Panthers Rising

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This is Dale Tallon.

For those who have known me on line for a while, you will know that I’ve become a fan of smart management since Kevin Lowe drove the Oiler bus into the ditch back in 2006.

Tallon, who is chiefly responsible for building the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks, was ousted in a palace coup by the Bowman Mafia ®back in 2009.

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

Tallon took over the Florida Panthers in May 2010.

While he was able to get the Panthers into the playoffs once, he was always hamstrung by unstable ownership and a parsimonious budget until Vinny Viola purchased the team in the summer of 2013 and vowed to spend whatever was need to make the team successful.

Here’s how that pledge looks today:

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 6.00.37 PM

Here is an excerpt from a Miami Herald article this morning: 

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Ranking the Rebuilds #5…The Florida Panthers

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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.

Sunrise

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As many of you will know…I’ve long thought that Kevin Lowe was responsible for all that has befallen the Oilers over the past decade and, let’s be honest, he WAS in charge all those years.

The hiring of Peter Chiarelli and, most importantly, his insistence on also being the team’s GM, finally brings the Lowe/MacT cabal that has devastated the team to a merciful end.

I’m still a little worried that both of the villains will still be employed by the team in some capacity but they should be far enough away from the levers of power that they have very little influence on the team’s future.

Some observers have expressed concern that Chiarelli was hired too quickly without an exhaustive search but I believe the Oilers had to act quickly or he would have been hired elsewhere very quickly…likely in Ottawa.

So, where do the Oilers go from here?

With the Ship of Fools now departing the harbour and an accomplished POHO/GM in charge, I expect Chiarelli will set out to balance the team.

He specifically said he said at his introductory news conference that he would not be afraid to trade any of the young starts if he thought he could improve the team and, from my point of view, that was the most welcome thing he said.

The team must address goaltending and their woeful defense and, while the former should be relatively easy to solve through free agency or a minor trade of assets, I don’t believe there is any other currency than one of Hall or Eberle to accomplish the latter.

The Oilers have to find TWO top pairing D and they have to be in the age range of the young cluster.

There’s a bunch of talk over at Lowetide today that the Oilers should look at bringing in someone like Chara but, c’mon, he’s 38 years old and is breaking down quickly.

There is also some hope that the Oilers will jump on cap strapped teams to land a first pairing D but, other than Hall, Eberle or Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick, the Oilers don’t have any assets that would be of interest to those teams unless they want to give up Nurse or Klefbom which, I’m my opinion, is likely not wise.

Be interesting to se if Chiarelli and I are on the same wavelength.

Snap Shots

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1) So, the fire sale has begun in Toronto with the Nashville Predators swooping in and picking up two of the better players on the Leafs roster. The trade essentially breaks down as a low 1st round pick to Toronto for Franson (a player I like a lot) and  Brendan Leipsic (a very good prospect who is playing well in the AHL) for Mike Santorelli. That both of the players acquired by Nashville are on expiring contracts leaves Nashville with cap flexibility in the offseason and gives them more firepower for a playoff run. But that also means Toronto did very, very well in the trade by getting a 1st for Franson and I would imagine the Leafs may add another 1st pick or two as they burn things to the ground.

2)  The Vancouver Canucks could be in big trouble as they try to hang on to a playoff spot. #1D Alex Edler is out with an “upper body injury” and join Kevin Bieksa (broken hand) on the walking wounded list. Cody Franson would look pretty good in Vancouver right now but Nashville got their first.

3) The Calgary Flames are like that bad smell that just won’t go away. They remain in the last wild card spot after a 3-2 win over the Canucks last night but both Minnesota (8-0-2 in their last 10 GP) and the LA Kings (winners of 4 straight) are charging hard. Calgary can’t afford to lose so it’ll be fun to watch them fight and claw for the remaining games in the season.

4) There were more than a few critics (mainly Oilers fans) of Flames centre Sean Monahan’s performance last season suggesting he was lucky to score 22 goals because he had an “unsustainable” 15.7 shooting percentage. Well, his percentage has dropped a bit this season to 14.1 but, playing on a line with Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gadreau, Monahan is putting up even better numbers this season and is on pace for 28 goals and 52 points. Looks like it WAS sustainable.

5) Speaking of Gaudreau…he continues to pile up points and is on pace for 22 goals and 62 points and remains in the running for the Calder Trophy although Filip Forsberg has an 8 point lead.

6) But for my money, Florida Panthers rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad is the rookie of the year. Ekblad, who turned 19 just last week, is playing more than 22 minutes a game for the Cats (tied for second on the team) and is putting up exceptional scoring numbers for a rookie (on pace for 13 goals and 47 points).

