Ten years ago from today, George Bush had not even been sworn in as president, Wayne Gretzky had not been a year retired, and I had only been finishing up my first three years of elementary school. It seems like a long time, especially if you’re a Florida Panthers fan. Holding the longest playoff drought in the NHL, it hasn’t been the best of days for Florida who just finished their ninth straight season without playoff berth. To make it even worse, they haven’t even won a series since their magical run in 1996 when James Vanbiesbrouck carried the team to the Stanley Cup Final. Bottom line is the Panthers have arguably been the worst franchise in the past decade. However, with the recent hiring of Dale Tallon, this long playoff wait could come to an end. Being the “architect” of the 2010 Stanley Cup winner Chicago Blackhawks, Tallon could possibly turn this team into a top seed with a few short years of rebuilding.
2009/2010 Florida Panthers
Record: 32-37-13 (28th Overall)
GF: 208 (27th Overall)
GA: 244 (19th Overall)
Out of all the Panther’s major problems, scoring is definitely the worst. There is no secret that Florida will be looking to trade anybody to bring some more goals in for his team. Tallon, who has already made his first move in trading Nathan Horton, should be a busy man working the phones when he will be shopping every other player to get a building block for the future. They aren’t much deep in prospects, but their most valuable and likely hard to get forward is Czech native Micheal Frolik who racked up 43 points in his sophomore year. Possibly on the outs could be Florida’s leading scorer Stephen Weiss who got a career 28 goals this pass year. As for prospects, there isn’t much in the cupboard other than Michal Repik. I expect the Panthers to have more of an eye for offense in this draft, especially in the first round.
With a great goaltending depth in Vokoun and the Swedish star goalie Jacob Markstrom, Tallon will try to do whatever they can to get some help for the goalies. However, compared to offense, the Panthers have a decent defense system that includes Bryan McCabe, Keith Ballard, newly acquired Dennis Wideman and recent draftee Dmitry Kulikov. Along with Kulikov are some more young defensemen ready to take a big step into the NHL. Keaton Ellerby is set to have his official rookie season after having 22 games with 0 points last season. The 21 year old from Alberta, Canada is projected to be a physical shut down defensemen. Along with Ellerby on the blue line is BC native Josh Garrison who had an impressive 39 game stint posting 2 goals, 6 assists and a +5 with the Panthers this season. This fall, Garrison is expected to take a full roster spot and a long with Ellerby could be a future Top 4 pairing in the upcoming future.
2010 NHL Entry Draft
Just days before the draft, Tallon made his first move in acquiring the 15th overall pick and Dennis Wideman in return for disgruntled forward Nathan Horton and checker Greg Campbell. Now, we get to a very possible situation, just to remind you guys, this is completely my opinion and not any sort of rumor. Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini already stated he’s open for offers for the 1st overall pick. Edmonton is already loaded in forward prospects but lack a lot on the blue line. I believe that Tallon can offer a package that includes the 3rd overall, the 15th overall and a prospect for the 1st Overall pick. It would work out for both teams perfectly as Florida get’s their star player for the future and Edmonton uses the 3rd and 15th to draft any of the top ranked defensemen in the class.
Unlikely scenario’s aside, if the Panthers were to keep their 3rd and 15th overall pick and have the opportunity to select Brandon Gormley, there is no reason that this wouldn’t help the franchise in the future. Gormley is a solid defensive defenseman who is known for leadership qualities and toughness. The PEI native currently plays for the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL and posted 43 points in 58 games. If he’s taken with Florida’s pick he may need another year in junior to work on some areas he may not be ready to challenge at NHL level, but within a few years he would most likely become the Panthers top defensive force. With the 15th pick, they can take Alexander Burmistrov, a Russian who has already stated he has no intention of bolting to the KHL. In his first CHL season with the Barrie Colts, Burmistrov tallied 22 goals and 65 points in 62 games.
Kirill Kabanov’s controversy with Russia has prevented him from playing a full season of hockey and caused a significant drop in the draft rankings going from the top five to the thirties. If the Panthers can take him with their 2nd round pick it would be a great offensive addition to the team. Despite the feud, I have heard great things about Kabanov who had the potential to be a top line player in the NHL. Even if Tallon is in need of more forward prospects, a decent defenseman in the 2nd or 3rd round to look at would be Brock Beukeboom who is the son of former Oilers fan favourite Jeff Beukeboom. At 6’2, he contains the same qualities of his father which includes physicality and leadership. He is well known for having a beamer of a shot from the point and is tough to work around in front of the net. These are just my ideas on what I think would be good for Florida, the players I mentioned could not even be close to the Panthers plans, but however direction they chose, I’m confident that Tallon leads them the right way.
Free Agency and Trades
While Florida isn’t really the number one team on every free agent’s list, Tallon will for sure dip into the free agency pool for a couple assets for the future. I highly doubt he would put Florida’s financial problems in the sewers and go after someone like Ilya Kovalchuk, but Russian free agent Alexander Frolov could be on Tallon’s radar. With two 30 goal seasons under his belt, the 6’2 winger is plays a fast and gritty game, as most of his goals come from strong skating down low. For a cheap price, Frolov would easily step on the top line for Florida and not just in the coach’s doghouse like he was with Terry Murray in Los Angeles. If they do sign a winger like Frolov, they will still need to a get another center. With hardly any depth down the middle, the Panthers could make a pitch for Manny Malhotra, the 30 year old center is a hard working checker who can play in all zones. While not being known for his offensive numbers, Malhotra plays a physical and flawless game. He’s not afraid to stand up for a teammate and makes a great addition for the Panthers bottom six and defensive troubles. In addition to the scoring, Dale Tallon would love to get some physical presence on the team and bringing in a tough guy like Derek Boogard wouldn’t hurt, just to have someone to make sure that other teams don’t mess around with the upcoming young players.
I have my doubts that Tallon would look deep into the defense market. Anton Volchenkov is looking for a big raise, and may not be able to fit Florida’s budget. However, if there is anyone for the Panthers to sign, it would most likely be Paul Martin. The Panthers are in need for some better leadership and I think Martin would fit that role perfectly. Martin was originally selected for the 2010 Olympic US Roster but was taken off due to injury. He is great defensively and intends to chip in offensively at times. Another defensemen that Tallon might pursue is Willie Mitchell, again he has great leadership and plays on the edge every game. He is not known for racking up points but at 33 years of age, he could be a good mentor for all the young defensive prospects coming up.
Tallon has already let know that anyone on his team can get traded. Rumor has it that Olesz and Weiss are more likely the next ones to be shopped if Tallon can get the right price in return. In fact, with Chicago’s cap troubles, Tallon may even want to trade for some players he originally acquired for the Blackhawks such as Andrew Ladd or Kris Versteeg.
There’s a long list of repairs for this team and most of them won’t be fixed overnight. Although, if Tallon can build the same way he did in Chicago aside from giving huge contracts away, then in the near future, Sunrise Florida could possibly be having plans for a Stanley Cup parade.