Dale Tallon

Florida Panthers rebuild is in full swing, yet again

One would think that a battle between the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators would be a pointless snooze fest that equated to “Can’t Watch TV.” But with the Panthers beating the surging Blackhawks and the Senators defeating the equally hot Devils on Tuesday, both teams are looking to finish their respective seasons strong even though both have publicly stated they are rebuilding for the future. Make no mistake about it though—they’re both rebuilding and have their eyes set on tomorrow while they continue to play out the rest of this season.

The Florida Panthers made it clear they were going with (yet another) rebuild the moment they hired Dale Tallon as General Manager. Tallon put together most of the key components in Chicago that brought them their first Stanley Cup since 1961, so the thought process was that he could bring the same type of magic to South Beach. He’d bring all kinds of talent to South Beach, as it were. Ownership knew that the rebuild in Chicago took a few years—but they also knew that the payoff for their hardships in the short-term could translate into sustained success in the long-run. That’s what they were betting on.

It certainly raised a few eyebrows when the Panthers were playing well earlier in the season. This is really only the first year of a three or four year reclamation project. How were they competing so early in the process? Besides their record, they were blowing lead after lead which meant they could be even better than the standings reflected. As recently as January, the team was up to 11th place and only a few points out of a playoff spot. With the deadline looming in February, the team knew they had to keep winning or there would be a mass exodus before they could say “3rd round draft pick.” They slipped and there are now ex-Panthers scattered all over the playoff races. So it goes.

Going into tonight’s games, the Panthers have 63 points which is good for 13th place in the Eastern Conference. They are currently 9 points behind the 8th place Buffalo Sabres (and more importantly a playoff spot) with 15 games left in the season. They’re not mathematically eliminated, but they’re on life support and some people are looking for the plug. But again, this is a long rebuild and the Panthers weren’t expected to compete this season.

In many ways, it could be viewed as a blessing in disguise that the Panthers faltered enough to give Tallon the go-ahead to trade assets. Had they continued to win at an average pace, they could have hung around long enough to add a few marginal pieces to make a run at the 8th seed. Sure, everyone wants to make the playoffs—but Tallon was brought in for more than a 1st round sweep at the hand of the Flyers.

Instead of making short-term moves that would only help for 6 weeks, Tallon made an array of moves designed to help the organization in years. Not weeks. He traded just about every veteran who wasn’t bolted to the floor for future assets that can help with the foundation. It was only last year that the Panthers had 6 picks in the first 50 selections at the Entry Draft. This season with a collection of mid-round picks, Tallon will be in the position to trade up again to add prospects to the cupboard he’s already started to stockpile. Last year he was able to add Erik Gundbranson, Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden, and John McFarland to young guys in the NHL that includes Dmitry Kulikov, Evgeny Dadonov, and Keaton Ellerby.

None of the players the Panthers traded in the days leading up the deadline are guys Tallon identified as his young core. Michael Frolik was a young player who Tallon didn’t see a future with going forward. Guys like Bryan McCabe, Dennis Wideman, Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak, Chris Higgins, and Bryan Allen are all nice players now—but were worth more as tradeable assets today than they would be to a building hockey team in three years. He flipped the guys he could part with (and other teams desired) to stockpile more assets for the future.

Just as important as the players management decided to trade were the players they chose to hold onto. It’s no secret that plenty of teams were kicking the tires on both Stephen Weiss and David Booth. But when push came to shove, these were the guys the Panthers held onto to build around for the future. With just about every other veteran with value changing jerseys, they in effect handed the keys to Weiss and Booth to lead the rebuild.

There’s no doubt they’d like to see guys like Weiss and Booth take ownership of the team—and since the predictable fire sale on Deadline Day, both have played some of their best hockey of the season. Weiss has 4 points since March 1st and Booth has 3 goals and 5 points over the same stretch. Considering the Panthers are 11-3-5 when Booth scores, seeing him put the puck in the net is exactly the kind of leadership they’d love to see.

Of course, rebuilding isn’t always the easiest course for an organization. To look over Tallon’s shoulder during the tough overhaul, the Panthers have formulated the aptly named Blueprint Advisory Board. The BAB was put together to “help advise General Manager Dale Tallon and President & COO Michael Yormark on the overall direction of the Panthers organization.” Here’s an overview of the board’s duties:

“The Board will meet quarterly with Tallon and Yormark, at off-site South Florida locations, to conduct an open forum and honest dialogue about different aspects of the Florida Panthers organization including marketing and public relations, in-game experience, community outreach, charitable initiatives, and more. All Florida Panthers supporters will have the opportunity to contact the Blueprint Advisory Board via secure e-mail to make sure all of their opinions, thoughts, and priorities are accurately represented during Board meetings and communications.”

 

Hopefully for the fans in Florida, the board won’t get in the way as Tallon continues to build this team for the future. He’s proven recently that he knows what he’s doing—and the Panthers have proven in the past that they don’t. Those rebuild(s) went so well that former cornerstones are playing for different teams while the Panthers were forced to start at ground-zero last year. Again.

Clearly, the perpetual rebuilding is a difficult process as evidenced by Tomas Vokoun after recent win vs. Blackhawks:

“It hasn’t been easy at all, especially for the older players we have left because some of going through that another time. We get paid, we’re professionals, the fans come out so for me it doesn’t matter where we are in the standings, I’m going to play as hard as I can every game. Yes, it’s disappointing we are not going to the playoffs. We still have to put forth the effort.”

 

The hope is that this time is different. The Panthers have been around the league for almost two decades and have only been to the playoffs 3 times in their history. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2000 and they have only won a single playoff game since their Cup Finals appearance in 1996. It might be hard to admit, but they’re not an expansion team anymore. They’ve experienced the growing pains over and over, but it’s time to get it right. A rebuild is great for the fans because it gives them hope, but there’s no question that losing year in and year out is tough on fans and players alike.

