Tom Rowe critical of himself as Panthers’ disappointing season winds down

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — When Florida interim coach Tom Rowe sits down with team officials to discuss the season and his future early next week, the meeting could be very brief.

He already knows what’s coming.

Rowe will be let go soon after the Panthers’ season-finale on Sunday, a game that will end a most disappointing season for the Panthers. A team that came into the year talking about a Stanley Cup will miss the playoffs for the 16th time in the last 19 seasons, and Rowe acknowledged Wednesday that he wished he could have done more.

“I didn’t get it done,” Rowe said. “And I’m going to take the blame for that. That’s the way it should be. It’s not the players. The players did everything we asked them to do. I think probably I pushed too hard on certain guys at the wrong time and then that had a negative effect, so that’s something I’ll learn for the future.”

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The Panthers have already decided to make a coaching change, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no announcement is likely to take place until after Rowe meets with team president of hockey operations Dale Tallon next week. The Panthers’ plans were first reported by The Miami Herald.

Florida has three games remaining, and has dropped its last five contests.

“Anytime you don’t meet expectations as a team, there’s changes,” goaltender James Reimer said. “It’s not going to be one coach or one player. It’s going to be a whole bunch of things and that’s just something you can’t focus on. You enjoy these last couple days with your team. No team is going to be the same from one year to the next.”

Panthers forward Shawn Thornton, who is retiring and will play his last game on Saturday in Florida’s home finale, said players have not been officially told of the looming coaching change. After the season Thornton is going to move into a role with the Panthers’ front office on the business side, working with team president and CEO Matthew Caldwell.

Rowe became interim coach in late November, after the Panthers fired coach Gerard Gallant — who took Florida to the Atlantic Division title last season.

“It wasn’t an easy situation for anybody,” Thornton said. “Everybody came in and tried to do the best job that they could. We as players didn’t perform well enough to win enough games. At the end of the day, it’s on us in this room.”

Rowe remains under contract as general manager, so it’s likely he will remain in the organization in some capacity. It’s unclear if he will have GM duties again.

“I like it here. I love the organization. I’ve been treated really, really well,” Rowe said.

Someone paid for a banner plane to fly over the Panthers’ home arena this week and display a message calling for Rowe’s ouster — and not only was he aware of that, but Rowe said he took that as a good sign of the passion some fans have for the franchise.

That wasn’t always the case in recent years. Florida’s building is rarely filled, but there have been encouraging signs in recent seasons that the team’s fan base is growing.

“At the end of the day, we’re moving in the right direction,” Rowe said. “Whatever is best for the Florida Panthers is what we’re going to do as an organization. It’s been way too many positive strides taken on the business side and hockey side. We’ve got a lot of very, very good pieces in place.”