Minutes after coach Gerard Gallant said he wanted to play his starting lineup in Saturday’s final exhibition game of the preseason, word starting getting around that cuts were coming.
The biggest casualty Wednesday: David Booth, who was released from his training camp tryout.
Booth was informed of the decision by general manager Dale Tallon following Wednesday’s practice.
By the time Booth was caught leaving the Panthers’ facility by a reporter, he had yet to inform his wife, Ashley.
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“We’ll see what happens,” said an obviously dejected Booth. “I don’t know what the next step will be. I want to keep playing hockey, but I believe I’m better than [playing in the AHL]. It’s just a matter of getting my timing down, getting everything back.
“It’s just one of those things. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Booth, 30, spent parts of six seasons with the Panthers before Tallon traded him to Vancouver six games into the 2011-12 season.
Although Booth has had injury problems in the past, he played solid minutes for Toronto last season and said he felt as good as he has in years.
“It’s always tough coming into camp and trying to play your best in the first three games,” Booth said.
“It’s unfortunate. I feel I’m still a great player. This place felt comfortable and like a place I could do some of the things I’ve done before. But this is a business, and sometimes you’re just a number. They have to make the decisions they feel are best for the team.”
Said Tallon: “It was very tough because he played very hard. We have young guys … It was hard to fit [Booth] into the slot. It was a difficult decision, and I wish him all the best.”
The Panthers also sent prospects Shane Harper, Mike Matheson and MacKenzie Weegar to their AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.
The moves put Florida’s roster at 27, although it sounds like forward Rocco Grimaldi will start the season on the injured list as Tallon told reporters the roster “is at 26.”
With the moves, veteran Martin Havlat — also in camp on a tryout — remains in the running for a roster spot, as do Quinton Howden, Connor Brickley, Garrett Wilson and 18-year-old Lawson Crouse.
“We have lots of players,” Tallon said. “The positive thing is, all these guys are going to get into games. That’s been the focus, getting good pros in our system. It takes an army to get to the promised land here. It takes more than 23 guys. It takes 30-35 guys.”
Defenseman Dylan Olsen also remains in camp, although he’s expected to be sent to Portland after not playing in any of Florida’s first five preseason games because of conditioning issues.
The Panthers need to have their roster at 23 by 5 p.m. on Monday.
Gallant said that, barring injury, his lineup Saturday against visiting Tampa Bay would likely be his lineup for the season opener Oct. 10 against Philadelphia.
“We have a lot of guys battling for a few spots, and it’s healthy competition,” Gallant said. “Saturday’s game is pretty much going to be our team unless guys are banged up or something. As much as possible, I’m going to play everyone to get ready for the season.”
Matheson, considered Florida’s top prospect the past few seasons, said he was disappointed to be sent to Portland but added that he would work hard in trying to return to the Panthers.
“I knew coming in that it would be a long shot to make this team out of training camp, just with the numbers and the caliber of the players they already had here,” said Matheson, who played in a handful of AHL games last spring after leaving Boston College.
“You can’t go down there and sulk and think the whole world is against you. If you do, you’ll be stuck there. If you take it as motivation and work even harder, I think the odds of me coming back are greater.”