In May of 2010, the Florida Panthers hired ex-Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon to take over those same duties for their struggling franchise. Hopes were high that he would bring the drafting and constructing success he had in Chicago to the Cats. South Florida badly needed some roster assembly assistance too, so it looked to be a match made in hockey heaven.
Florida Panthers and General Manager Dale Tallon Need to be Patient
Like any new rebuilding general manager, the Florida Panthers and general manager Dale Tallon had to focus on long-term goals without totally sacrificing the short-term. He picked up pieces to fill immediate needs while also scouting and drafting to secure the club’s future. Given their weak roster, the fan base fully expected a rebuild and accepted the need to be patient. Tallon’s experience spoke for itself in Chicago drafting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Fans knew his reputation and quickly bought in.
Now fast forward to present day, and it appears Dale Tallon and company are once again asking fans for patience. This is a tough pill to swallow, as it has been nearly a decade since he first joined the Panthers. In that time, the team has only two playoff appearances to show for their patience thus far. Widely considered one of the greatest blueprint general managers in the NHL, Tallon’s capabilities have recently been called into question. While these negative opinions are warranted and understood, the solution for this franchise, as frustrating as it might be, is going to once again be patience.
Dale Tallon’s first Panthers rebuild began with patience
Immediately after his hire in 2010, Tallon took three players in the first round of the 2010 NHL entry draft; defenseman Erik Gudbranson (3rd overall), forward Nick Bjugstad (19th overall), and forward Quinton Howden (25th overall). He then spent the next few seasons acquiring veteran players on short-term deals to act as roster placeholders while his prospects blossomed, and would ship them around at the trade deadlines to further stock his cupboards with picks and prospects. Besides one fluky division championship in 2011-12, when the team fell backwards into a playoff berth by earning 18 points in overtime losses, Florida was annually a team that struggled.
That being said, there was no denying that their prospect pool was getting larger, and their positional depth much deeper. The Panthers took a player in the top three spots overall in four out of five seasons between 2010 and 2014 thanks to finishing at or near the bottom of the league year after year. With prospects like Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, and even second rounder Vincent Trocheck all cracking the roster, in addition to the guys from the 2010 draft, Florida’s “bright future” was finally its present.
Patience paid off, but not for long
In 2015-16, Florida earned its second division championship and a franchise-best 47 wins and 103 points in the standings. Then, the New York Islanders ousted them from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games. While they didn’t part ways, the Florida Panthers and Dale Tallon assumed a new working relationship. Tallon was promoted to a new role of president of hockey operations, and Tom Rowe was hired as their new general manager.
These changes spurred a massive front office overhaul which saw a large shift towards hockey analytics and data-driven decisions. Rowe and many of the associates brought in with him touted a numbers-based approach. The Panthers immediately experienced a massive injection of “Moneyball”-esque choices across their roster. Number crunching became a driving force behind many of the acquisitions and trades that summer, all with the belief that they were doing the tinkering necessary to turn their division champion team into a Stanley Cup champion team.
Change: too much too fast
Most fans and analysts agree that the Panthers front office did too much meddling after that season. Tons of old faces were out and new ones in, from players to front-office to trainers. Most all of the personnel changes were driven by performance on advanced metrics like shooting percentages, Corsi, Fenwick, match-up quality of opponents, and other data. On defence alone, captain Willie Mitchell retired, Brian Campbell took a hometown discount in Chicago, and Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov were traded away. They were replaced by guys considered to be “puck-moving defensemen”, who would improve Florida’s performance on those advanced metrics.
While a couple of the new additions did well, the enormous quantity of changes resulted in a team with no chemistry at all. Their identity from that victorious season seemed entirely lost. A few months into the 2016-17 season, the organization fired head coach Gerard Gallant and the Panthers skidded the rest of the way to a paltry 81-point finish with Rowe also serving as head coach. All that was built through six years of Tallon’s regime appeared to be lost in one ill-advised summer.
Backpedaling Panthers lost their way
Prior to the 2017-18 season, the franchise decided to try and regain what it had lost from the successful year before. Tallon was back in as general manager, Rowe shifted to a much less-relevant position, and another gritty-style coach was hired in Bob Boughner. Many of the players acquired from the previous summer were flipped and shipped back out, and both Tallon and Boughner preached that the team would be moving back in the right direction at the Panthers Summer Summit.
Now halfway through this season, the team has not competed well enough to be a serious contender for a playoff position. They aren’t too far out, but seven points back and playing inconsistently as of late doesn’t bode well. Fans are calling for massive changes, sooner rather than later too. Some want Tallon fired, others want a massive trade; some want new owners, and some even want their rookie head coach fired. Basically, everyone around the Panthers has about lost all patience.
If there has been one theme in the past two seasons, it has been one of change. The front office basically stopped taking its own advice. Patience was thrown out the window after the massively successful 2016 season, as hopes were that the team could be “fast-forwarded” to a Stanley Cup. Four of the six defensemen on the 2017 roster most nights were not with the team in 2016, namely Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, Mark Pysyk, and Mike Matheson (although he did play in the playoffs versus the Islanders). A few forwards were brand-new as well, and the changes simply did not go as planned.
Rather than stick with that new approach, they’ve reversed. It looks like the team is trying to get back to where Tallon put them two seasons ago. Considering their poor positioning in the standings, it obviously hasn’t been easy to essentially erase roster changes from last year. However, Tallon needed some time when he first took over in 2010 and is going to need it again now. He knows this is not an overnight business, and players take years to develop.
Don’t hit the reset button again
Thankfully, this time around won’t require a full six years of drafting in the top three spots again. The roster still has most of the brilliant, young draft picks Tallon assembled in earlier draft years. Unfortunately, it does appear that it will take longer than just this season, though. To gain any traction and move in the right direction with this group, the Panthers have to be patient. Their young players have been taking over as leaders, both statistically and in the locker room. The depth and surrounding cast isn’t quite there yet, nor is the experience on the blue line. The future is unclear in their net as well with Roberto Luongo turning 39 soon and James Reimer struggling to take over. However, there is a strong core intact that any general manager would be pleased to build around. Doing so properly will still take time.
Making another front office change wouldn’t help, either. The Florida Panthers and Dale Tallon need to stick together here. Besides, it was removing Tallon from his post after a good year that began the issues anyways. The last thing Panthers fans want is to wait more, considering their lack of success dates back to the 90’s. The current rebuild is most definitely self-inflicted as well. This makes it all the more frustrating.
Future is once again bright…
Regardless how they ended up here, this is the situation they are in. There is no need to rush things this season, as this team has had enough big changes lately. The tumultuous nature of the Panthers organization has contributed to a lot of their recent shortcomings. Shifting from one strategy to another from year-to-year has resulted in the loss of draft picks, prospects, and poor performance. Firing Dale Tallon wouldn’t be fair or smart, as he is responsible for everything good the Panthers currently have. A blockbuster trade has too much potential to backfire, especially for a rebuilding team without many valuable and expendable assets.
Right now, the team looks a lot like it did the year before everything finally came together in 2015-16. Hopefully, that’s how long it’ll take them to get back to the post-season, if not sooner by some miracle. Staying the course is ultimately the only option right now unless this team gets drastically better overnight. No more flip-flopping on plans, shifting around the front office, or overhauling the roster. The Florida Panthers and Dale Tallon need to be patient right now, and the fans will have to bite the bullet and do the same.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JUNE 28: Dale Tallon, General Manager of the Florida Panthers, speaks on the phone on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)