NHL: How the Florida Panthers Are Fixing Their Franchise for 2011-2012

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NHL: How the Florida Panthers Are Fixing Their Franchise for 2011-2012
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Florida's trading for Brian Campbell was an opening move to ensure the Panthers would make headway in the 2011-12 regular season.

The Florida Panthers are not an elite NHL franchise. 

They do not garner anywhere close to the same amount of attention received by Eastern Conference teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals or New Jersey Devils

However, the Panthers have spent the past few weeks undergoing a complete overhaul of what was once an abysmal franchise.

Florida has not made a playoff appearance since 2000 and has only three to their credit since entering the NHL in 1993. In the years since that last playoff appearance, the Panthers have finished no higher than fourth in the Southeast Division all but twice. 

While some question the validity of professional hockey in Florida, the Panthers have done very little to seal their place as a recognized NHL franchise.

That is, until now.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon has been incredibly busy this offseason making trades, extending contracts and signing free agents to bolster what was once a meager and almost forgotten team. 

One of those moves was to sign a new head coach in Kevin Dineen. 

Dineen had spent six years coaching the Panthers' AHL affiliate Portland Pirates.  While his NHL coaching experience is yet nonexistent, Tallon expects Dineen will be the man for the job.

"The minute I met Kevin, I knew he was the guy," Panthers GM Dale Tallon said. "This is the man for the job. I'm excited about our future now."

More importantly for both Tallon and the Panthers was the subsequent acquisitions of several players who should immediately bolster their team's defense and scoring capability.

Perhaps one of the biggest moves Tallon made was the trade for Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell in exchange for Rostislav Olesz. 

Campbell, one of the elite offensive defensemen in the league today, provides the Panthers with a considerable power play threat, as well as a player known for his skating and scoring abilities.  Tallon knew Campbell well while he was the GM of the Blackhawks and felt confident enough in his abilities to execute the trade. 

On the first day of free agency, Tallon's biggest move was to sign center Tomas Fleischmann to a four-year deal worth $18 million.  He also traded for Flyers winger Kris Versteeg, whom the Panthers will hope to anchor a second or perhaps third line. The Panthers also pounced on long-time defensive force Ed Jovanovski who will, along with Campbell, add to the scoring threat from the blue line.

In addition to Campbell, Fleischmann, Versteeg and Jovanovski, the Panthers also signed Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, Jose Theodore and Matt Bradley. They also traded for the talented two-way winger Sergei Shirokov, who had not seen much playing time in the talent-abundant Vancouver Canucks organization.

"This is by far the most we've done since I've been here. This is change that's been needed. It's going to be a brand-new team, guys have a lot to prove. This is awesome to see. I want to be part of this process. I know things are going to change around here. These guys want to win. Man, it's exciting," Panthers winger David Booth said.

Regardless of the hype surrounding the transactions Tallon and the Panthers have executed, ends will still have to justify the means.

There remains a question of depth with this team and a number of new Panthers, including Fleischmann and Jovanovski, who are known to be injury prone.

In addition, some of the larger contracts paid out to players like Campbell and Fleischmann could haunt the Panthers in future years as they continue to retool for the future.

Lastly, most experts around the NHL would still regard both Washington and Tampa Bay as the top dogs in the Southeast Conference. Despite said efforts by Florida, the talent levels of the Capitals and Lightning far exceed that of the Panthers at this point.

Nonetheless, Tallon and the Panthers have reason to be excited for the upcoming season. The Panthers should be able to legitimately compete for a playoff spot this year, if not necessarily a division championship.  Furthermore, the notable acquisitions have finally put this Florida franchise back on the map where Panthers fans hope it will stay for a long time.

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