Ranking the Rebuilds #5…The Florida Panthers

florida_panthers_wallpaper_by_nascarfan160-d6ofwpo

I’ve long been a fan of Florida GM Dale Tallon.

Tallon built the foundation of the Chicago Blackhawks team that has won 3 Stanley Cups in the 5 seasons.

Tallon’s first season as the Blackhawks general manager was a busy one. The 2004–05 NHL season was lost to a labor dispute, and the new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players was signed in July 2005. Between the new financial structure and many rules changes intended to produce a higher scoring game, Tallon was challenged to build a new team. Tallon signed many free agents, including goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin,[5] defenceman Adrian Aucoin,[6] and forward Martin Lapointe,[7] which led to raised expectations. The Blackhawks finished Tallon’s first season with 26 wins, 43 losses and 13 overtime losses for 65 points, ranking the Blackhawks 14th in the 15-team Western Conference, and with the third-least points in the NHL.

Under Tallon, however, the Blackhawks steadily improved, raising their points totals to 71 and 88 in the next two years. Though not enough to make the playoffs either year, their poor overall standing allowed Tallon high draft picks to work with. In 2006, he selected Jonathan Toews third overall, then Patrick Kane first overall the following year. The two forwards went on to quickly become franchise cornerstones and were joined by fellow young talents Patrick SharpKris VersteegMartin Havlát and Brian Campbell, all of whom Tallon either signed or traded for.

With a new core of players in 2008–09, the Blackhawks finished the season with a 46–24–12 record for 104 points. Ranking fourth overall in the Western Conference, the team qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Chicago made it to the Western Conference Finals, where they were eliminated in five games by the Detroit Red Wings.

Tallon further bolstered his team in the off-season by signing star winger Marián Hossa and Selke Trophy-winning John Madden. That same off-season, however, Tallon and the Blackhawks management came under fire in early July 2009, when the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) claimed the team did not submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents before the deadline.[8] In the worst-case scenario, the team’s unsigned restricted free agents at the time, including Kris Versteeg, would have become unrestricted, earning them additional salary and negotiating rights.[8] Tallon was able to sign all his restricted free agents, although at a cost of millions more than he would have to had he qualified them in time.[9]

Soon thereafter, on July 14, 2009, the Blackhawks demoted Tallon to the position of senior advisor, while Stan Bowman, son of Scotty Bowman, was promoted to general manager.[10] The following day, Martin Havlát, who was no longer a Blackhawk, criticized the team’s management and defended Tallon.[11] He stated, “Every single player on that team is with Dale. I still talk to the guys all the time, hockey players know a phony when they see one.”[11] He specifically berated John McDonough, the team’s president, commenting, “McDonough couldn’t stand that Dale was so successful and getting the credit for building the Hawks from a last place team to making the Conference Finals in 3 short years.”[11]

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in June 2010. The Blackhawks engraved Tallon’s name on the Cup and issued him a Stanley Cup ring.[12] Source

Tallon remained in limbo until May 17th 2010 when he was hired by the Florida Panthers as GM and immediately setting about rebuilding his new team.

After serving as a senior advisor with the Blackhawks for nearly a year, Tallon was hired on May 17, 2010, by the Florida Panthers as general manager, replacing Randy Sexton.[13] The Panthers had finished last in their division, the Southeast, the previous season and had not made the playoffs since 2000. Seeking a rebuilding process similar to that which he accomplished in Chicago, Tallon immediately began trading away several players, most notably forward Nathan Horton and defenceman Keith Ballard.

In his first season as general manager, the Panthers finished last in their division for the second straight year, prompting Tallon to fire Head Coach Peter DeBoer (later replacing him with former NHL player Kevin Dineen) and to continue trading for younger players and draft picks. At the NHL trade deadline, he dealt away captain Bryan McCabe, as well as veterans Cory StillmanRadek Dvořák and Christopher Higgins. In the off-season, he acquired three former Chicago players — Brian Campbell, Tomáš Kopecký and Kris Versteeg— while also signing Tomáš Fleischmann and former Panthers fan favourite Ed Jovanovski.

Tallon’s personnel changes helped lead the Panthers to their first Southeast Division title in franchise history, improving by 22 points in the 2011–12 season. Qualifying for the 2012 playoffs as the third seed, they were eliminated in the first round by the eventual finalistsNew Jersey Devils, ironically led by former Panthers head coach, Peter DeBoer. As a result of his leading the team to their first playoff appearance in twelve years, Tallon was nominated for the 2012 NHL General Manager of the Year Award.

We can assume the rebuild in Florida began with Tallon’s tenure with the Panthers in 2010 but unlike the rebuild of the Edmonton Oilers which began the same season with the drafting of Taylor Hall, Tallon’s efforts were much more complicated,

After 3 year’s of lacking the resources to build a winner, that all changed in 2013 when Vincent Viola bought out a rag tag group of minority owners and committed to providing the dollars and stability the team needs to move forward.

Viola said Friday that he was committed to giving the Panthers “the resources needed to win the Stanley Cup,” which brought a smile to Tallon’s face.

“I believe in what he believes in,” said Tallon, the architect of Chicago’s 2010 championship team.

