting at the quarterly point of the season,” said Tallon, “and as a group we decided we want to go in a different direction.”

The Panthers play the second game of a six-game road trip Tuesday in Chicago. Rowe said he plans to “tweak” his team’s defensive-zone system, but doesn’t want to introduce too many changes right away.

“Defensively, we want to fix that area first,” said Rowe.

But the real key will be pace.

“We want to be a fast team. And when I say fast, it doesn’t just mean skating. We want to move the puck quickly. We want to defend quickly,” said Rowe. “We’ve gotta practice faster, we’ve gotta practice harder and then that’s going to carry over into the games.”

Related: The Penguins played great defense their own way

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins