Panthers made shrewd moves without losing young talent
Teams seeking to deal with the Florida Panthers may need to prepare for Dale Tallon’s poker face.
The Panthers’ GM, who earned Executive of the Year honors two seasons ago, pulled off a number of trades this year in which Florida came out ahead — at least in the short-term. Long-term, he may have plucked some of the league’s best NHL-ready prospects from the Chicago Blackhawks and a highly decorated netminder vying for a Stanley Cup.
"You want them to come in groups and waves, three and four at a time," Tallon said of building through youth. "That’s how we’re going to get this process done."
More importantly, he did so without parting with his prized blue-chip talent in Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trochek, Drew Shore or Quinton Howden. Those players have long been inquired about by other general managers and frequently dismissed.
Tallon has been steadfast about not mortgaging the Panthers’ future, and looking back at his deals this past season, some of his counterparts around the league might rightfully be crying robbery.
Among those which stand out:
— Acquired LW Krys Barch and St. Louis’ seventh round pick in 2015 from New Jersey for C Scott Timmins and a sixth-round pick in 2014.
Florida added toughness and a veteran presence in Barch just before the season. Though he only appeared in 55 games for the Cats, players and coaches alike raved about his importance on the roster. He’s an unrestricted free agent, but there is openness for a new deal to be struck.
"He fills his role," Tallon said about Barch. "We’ll talk. Like I said, the guys who want to be here will be here. The message has not changed."
Timmins, meanwhile, never cracked New Jersey’s lineup.
— Acquired RW Jimmy Hayes and D Dylan Olsen from Chicago for RW Kris Versteeg and LW Philippe Lefebvre.
Six days after firing coach Kevin Dineen, Tallon shipped the disgruntled Versteeg back to Chicago. Versteeg’s rediscovered his game in his old surroundings, but came nowhere close to the career numbers he put up with Florida two seasons earlier.
Hayes joined the Panthers having shown upside with Rockford of the American Hockey League. But the 6-foot-6 winger couldn’t stick with the Blackhawks. Credit coach Peter Horachek for finding the perfect place for Hayes — right in front of the net. The fourth-liner earned a chunk of minutes on the power play and delivered. Hayes finished with a career high 11 goals and seven assists in 53 games.
Olsen, one of Tallon’s last selections as general manager in Chicago in 2009 (first round), stepped in immediately as Gudbranson’s defensive parner. Olsen’s 12 points in 44 games were a career high — at any pro level.
"Expediting their process and getting them in to play this year has expanded their growth a little bit and got them valuable experience," Tallon said of the pair.
— Acquired C Brandon Pirri from Chicago for a third-round pick in 2014 and a fifth-round pick in 2016.
This deal has the potential to be one of Tallon’s most impressive deals, acquiring the reigning American Hockey League scoring champion for draft picks.
Another Tallon deaft selection in 2009 (second round), Pirri appeared in just 21 games with Florida, but registered a point in two thirds of those contests. In mid-March, he finished with three multi-point efforts in four games and finished the season with seven points in his last seven games.
He brings a finishing mentality the Panthers have long sought, and yet he’s capable of setting up teammates and protecting his own end.
— Acquired G Roberto Luongo and LW Steven Anthony from Vancouver for G Jacob Markstrom and C Shawn Matthias.
When the hockey world caught its collective breath following this deal, Tallon explained it was one that had been addressed a year earlier. But "the pieces" weren’t there to execute the trade on the previous attempt.
This time around, Tallon sold former Canucks GM Mike Gillis to bite on a deal that may go down as one of the worst in Vancouver’s history.
Picking up Luongo, a two-time gold medallist with Team Canada and finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender and Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, speaks for itself.
But Markstrom, once Florida’s netminder-in-waiting, appeared in just four games for Vancouver. He finished 1-2-0 and allowed at least three goals in two of his three starts. Matthias, a season removed from a 14-goal effort, finished with just three tallies and four assists in 18 games for the Canucks. Neither were on coach John Tortorella’s good side by season’s end.
— Acquired G Dan Ellis from Dallas for G Tim Thomas.
Well before the trade deadline, it looked as if Thomas might return to Florida after an average season, but the acquisition of Luongo changed everything. With playing time expected to be at a minimum for Thomas, Tallon shifted the 39-year-old unrestricted free agent to Dallas for Ellis, who has one year left on his contract.
Ellis struggled upon arriving in Florida, going 0-5-0 and posting a whopping 4.80 goals-against average during that stretch.
Playing behind Luongo means he’ll be watching quite a bit from the bench. But stepping into a clearly defined role in Florida could provide the fresh start he’s needed for a couple seasons. And if Ellis falters, the Panthers are not on the hook long-term.
This summer could be even more active trade-wise for Tallon, especially the go-ahead from ownership to be active during the free agent period and turn Florida into a cap team.
"We’ve still got a lot of assets," Tallon said. "We’ve got guys to sign yet. They’re still our property in college and in junior and we have 10 picks next year. We have some good players still in the system and I’m open to any suggestion that makes us better quicker without jeopardizing our future."
And like a player keeping his cards to the vest, Tallon will not budge on divulging his plans for this summer’s draft: "How many options can you have with the first pick? You either pick it, trade it or move back and get some other assets with it."
The rest of the NHL knows Tallon holds a winner in the first overall pick, but he may also end up getting the better of a counterpart by dealing a pair of underachieving veterans.
Money. Assets to deal. An ace in the hole.
"I’m excited about our future and being able to mix it up with the big boys," Tallon said.
Florida’s GM is not just ready to play; he’s running the table.