7) Stop the Parade! After absorbing a 7-2 beating at the hands of the Ottawa Senators yesterday, the Oilers are now 9-11-2 under Todd Nelson. As mentioned yesterday, the Oilers next 5 games are against the big, heavy Winnipeg Jets, Boston and then a WC heavy schedule that kicks off with 2 games against the streaking Wild, Anaheim and St. Louis. Worth noting the Oilers are 4-21-8 against the west this season.

8) There’s continuing speculation that the LA Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs are working on a deal that would see Mike Richards and Dion Phaneuf trade teams. That’s a deal with plenty of complications but makes sense on several levels. Phaneuf would be a great pick up for LA’s second pairing (despite the price) and the Leafs could certainly use Richards as a stop gap while their rebuild develops. Richards is an Ontario boy and perhaps a move to the ACC might kick start his career. If, as rumoured, the Leafs trade Tyler Bozak, they will certainly need SOMEONE to play centre.

9) The Florida Panthers remain 4 points out of a wild card spot in the EC with a game in hand on the Bruins. GM Dale Tallon is reportedly shopping veterans on expiring contracts including Sean Bergenheim, Thomas Fleischmann, and Tomas Kopecky. Must be a difficult time for “Trader Dale”, one of the most active GM’s in recent years. I would imagine he will be able to move all of those players for late round picks but runs the risk of losing out on playoff revenue.

10) Back to the Flames for a moment…Calgary is sitting on the most free cap space in the league AND the second best prospect pool in the NHL. The Flames have flexibility to take on any contract and could, of course, extract a King’s ransom from any team that needs to dump salary now, or in the offseason. Keep a close eye on what happens in Calgary since the Burke regime is in a perfect spot to either load up for the playoffs or finish their rebuild in the offseason. I doubt they want Phaneuf back but Phil Kessel might be a very interesting addition if they can get the Leafs to retain some salary in return for a couple of prospects or picks. It’s a good time to be Brian Burke!

 

Snap Shots

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1) Winnipeg Free Press writer Gary Lawless has an interesting post up about the disposability of NHL head coaches and has some particularly harsh comments about the Edmonton Oilers.

Dallas Eakins, Pete DeBoer and Paul MacLean have all been fired this season by organizations with either no plan or the lack of strength to support one.

The Oilers hired Eakins to be part of building a winning program in Edmonton, but fired him after little more than one season. GM Craig MacTavish stood in front of the media following the firing and claimed to have “blood all over his hands,” for his role in assembling a terrible lineup.

MacTavish hired a rookie head coach to work with a young team but panicked when the growing pains became too much.

Everything that transpired in Edmonton was predictable, from a meddling owner to a GM submitting to pressure and casting aside his top lieutenant. Edmonton isn’t a coaching-change away from improvement. MacTavish knows this and firing Eakins was disingenuous. Oilers fans should have been insulted at the flimsy ruse.

Most GM’s get only two head coaches in their tenure so it will be interesting to see how much rope Craig MacTavish has in Edmonton.

2) The Florida Panthers continue their march up the EC standings, going 6-2-2 in their last 10 GP and now sit only 2 points behind the Maple Leafs with 3 games in hand. They have a positive shot differential and are getting all star level goaltending from Roberto Luongo (.923) while emerging star Nick Bjugstad is on pace for a 33 goal season and appears to be gaining confidence with every game. Rookie Defenseman Aaron Ekblad has been noting short of a revelation….the 18 year old has 5 goals, 21 points and leads the team in plus/minus at +8.

3) The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently the highest scoring team in the league at 3.23 G/G. If they ever figure out that defense thing, they could be dangerous.

4) The same might apply to the Dallas Stars who are 28th in the league in GA/G. The Stars, though, are on an 8-2-0 run in their past 10 are are making a belated push for the playoffs. GM Jin Nill continues to try and shore up his D, picking David Schlemko off waivers this morning but I doubt that will be enough to stem the tide.

5) Speaking of the Stars…Tyler Seguin has cooled off a bit of late but remains on pace for a 57 goal 100 point season. In the meantime, it appears Taylor Hall has become “indifferent” in Edmonton and is on pace for 23 goals 53 points.

6) 5 years on from the 2010 draft, things are starting to get a little clearer. Seguin has passed Hall in GP, goals and points, despite playing his first 2 seasons in a sport role in Boston while Hall was top dog in Edmonton. But, to me, one of the most fascinating stories of that draft is Russian sniper Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian, picked 16th in the draft by the St. Louis Blues, is in his 3rd NHL season and is on pace for 47 goals.

7) Before the season began, I predicted the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks would be battling for a wild card spot at the end of the season and that certainly looks like a good bet. They’re currently tied with 45 points apiece and will likely have company in that battle with the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames.

8) As the season winds down, teams’ record against their own conference becomes more and more important as they wrap up their season series against the other conference. Some notables in the WC vs. WC:

Vancouver – 13-7-2

San Jose – 13-6-3

Calgary – 15-7-1

Nashville – 17-5-1

Edmonton 2-18-2

9) Since Edmonton will have to climb over at least 7 teams to get to the playoffs, how deep is the hole they’ve dug? I don’t think you can even see the bottom from here.