Hopefully for the fans, the organization will have the patience to let Dale Tallon do his thing; and for their sake, hopefully he can catch lightning in a bottle for the second time.

NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to slow down Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 24: Jori Lehtera #12 of the St. Louis Blues controls the puck between Artem Anisimov #15 (L) and Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 2-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The second game on the NBC Networks today features a Central Division rivalry when the St. Louis Blues pay a visit to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, or on our Live Stream.

It will also be the second Star Sunday broadcast of the day, with this one featuring Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko and Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews.

From the minute he arrived in the NHL Tarasenko has been one of the league’s most electrifying players and is currently on pace for what would be his third consecutive season with at least 37 goals with an outside shot at his second consecutive 40-goal season.

Toews, meanwhile, is doing his part to erase a miserable first half of the season offensively by completely taking over for the Blackhawks in recent weeks. Entering Sunday’s game Toews is on a scoring surge that has seen him record 23 points in the past 15 games. That is more offense than he created in his first 37 games of the season.

As a team, the Blackhawks are simply crushing any opponent that gets in their way right now with wins in eight of their past nine games thanks to an offense that is scoring at least four goals every game during that stretch.

It’s a big game for both teams when it comes to the playoff picture.

For the Blues, winners of seven out of 10 under new coach Mike Yeo, they have a chance to put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in Western Conference wild card race if they can pick up a win. They enter the game three points up on the Los Angeles Kings.

The Blackhawks are still trying to keep pace with the Minnesota Wild for the top spot in the Central Division, entering the day three points back.

Chicago will be without a pretty significant member of its defense on Sunday night when Niklas Hjalmarsson misses the game due to an upper body injury. He had to exit their game against Arizona on Thursday night in the first period. He is currently listed as day-to-day. With Hjalmarsson out Michal Rozsival will draw back in to the lineup after scoring his first goal of the season on Thursday.

Flyers’ Brandon Manning has discipline hearing for Jake Guentzel hit

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The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-2 Stadium Series win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night turned into a pretty physical game. Things really started to escalate in the second period when Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning rocked Penguins rookie forward Jake Guentzel with the huge open ice hit shown in the video above.

The biggest problem with the hit, of course, is that Guentzel not only did not have the puck when he was hit, but he never really had possession of the puck at all and was not eligible to be hit on the play.

That is interference.

Even though no interference penalty was called on the play, Manning is probably not going to escape discipline for the play. The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Sunday morning that Manning will have a hearing on Monday for the hit.

Guentzel was not injured on the play and remained in the game, picking up an assist a few minutes later on a Nick Bonino power play goal. Guentzel finished the game with two assists and already has 14 points in his first 23 games in the NHL.

NHL On NBC: Bruins look to stay hot against desperate Stars

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 10: Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars prepares to face off against Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins during the second period at TD Garden on February 10, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Stars defeat the Bruins 5-3. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The NBC networks are airing two games on Sunday, with the first one being a big matchup in Dallas featuring two teams desperately fighting for a playoff spot when the Stars host the Boston Bruins.

It’s another Star Sunday on NBC with the focus for this game falling on Stars forward (and former Bruins) Tyler Seguin and Bruins forward David Pastrnak.

Seguin has been one of the NHL’s elite offensive players since arriving in Dallas in a trade four years ago, while Pastrnak is having a breakout season in Boston that has already seen him score 26 goals in 54 games.

Faceoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET, and all of the action can be seen on NBC or via our Live Stream.

As for the game itself, it’s a pretty huge — as they all will be from now on — for both teams. The Bruins enter the game having won four of their first five games under new coach Bruce Cassidy as their offense continues its second half resurgence. They have already scored 23 goals in the five games under Cassidy, and have averaged more than 3.18 goals per game in their past 22 under both him and former coach Claude Julien. Now that Tuukka Rask has started to get back on track, wins are starting to come a little more frequently.

The Bruins enter play on Sunday barely holding on to the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 68 points, currently owning a tiebreaker over the New York Islanders and sitting two points ahead of the Florida Panthers. A win on Sunday would move them into a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Ottawa Senators.

For the Stars, meanwhile, things are a little more dire.

Even with wins in back-to-back games entering Sunday their playoff chances should probably be described as a complete long shot at this point, sitting nine points back of the St. Louis Blues for a wild card spot.

They are looking to win three games in a row for just the third time this season.

They get a little bit of help on the blue line on Sunday with the likely return of defenseman Johnny Oduya as he was activated from injured reserve Sunday morning.

On Friday, they already started selling assets by trading Patrick Eaves to the Anaheim Ducks for a draft pick.

Video: AHL’s Iowa Wild and Chicago Wolves brawl on … and off the ice

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The AHL’s Iowa Wild and Chicago Wolves engaged in a brawl that eventually spilled out into a hallway at the Allstate Arena on Saturday — the same day the cult classic movie ‘Slap Shot’ apparently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its release.

Talk about timing.

A line brawl (4:15-mark of the video) broke out on the ice between the Wolves and Wild with less than three minutes remaining in the third period of Saturday’s game. But the fighting didn’t end there. Video highlights show several players, still in full gear, involved shortly after in an altercation off the ice.

Video shows Vince Dunn of the Wolves and Kurtis Gabriel trading punches off the ice before Gabriel is knocked to the ground and more players — and staff in the arena — intervene.

It looked like Dunn was on his way to the dressing room when Gabriel came over, leading to their off-ice bout.

The incident is sure to result in supplementary discipline from the AHL.

These teams, which combined for 70 penalty minutes Saturday, meet again Sunday. So, that could be interesting — to say the least.