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It looks like money was the hang-up, but in reality, few expect the Panthers to truly contend this season. Why waste the money on the extra bonuses, especially if you haven't much to go around? Florida saves a little here and when the season ends and contracts expire, they'll have more to work with in the next round of negotiations.
And depending on Erik's season, it could work out well for him in the long run.
There's also the realistic possibility that Gudbranson may have been returned to the OHL after a handful of games anyway so that his ELC could be preserved for next. No doubt that was an outcome the Cats considered, so while the return came sooner than they may have expected, the excess of defenders shows us that they were prepared for it.
Gudbranson's chances of being on Team Canada in the winter have just gone way up with this news, so the World Juniors will be an exciting time for Panthers fans.