If you have attended a Florida Panthers game in the last two years, you know the Panthers have been building up. The pregame video noted that the Panthers were subscribing to their own “blueprint.” In this blueprint, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon promised to rebuild the team in the same fashion that he rebuilt the Chicago Blackhawks and led them to a Stanley Cup championship. While the pursuit of a championship for the Panthers is still underway, Tallon has surely rebuilt the team in remarkable fashion.
The Panthers’ offseason spending unfortunately did not gain the publicity that it should have. In this sports land full of names like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, José Reyes and Hanley Ramírez, it’s difficult for names like Goc, Fleischmann, and Théodore to engender much excitement.
But, for those who were following closely, this offseason was unreal and moved at a lightning pace. While the 2011 NHL trading deadline may have indicated that the Panthers had no inclination to improve their team, it was actually moving the organization in a very positive direction. In a matter of five days, the Panthers traded away five of their veterans, and, in return, acquired expiring contracts and draft picks. While sending away some of their most valuable pieces seemed like a salary dump by Tallon, he had the offseason in mind.
Tallon wasted no time in the offseason. Even before free agents were eligible to negotiate with any team, he acquired Tomás Kopeck from the Chicago Blackhawks for only a late draft pick. The Panthers were able to hammer out a fouryear contract with the winger, and that started the Panthers out in the right direction. As soon as players were able to negotiate freely, Tallon was able to reel in big name after big name. However, in this city of big names, Upshall is not one of them.
Be that as it may, in the NHL world, the Panthers had done well for themselves. The Panthers were in quite a unique situation, as they were significantly below the salary floor and were required to spend a large sum of money this offseason. This gave Tallon all the freedom he needed to construct this team in the way he knew would produce a contender. An important factor is that Tallon drew from experience.
He knew which players would be beneficial to his team because he was the in the upper management of the Blackhawks, where many of his players formerly played. In all, five prominent players on the Panthers’ roster were members of the Blackhawks while Tallon was employed as general manager and senior advisor: Tomás Kopeck, Kris Versteeg, John Madden, Jack Skille and Brian Campbell.
When the Panthers began their playoff journey against the New Jersey Devils this month, they had 26 men on their roster. Only nine of those players had been there for the final game of the 2010-11 season. Even more shocking is the fact that only six of those players were members of the Panthers when Dale Tallon was named general manager in May 2010. However, Tallon’s plan was in affect not only during the offseason. After the start of the season, the Panthers acquired six veteran players without giving up a high draft pick or any of their highly-rated prospects. The Panthers have built their team in a very smart fashion, and they continue to build it.
While some may argue that Miami is not much of a sports town, and there may be some validity to that claim, there are very few who can argue that South Florida is a hockey town. However, South Florida sure does like a winner. And that is exactly what the Panthers have produced. With an all-new slogan of “We See Red,” the Panthers fans have been energized. With so much happening in South Florida, it is difficult to capture the city’s attention, especially for a hockey team. Dale Tallon improved the Panthers from a 15th seed to a third seed in a single offseason. If the Panthers continue to win, they will capture this city’s attention, as they did in 1996. And if the winning hasn’t made this season electrifying, the return of the rats sure has.
Preston Michelson is a junior at Palmer Trinity School where he is the public address announcer for all varsity sporting events. Contact him on Twitter at @PrestonMich or by email at michelsonpr@ gmail.com.