Typically, March is a month of furious competitive hockey as almost every team in the league thinks it still has a chance to make the post season. This season…not so much.
In the Western Conference, 3 teams, Nashville, Minnesota and Colorado, are duking it out for the final 2 wildcard spots while in the Eastern Conference, it would appear only Philadelphia has a decent chance of cracking the top 8.
That essentially leaves 12 teams as “Dead Men Skating” which pretty much overturns the parity notion that Gary Bettman has been pushing, at least for this season.
Now that Anaheim has returned from the dead and is streaking (9-0-1) toward a WC championship, there really are no surprise cinderella winners or losers this season, unless, of course, you ignored by exhortations at the beginning of the season and din’t keep a close eye on the Florida Panthers.
As a long time follower and admirer of Dale Tallon and his work in Chicago and now Florida, I’m not the least bit surprised at his teams’ success.
He built the team the right way from the goalie out when he acquired Roberto Luongo and has hewed to the mantra that a stout defense anchored by veteran Bryan Campbell, young phenoms Aaron Ekblad, Dimitri Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic is a key to success.
He also followed the blueprint of depth down the middle when he drafted Alex Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden and the rapidly blooming Vincent Trocek as well as 0more pedestrian players like Derek McKenzie and Dave Bolland who is perhaps one glaring mistake in the Tallon era in Florida.
I recall a rather chippy encounter with the folks over at Lowetide’s blog when I happened to point out how astute Tallon was in stocking his C depth and was met with howls of derision from the Lowetidian acolytes.
Last laughs and all that…..
The Panthers remain in 1st place in the Atlantic division and despite having only a slim lead are a shoe in for the playoffs.
I doubt they can get past the dominant Capitals to a berth in the Stanley Cup finals but, man, Tallon acquiring Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell at the deadline only adds to the Panthers forward depth and, as we know, almost anything can happen in the playoffs.
If you’re a Canadian hockey fan and relish pulling for a team in the playoffs, the Panthers might be a good bet.
And, one final thought, the “Blackhawks South” that Tallon is building in South Florida has almost $30 million in free cap space in the offseason and a loaded prospect pool.
Tallon will be able to feast on cap strapped teams dumping good players like no other GM in the league and I would imagine he will complete the job of building a powerhouse before the snow flies.
Timing and smarts are everything.