Some of you my recall that I called the success of the Florida Panthers before the season began and, now that they’ve locked up the Atlantic Division championship and achieved franchise record in games won and points accrued, it’s worth revisiting how the Cats got to where they are.
I am the Panthers beat writer for The Hockey Writers and have been writing for them for some time. My interest in taking on the assignment was triggered by my status as a “free agent fan” (despite what you may read elsewhere) and by my admiration for smart General Managers like Dean Lombardi, Jim Nill and, of course, Dale Tallon.
As a prairie kid, I recall how excited I was when the Vancouver Canucks were awarded an NHL franchise since the closest team geographically was in some far off town named Tarawna.
The Canucks’ pick in the expansion draft was none other than defenseman Dale Tallon and I’ve been following him closely ever since…through his career as a player, as a broadcaster and GM with both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Panthers.
Tallon got a cup ring for building the Hawks, despite some bumfoolery from the Bowman clan, and now seems poised to take another team to the top.
How Did He Do It?
How Tallon built the Hawks has been chronicled in great detail so let’s focus on his work in south Florida.
It may be hard to believe but Tallon has only been the Panthers head honcho for five seasons. After a year of assessment and a surprise trip to the playoffs, Tallon decided to sell the farm and build a team through the draft and smart veteran additions.
The road to the top started with Tallon’s first draft when he had accumulated three 1st round picks and would load up for the future.
Most “experts” will tell you that getting two players from any draft is a success but let’s take a look at Tallon’s haul from 2010.
- Erik Gudbranson (3rd overall)
- Nick Bjugstad (19th)
- Quinton Howden (25th)
- Alex Petrovic (36th)
All those players are currently on the Panthers’ roster but Tallon wasn’t done yet.
- Joonas Donskoi (4th round – now playing for San Jose)
- Zack Hyman (5th round – now playing for Toronto)
That’s six NHL players in one draft and you may think Tallon got lucky, so, let’s see how he did in his second draft.
- Jonathan Huberdeau (3rd overall)
- Rocco Grimaldi (2nd round)
- Vincent Trocheck (3rd round !)
- Logan Shaw (3rd round)
- Iiro Pakarinen (7th round – now playing for Edmonton)
So, that is another four current Panthers and a total of ELEVEN NHL players in just two drafts.
But, as they say on late night television, there’s more.
Tallon’s decision to hit the draft has also returned Sasha Barkov in 2013 and Aaron Ekblad in 2014.
The 2014 draft also produced highly regarded Jayce Hawryluk (who just signed his ELC with the Panthers) in the second round and 2015 delivered blue-chip prospect Lawson Crouse.
By my count, the Panthers have eight of their own draft picks currently on the roster with more to come shortly and Tallon has also been active in signing coveted overage jurors like Dryden Hunt.
It’s pretty obvious that Tallon has that “draft thing” mastered but he hasn’t sat on his hands when it comes to surrounding them with talented veterans to ease their way into the league, unlike another team that rhymes with Boilers.
Brian Campbell, Roberto Luongo, Willie Mitchell, Jaromir Jagr and Shawn Thornton have all provided a steadying hand for the young Panthers this season and all but Mitchell are expected back next season.
But Tallon has also managed the cap so well that he was able to airlift in three veterans, Jiri Hudler, Jakub Kindl and Teddy Purcell, as added depth for a playoff run.
Speaking of the Salary Cap
Tallon has been able to accomplish building an elite team in a very short period of time while remaining waaaay under the salary cap.
In the offseason, the Panthers will have more than $25 million in free cap space to play with and, while I expect they’ll bring back Jagr, Campbell (at a reduced rate) and have to sign Trocheck and Gudbranson to second contracts, they will again have all the room in the world to add to their already impressive arsenal.
With so many teams facing a cap crunch, Tallon should be one of the most active players in the free agent market and the Cats could be even scarier next season.
The Bottom Line
Tallon is not without his mis-steps, no GM is, but he can easily correct his biggest mistake with a buyout of Dave Bolland and let’s remember that Tallon is also carrying Marc Savard’s contract on LTIR to provide even more flexibility.
The man knows what he’s doing.