The Florida Panthers

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.

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Full Disclosure

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.

Draft Schmaft

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Dogs Days

Orang utan, Netherlands
WAITING FOR APRIL

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.

 

 

 

 

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:

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

Spitballin’

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Just a few random thoughts as the NHL takes a brief Christmas break….

Crashing Jets

The Winnipeg Jets are pretty much out of the playoff race.They’re 9 points (remember they have to finish AHEAD of another team) back of the final wildcard berth in the WC and I can’t see them catching either Nashville or Minnesota.

Unless they have an unlikely win streak in the next couple of weeks, the Jets (whose playoff chances are currently at 12% according to Sports Club Stats) should start thinking about next season.

That means they should try and maximize the return they can get for Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd who are coming up on UFA status. And that also means they should make some moves as soon as possible since a team acquiring them could use the help down the stretch not just after the trade deadline at the end of February.

That raises the question of which teams might be in a position to take on their contracts.

In the case of Big Buff, I think we should keep and eye on the Los Angeles Kings who are in a position take take a strong run at another cup.

After shedding the Voynov and Richards contracts, the Kings are sitting with about $4 million in free cap space and could easily fit his contract under the cap.

That raises the question…do the Kings have the pieces necessary to acquire Buff from the Jets?

They don’t have a 1st round pick but they do have some intriguing prospects that might tempt Winnipeg.

Hockey’s Future has a great rundown of what the Kings prospect pool looks like here and I think there are enough quality players in Ontario that could help the Kings piece together a deal.

As for Andrew Ladd, it might be harder for the Jets to part with him since he is their team leader and a consistent scorer but it makes sense for the Jets to move him and further bolster their prospect pool with a possible eye on re-signing him in the offseason.

A team I would keep a close eye on here is the Florida Panthers who have stated they are searching for a scoring winger and, of course, Ladd has a connection to Dale Tallon from their Chicago days.

The Panthers have more than $6 million in free cap space and just a ton of blue chip prospects that might tempt Winnipeg.

The Jets already have the deepest prospect pool in the league and could perhaps add to it significantly if they get a lottery pick and a good return on Byfuglien and Ladd.

A bitter pill for Jets fans this season but also a huge opportunity for the team.

What About Those Canucks?

In my pre-season prognostications, I had the Canucks making the playoffs…not because they’re much good but because Arizona, Calgary and Edmonton are pretty bad. That Anaheim has been horrid has helped make me look pretty smart although I, and no one else, saw that coming.

Well, the Canucks, at the break, are clinging to the last Pacific Division spot despite going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. But we need to consider a few things here.

The Canucks have had just a brutal schedule up to now with multiple long road trips and have only played 14 home games compared to 22 on the road.

Their next 7 straight games are at home so, if they can get their act together on home ice (5-6-3), they have a chance to pull away from the pack.

We should have a pretty good idea how this will turn out by January 15.

Heere’s Johnny

Picking a team out of the bottom of the scrap heap to perhaps take a run at the last Pacific Division playoff spot is tough since the pretenders are so closely packed and the results could depend on injury and/or a great deal of luck.

But going into the break, the hottest team in hockey is the Calgary Flames (8-2-0).

Calgary is being led offensively by 22 year old phenom Johnny Gaudreau who has 10 goals and 16 points in his last 10 games.

Bu that’s not the whole story.

TJ Brodie has played 25 games since returning from injury…their record in that 25 games is 14W-9L-2OTL

That folks is a playoff calibre stretch of games and also worth noting is that the Flames play 7 of their next 8 games at home where they have a stellar 11-5-0 record.

Gloomy in Edmonton

Both the Canucks and Flames have the Oilers next on their dance cards and it’s likely the Oilers will have to win both to stay in the race as remote as their chances actually are.

Those 2 games are followed by LAK, ANA and ARZ so a week from today the Oilers could be hanging on or out of contention by New Year’s Day.

Based on schedule and momentum, I would wager Calgary will be in a playoff spot a week from now.

 

 

 

 

Snap Shots

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It’s a quiet day in the NHL with only one game on the schedule but, man, I’ve watched a lot of hockey already.

It’s very early days but some observations…

  1. OT 3 on 3 is a hoot and a far better way to decide a hockey game than the shootout. That it also rewards skill players with points that count on the resume is an added bonus which is some compensation for the ways officiating is allowing the best of the best to be stifled again.