“He’s committed to putting a winning team out there on the ice. That’s all I can ask for. We’re going to get terrific commitment from him and that’s exciting. The fact I can go to them and say ’this is what we need, what are your thoughts?’ is important. That’s the support we need to fix whatever we need fixed.’’

The Panthers were previously controlled by Cliff Viner and a multitude of minor partners, including local heavyweights H. Wayne Huizenga, Alan Cohen, Mike Maroone and Jordan Zimmerman. They were all bought out by Viola. Viola owns a majority of the franchise now, with only longtime business partner Douglas Cifu joining him. Cifu is the new vice chairman and alternate governor of the Panthers. Source

So, if we consider the Panthers rebuild got a reboot in 2013, we’re now only a couple of years into the process.
In the past two years, Tallon has been very busy remaking his team while allowing his exceptional draft record to provide his team with young elite players.
After acquiring Roberto Luongo in trade, the Panthers are set in goal.
The D, anchored by possession monster Bryan Campbell propelled the Cats to a middling 2.60 GA/GP last season but Campbell is on the last year of his contract and it’s expected Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad will assume the role of #1 stud defenseman as early as this season.
With Dimitri Kulkov, Erik Gudbranson, Alex Petrovic, Dylan Olsen and Michael Matheson in the under 25 group, the Panthers are loaded with high end D prospects once Campbell, and Willie Mitchell are done.
Likewise, their prospect centre depth, due to astute drafting, is among the best in the league with Alexander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trochek, Rocco Grimaldi and 2014 draft Jayce Hawryluk all surging.
The Panthers weakness is, and has been, scoring wingers and they will need Jonathan Huberdeau, Brandon Pirri and newly acquired Reilly Smith to step up.
The addition of the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr gave the Panthers and immediate boost last season but the teams rebuild, while solid in goal, at D and at centre is remarkable, they need more scoring from the wings to make things hum.
Since wingers are the easiest players to acquire in trade or free agent signings, I expect Tallon will solve the issue sooner than later considering he is sitting with almost $12 million in free cap space.
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3 thoughts on “Ranking the Rebuilds #5…The Florida Panthers

  1. Hi Andrew!

    Panthers at #5 eh? Much like the Oilers I see a smart GM in place and a remarkable stable of young prospects at the C and D positions, but unlike the Oilers the major differences are their proven (though declining) excellent 1G and 1D as well as a stud 1D of the future. Don’t get me wrong I think Nurse is gonna be great but Ekblad is something else…saw him on more than 1 occasion while he was in the OHL – generally the only kid on the ice he didn’t tower over was Crouse, but that’s another story. Have I mentioned I am a huge Crouse fan? The fact that at some point players are going to have to deal with both of them at the same time is scary to think about.

    The problem for me with this ranking is purely a subjective one – I rarely see the Panthers play and when I do I am generally bored to death. All of the teams ranked ahead in their rebuilds, particularly the stars and Islanders, are fun teams to watch and hard to play against. I think the recent moves and drafts have placed Florida into that conversation. I still don’t care much for the franchise, but in a couple of years maybe I will (especially if I stay in this non-traditional hockey market).

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    1. Thing is, the Panthers have solidified G, D and C.

      Luongo is reliable even if he declines somewhat.

      Ekblad, Kulikov and Petrovic are already superior to any D the Oilers have.

      Nurse MAY turn into a top pairing D but the the Panthers already have 2 of them, not to mention the ageless Bryan Campbell who is an elite possession D and Erik Gudbranson who is well ahead of Klefbom.

      At C, it’s likely the The Oilers have the best player in McDavid but Barkov, Bjugstad and Trocek match up very well as a group.

      The Panthers need some young scoring wingers going forward (Huberdeau, Pirri and Crouse are certainly not chopped liver) but the Panthers are much more balanced than the Oilers because they have proven goaltending and a brace of top 4D.

      The Oilers, meanwhile, still have no proven NHL starting goaltending and they don’t have even ONE top pairing D on the roster.

      Oh, and the Panthers have almost $12M in free cap space while the Oilers are already bumping up against the cap with an unbalanced roster,.

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      1. I don’t disagree that the panthers are much closer to balanced than the oilers, and that cap space will come in handy.

        that said, next year the Oilers will have a bit more wiggle room with a couple of crap contracts (9MM of Nikitin and Purcell) coming off the books.

        I think we may have to agree to disagree on the Gudbranson vs. Klefbom debate though. It’s amazing how much better a young Dman looks when his goalie is Bobby Lu. We also have to factor in that Gudbranson is 18 months older with a lot more NHL experience than Kelf at this point, so it makes a lot of sense that one looks better than the other. 5 years from draft date for each and we’ll know a little bit better about each player.

        As to the D and G, you’re right of course – but we’ll see what things look like in a year. The Panthers today have fewer question marks than the Oilers do, and I’ve warmed to the idea that the 5 slot makes sense for them – none of the teams ranked ahead should be below them at all, but let’s see this franchise play meaningful games down the stretch. Despite the more balanced roster and the much better D, I really don’t see them making a lot of noise in the East this year and likely finish relatively close to the Oilers overall.

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