If you ask me, Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon blew a great opportunity this off-season. There’s no denying that the team needed to spend quite a bit of money to get to the salary cap floor, which would justify overpaying a player or five. The problem is that Tallon made those risks grow exponentially by giving long deals to players who are either unproven (Tomas Fleischmann, among others) or over the hill (Ed Jovanovski).
The Panthers aren’t just gambling big on bad bets; they’re doing it over and over again because those contracts won’t go away for quite some time. There are some stomach-churning parallels to Tallon’s miscues with Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet’s contracts in Chicago, right down to the notion that Florida’s best chances for big picture success probably come from their farm system/prospects rather than their pricey acquisitions.
That being said, Florida should improve on offense and defense, at least if you compare their upcoming roster to last year’s groups. (Then again, downgrading from Tomas Vokoun to Jose Theodore might nullify those improvements … but let’s try to be positive here.)
Anyway, I’ve expressed my doubts about these changes, but it’s quite possible that it might all come down to one man. New Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has quite a task at hand considering this drastically altered roster.
“It is a challenge. I don’t think you can underestimate that,” he said. “Chemistry plays a role in everything you do in our business. I like the idea that we play six exhibition games and five of them are in Southern Florida, and after our last exhibition game we have eight days before we start the regular season. I think that’s going to be a real important time period for us. Once we get the core of our lineup together, that’ll be a time we start setting some team goals and that comes from both the coaching staff and the players. I look at that being an important window for getting us all on the same page.”
To review, Tallon added forwards Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Matt Bradley and Ryan Carter; defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell; and goaltender Jose Theodore during the offseason.
It’s possible that Dineen might be the right guy for such a drastic change of tempo, though. Dineen points out that he experienced more than his fair share of heavy turnover during his six seasons as the coach of the AHL’s Portland Pirates.
“In my six years there, there’s probably about 70 percent change in your lineup year to year,” Dineen said. “That’s just the nature of the game. There’s players coming up from junior, first-year pros, there’s guys who have played in the NHL that are trying to re-establish themselves at that level. So I think you get used to that in the American league. You have to get everybody on the same page, and that’s what’s really exciting for me, to have that nice window of time to spend some time together as a group before we start the regular season.”
Sheer depth might be the best thing going for Florida, especially in the forward ranks. Aside from Stephen Weiss and David Booth, they don’t seem like a very imposing team on paper. On the other hand, the waves of new forwards might cause some advantageous situations and could also spread the pressure around a bit.
Dineen also pointed out overall team speed as a possible strength.
“I know we have some great team speed. When you have that speed, that’s something you try to take advantage of. With the ability to move the puck to get going and create offense off the rush, I look at that as being one of our strengths.”
If any NHL team goes into 2011-12 as a clear mystery, it’s the Panthers. Dineen has a lot of decisions to make. If Dineen pushes the right buttons, then this moribund franchise might actually be onto something. (Click here for more discussion of who might make the lineup, including prospects such as Erik Gudbranson and Jackob Markstrom.)