2. Way too much attention has been focused on Connor McDavid early in the season…you have to hope that the TV commentators lose some interest in the topic as the season progresses. McDavid has shown some speed but, so far, has been pretty ordinary.

3. Speaking of rookies…Artemi Panarinin (Hawks) and Oscar Lindberg (Rangers) have excelled in their first 3 games, each scoring 4 points. As I told you earlier, Vancouver Canucks rookie defenseman Ben Hutton has been an early season revelation…not only picking up 2 assists in his first 2 games but has also been the Canucks best defenseman through those two contests. The big smooth skating D is exactly the prototype of a puck moving defenseman who clears his own zone easily and makes a tremendous first pass to a streaking winger.

4. The Canucks youth movement is already paying dividends with Bo Horvat, Ben Hutton, Jared McCann and Sven Baertschi all playing exceptionally well. They’re all great skaters and have added speed and youthful enthusiasm to a “stale” Canucks lineup. Jake Virtanen is still on the roster but has yet to play a game although I think the Canucks will insert him in an upcoming road trip against the big teams in California.

5. Johnny Hockey has picked up right where he left off last season with 1G 3A 4PTS in his first 2 games. I expect he, and his line mates Jiri Hudler (3PTS) and Sean Monahan (2PTS) will flirt with 1PPG this season. Yes, they ARE that good.

6. Speaking of scoring…Patrick Kane appears to have been shot out of a cannon this season with 3G and 3A in his first 3 games. He appears to be motivated by his offseason difficulties.

7. Another players to keep an eye on is Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog who appears he may have taken his game to a new level. He’s always been a great 2 way forward but is now riding some ridiculous percentages to 3 goals and 5 points in his first 2 games. No doubt he will drop off somewhat but that kind of boring has a way of boosting a players confidence and leads to a great season.

8. The lack of any scoring at all is the story for the Edmonton Oilers. All they have to show for their efforts thus far is a goal credited to Ryan Nugent Hopkins on a play where he didn’t tough the puck. I watched Taylor Hall very closely in last night’s game against the Predators and, while Hall was credited with 8 SOG, 7 of them were from the outside and had virtually no chance of going in…seems he might still be trying to game his Corsi while avoiding the tough areas of the ice.

9) Speaking of Corsi…or SAT as the NHL likes to call it…here are your easy season Top 10.

Leo Komarov TOR +28

JVR TOR +26

Eric Staal CAR +25

Travis Harmonic NYI +25

Jake Gardiner TOR +23

John-Michael Liles CAR +23

Calvin De Haan NYI +22

Elias Lindholm CAR +22

Brett Kulak CAL +21

Brandon Dubinsky CLB + 21

Hmmmmm.

10. Watch out for the Florida Panthers…seriously.

Spitballin”

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With the trade deadline less than 48 hours away, it’s always fun to speculate who is going where and what the return might be.

Of course, none of us has the inside poop on what General Mangers are actually thinking but we can make some guesses on what we think teams need and which ones are likely to be buyers.

One team that has been flying quietly under the radar is the Calgary Flames. 

TSN/ESPN pundit Pierre Lebrun has a post up today that looks author the Flames are approaching the deadline:

The reality is that the Calgary Flames are playing with house money being in playoff contention this late in the season, and even if their passionate fans might have forgotten their pedestrian preseason expectations, team management hasn’t. Which is why GM Brad Treveling isn’t about to trade a first-round pick in exchange for rental help. Heck, he’s going to guard his second-round pick pretty closely too, unless it’s a trade that really, really makes sense. And he will protect his Grade A prospects, too. But he does want to make a deal before Monday’s deadline that’s reasonable for now and beyond because he wants to reward the NHL’s hardest-working, blue-collar outfit for their surprising season.

Lebrun also identifies Calgary as being in the market for a defenseman in the wake of the injury to Mark Giordano and with his team currently 1 point out of a playoff sport, I think he’ll pull the trigger and may have the Oilers’ Jeff Petry in his sights.

The question then becomes what might the Flames dangle to get themselves another defenseman. Well, they are absolutely loaded at centre with Sean Monahan, Matt Stajan, Micahel Backlund, Joe Colbourne, Lance Bouma, Josh Jooris, Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart and Sam Bennett on the way next season.