10) And finally, how ’bout them Nashville Predators? As of this writing they are leading the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 mid way through the second period. And, worth noting, Mark Arcobello who was traded by Edmonton to Nashville for spare centre Derek Roy, just scored his 8th goal of the season…Roy has 1 goal on the season and only 1 assist in his 3 games as an Oiler. Of course, Roy is  1 inch taller than Arcobello so there is that 🙂

 

 

Miami Vice

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Okay, I’m stretching things a little. The Florida Panthers aren’t based in Miami but in Sunrise Florida which is located a few miles north of Miami, reminiscent of how the former Phoenix Coyotes were actually based in Glendale Arizona (with pretty much the same results in attracting a fan base.)

Sunrise was actually going to be named Sunset Village but the retirees who lived in the area apparently thought that name a bit too “final” and Sunrise it was.

What prompted this post was that I watched the FLORIDA (see, just like the ARIZONA Coyotes) entertain the Montreal Canadiens last night. It was the first sellout of the season for a team that normally draws less than 10 thousand but the stands were filled with Habs fans vacationing in Florida so it was, in effect, an away game for the Panthers.

I also note that, after the game, the Panthers signed their best young player to a 6 year contract extension:

Tuesday was one heck of a night for Nick Bjugstad.

Not long after scoring the game-tying goal in an eventual 2-1 shootout loss to Montreal, the Panthers’ center was signing a six-year deal with the team sources told The Miami Herald.

Bjugstad, a restricted free agent following this season, will get $4.1 million annually.

“He’s a cornerstone piece to the franchise,” the source said.

Now, anyone who has been following closely will know that I am a big fan of Dale Tallon who built the Chicago Blackhawks into a cup winner (and they gave him a ring for his efforts even through he was ousted in the Bowman coup).
Despite changing owners several times, operating on a severely restricted budget and being forced to spend just to reach the salary cap floor, Tallon has been building a young, big talented team from the backend out and it’s starting to pay dividends with the Panthers challenging for a playoff spot despite being one of the youngest teams in the league.

The laundry list of young talent keying this run is something to behold: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad are something of a ‘big five’, all at or under the age of 22. The amazing thing? Every one of these players is in the black as it pertains to Corsi%. In a league where being successful at an extremely young age is quite difficult, the Panthers are making it look relatively easy.

The play of these youngsters is one of the big reasons why they’ve picked up 40 points in 33 games,

None of this comes as a surprise to me since I’ve been touting the rise of the Panthers for several years.
So let’s take a closer look.
The Panthers solidified their goaltending when they picked up Roberto Luongo in the offseason. All he has done is sport a .923 save percentage and his backup, Al Montoya is cruising along at .915 which I believe is the floor for a good to great goaltender.
Tallon has a couple of seasoned vets to mentor his young D, Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell,  but I want to highlight the young D he has drafted and acquired. I’m going to include their vital statistics here because it’s important to note that Tallon has been going after skill AND size.
Aaron Ekblad – 6’4″ 220 18 years old!
Dmitri Kulikov – 6’2″ 205 24 years old
Erik Gudbranson – 6’5″ 220 22 years old
Dylan Olsen – 6’2″ 225 23 years old
Coby Robak – 6’3″ 195. 24 years old
As you can see, this young D, led by phenom Ekblad, hasn’t even entered the prime years for defensemen but is far and away the best young D core in the league and will be dominant for a decade.
Any Oiler fan getting his or her knickers in a twist over Nurse, Marincin and Klefbom need to take  gander at “Miami Vice”.
But, Tallon didn’t stop there.
He has loaded up his team with big, talented centres too….although his stunning C depth has a few little guys too.
Nick Bjugstad – 6’6″ 220 22 years old
Alexsandr Barkov – 6’3″ 19 years old
Brandon Pirri – 6’0″ 185 23 years old
Vincent Trocheck  – 5’10 182 20 years old
Dave Bolland – 6’0″ 185 28 years old
The Panthers also have two blue chip centre prospects, Drew Shore and Rocco Grimaldi, toiling in the minors but it wouldn’t be surprising if Tallon used some of his depth at the position to go after some scoring wingers.
Speaking of wingers….the Panthers have a surplus of older veterans in those roles…Boyes, Bergenheim, Upshall, Fleischmann, Kopecky but they also have another young monster, Jimmy Hayes (6’6″ 225) scoring at a 25 goal pace and Jonathan Huberdeau still developing but Tallon now has the assets and cap space to turn some of those vets into young scoring wingers.
I expect the Panthers are a couple of years away from being true contenders but they are built the right way with strong fundamentals in goal, on D and at centre.
They are big enough and skilled enough to compete with best in the east AND take on the big boys in the west.
Watch out for these guys.