When Claude Julien was fired by the Boston Bruins earlier this week, his name was immediately attached to the Panthers.
But Tom Rowe made it clear Thursday he intends to remain behind the Florida bench at least through the end of the season — and said he would be open to keeping the job moving forward.
When asked if he enjoyed coaching and wanted to continue, he said: “I would be lying if I said I didn’t.”
Rowe, Florida’s general manager since last spring, has been the Panthers’ interim coach since Gerard Gallant was fired on Thanksgiving weekend following a loss at Carolina.
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On Thursday, Rowe said his status as Florida’s coach would be decided once this season is complete.
“It will be a group decision,” said Rowe, adding he would be part of those conversations with front-office personnel, including team president Matt Caldwell, owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu, and Dale Tallon.
Rowe confirmed a Miami Herald report that Julien — a highly respected coach who led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup championship in 2011 — had not been contacted about a possible opening in Sunrise.
Because Julien remains under contract with the Bruins, any team would have to ask permission to speak with him about an opening.
A Panthers source said Thursday the team planned on asking for that permission, but not until the season was over.
Florida has granted the Islanders permission to speak with Gallant and sources say they have met, although it appears the Islanders are happy with the work of new coach Doug Weight.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights are also in the market for a new coach, with a number of teams likely to have openings once this season ends.
Rowe did say he texted Julien with words of encouragement after hearing of his ouster in Boston.
“I was probably one of the first guys to text him,” Rowe said. “I wrote, ‘sorry to hear the news; great coaches like you land on their feet real quick.’
“He’s going to be coaching an NHL team next year if he wants to. He’s too good a coach. I know him real well; he’s a good guy. We have a fraternity.”
The Bruins held their news conference announcing the firing while the Patriots’ Super Bowl parade worked its way through downtown on Tuesday.
The Panthers, in the midst of a three-game winning streak, brought Rowe up from their minor-league team to work in the front office as an associate general manager under Tallon.
Following Florida’s loss to the Islanders in the opening round of the playoffs last spring, Rowe replaced Tallon as general manager, with Tallon being named president of hockey operations in a revamped front office.
Rowe was adamant he did not leave Florida’s AHL team to join the front office with the intent to coach the Panthers.
“They needed some extra people to help out, and Doug and Vinnie came to me to see if I was interested,” said Rowe, who was introduced as associate GM the day Tallon received a new three-year contract and Gallant got a two-year extension in January 2016.
Rowe is believed to have three more years on his contract with the Panthers following this season.
Cifu told the Herald last month that Rowe would stay on as coach through the season and “then we’ll see how things shake out.”
That, of course, came before Julien became the biggest name on the NHL coaching free agent market.
Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and former Islanders coach Jack Capuano are also available.