Not only might one or more of those players prove to be attractive to a team wanting to move a defenseman but I would imagine the Arizona Coyotes could make an offer that would send Antoine Vermette to the Flames for a potential playoff run.

Brian Burke teams have a history of swinging big trades so don’t be surprised if the Flames pull off a blockbuster in the next few hours.


Another team to keep an eye on is the Florida Panthers. Dale Tallon has already acquired Jaromir Jagr and has just moved out Tomas Fleischmann’s $4.5M cap hit to the Ducks for Dany Heatley (buried in the minors) and a 3rd round pick. I expect another galosh to drop in south Florida very soon as the Panthers try to overtake the Bruins for the final wild card spot in the EC. Patrick Sharp?


Apparently the Toronto Maple Leafs are shopping centre Tyler Bozak very hard but there’s likely a limited market for what is essentially a 2nd line centre with a cap hit of $4.2M for another 3 seasons. It’s very difficult to predict which, if any teams might be interested in Bozak at that price point but some GM might step on his dink in order to get his team in the playoffs.


Lots of chatter that the Chicago Blackhawks are going to move Patrick Sharp (in the wake of persistent rumours he was involved in fisticuffs in the Hawks dressing room). Don’t be surprised if he ends up in Florida although there are other teams in the chase:

Noises getting louder over Blackhawks discussing calls for Sharp, who has limited NMC. Told WAS, MTL, DET have serious interest.


I expect the Arizona Coyotes may be the most active team in the next few hours. Along with aforementioned Vermette, the Coyotes may also deal Keith Yandle, Sam Gagner, Martin Erat, and Zbynek Michalek. Don Maloney could be holding a raft of draft picks if most or all of those players are moved.


 

I’ll update this post later in the afternoon as the dominoes begin to fall.

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.

Desperation Alley

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Had to postpone the Storm Watching trip to Tofino…because of the storm 🙂

So I thought I would step back in with some observations on the corner Craig McTavish has painted himself into.

Anyone with a clue knew MacT couldn’t go into an NHL season with only 2 NHL centres, no top pairing D and 2 unproven goaltenders…except MacT himself and his fanboys.

Well, here we are.

1/4 of the way into the season the MacT Oilers (and, yes, he built this roster) are battling the Buffalo Sabres for the Miss Congeniality Award.

I’ve always thought MacTavish loves himself some MacTavish (way beyond the evidence) and is now reaping what he has sown.

Looks good on him.

So, what now?

There are some outlandish trade proposals out there….the venerable, though somewhat addled, Lowetide is suggesting the Oilers reset their roster in a trade that involves Tyler Seguin.

No. I’m talking about a massive deal, where Edmonton and Dallas get together and Edmonton walks away with Tyler Seguin and another significant asset. A massive, game changing deal that alters Edmonton’s strength up the middle. Or Colorado, maybe they have the assets.

I’m not saying he has to make that big of a deal, but open up the possibilities. Make this trade the massive roster correction required.

A team like Dallas, or Colorado for that matter, has no incentive to help the Oilers recover from the mistakes they’ve made in drafting and development over the past 8 seasons.

Tyler Seguin may be the second best C in the league and Colorado’s MacKinnon, Duchene and O’Reilly aren’t all that far behind.

So what would it take for either team to part with one of them?

Both the Stars and Avalanche could use a legit #1D….guess what…the Oilers don’t have one…never mind one that they can spare.

Both teams could use a solid backup goaltender…guess what…the Oilers don’t have one.

The Oilers best trading chips at this point are likely Eberle (14 PTS) and Perron (10 PTS) and neither one of those two will get you a centre of note so I’m thinking they need to target a team with unusual needs.

The Arizona Coyotes desperately need a player that they can market and that player could be Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Perhaps the Oilers could trade their 2015 1st round pick and David Perron for Vermette (UFA at the end of the season) and Keith Yandle. That trade works for both teams.

The other target I would look at is the Florida Panthers who are awash in young centres. Tallon might consider Perron or Eberle for Brandon Pirri.

If you can’t pull off one of those trades I have to think Taylor Hall will have to hit the market which IMO is not the worst idea in the world but more about that next time.