Panthers GM Dale Tallon sees a lot of the Blackhawks in his current team

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daletallon1.jpgEven though Dale Tallon wasn’t there to enjoy it, last season’s Blackhawks championship had his finger prints all over it. He was the guy who signed or drafted a great number of the players that helped the Blackhawks end their 49-year Stanley Cup drought and now he finds himself in Florida as GM of the Panthers thinking that there are similarities between the Blackhawks and Panthers when it comes to building from seemingly nothing. Dan Rosen of NHL.com gets the story from the guy who’s looking to turn around the team in Sunrise.

Tallon, who built the Blackhawks into Stanley Cup champions, has spent the first three months of his new job assessing the situation in Florida and “slowly but surely chipping away at the block.”

“We probably had a few more assets to start with here (Florida) than we had there (Chicago), but it’s a challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” Tallon told NHL.com from the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp Fueled By G Series.

What has Tallon done with the Panthers so far? He’s turned them from the butt of jokes on the ice and a source of irrelevancy in South Florida to a team that’s at least got some buzz surrounding them. Being the architect of a Stanley Cup winning team can help make that happen. By adding guys like Chris Higgins, Marty Reasoner, Nathan Paetsch, Mike Weaver, and Andrew Peters he’s making the Panthers a tougher team as well as a more economically sound one. There are good players there now with David Booth and Stephen Weiss, but that’s a far cry from being a loaded team. As for what he has done, Tallon states the company line.

“We added the pieces we needed to add to make ourselves better,” Tallon
said. “We added more depth at all positions, and we did it in a fiscally
responsible way.”

Where Tallon’s abilities will be tested the most, however, is improving the Panthers farm system which is virtually bone dry. Drafting Erik Gudbranson third overall this year was a good start towards making things better. With the moves the Panthers have made to build depth on defense this year, they’ve made it OK for them to be able to send Gudbranson back to juniors just in case he isn’t ready right away out of training camp. Gudbranson also might help remind people of another big, tough defenseman from Tallon’s days in Chicago – a guy named Duncan Keith.

For now though, the Panthers are likely to be a bit too similar to Tallon’s first few teams in Chicago that struggled mightily and accumulated high draft picks much to their benefit. After all, guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane don’t just grow on trees. While the Panthers might not be as bad as those Hawks teams (65 points in 2005-2006 and 71 points in 2006-2007), the future of the team is at least in seemingly good hands with Tallon in charge now rather than the wandering aimlessly version of the team we’ve seen for the better part of the last 10 years.

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski