The Florida Panthers have been given time. General manager Dale Tallon has done everything he set out to do. The roster features eleven players drafted by the organization itself, most of them filling primary roles on the team. They struggled for a long time, built through the draft, and now are reaping the benefits.
Or at least, that is where we should be at this point.
Instead, Florida sits dead-last in an impressively-competitive Eastern Conference. Sure they have some games in hand on teams ahead of them, but at best they’d still be on the outside looking in. Fans have been pulling their hair out a ton so far, watching them lose tons of games they should have won and hand points to other teams. And it’s getting to the point now that something dramatic needs to be done with Dale Tallon or their roster before they lose the core they worked so hard for so many years to build.
Florida Panthers In Desperation Mode
In 20 games this season, the Panthers have surrendered three or more goals 13 times. They are 2-9-2 in those games. On the other hand, they’ve scored three or more themselves 12 times, but only won seven of those games. Basically, they usually get scored on three or more times, and when that happens they usually lose. Ergo, the Panthers usually lose.
However, scoring hasn’t been the problem. As said above, they’re finding the net at least three times themselves a lot too. It is especially frustrating because the team has the offensive ability to compete with anyone, but their catastrophic defensive play and goaltending wipes that production out entirely.
Time to Shake Things Up
If you follow the Panthers, you’re probably nervous about this thought. Panthers fans have watched the team “shake things up” almost every season for the last five years. There’s been multiple coaching changes, offseason overhauls, major trades, and acquisitions but none of it has put them back in the postseason.
Why the Other Moves Haven’t “Fixed” the Panthers
When you look at it, though, all the previous shake-ups haven’t addressed the core issue with the team. The Panthers are able to produce offensively just fine, but seemingly every move they make is to address production. For example, Dale Tallon acquired Keith Yandle and signed him to a massive contract a few summers ago to add a solid offensive defenseman to the team. However, the team already had Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson, both offensive defensemen. Now the three make up half of the team’s defensive unit every night.
Fixing the defense by making it more offensive-minded hasn’t worked out yet. Also, they’re sticking to their guns in net with aging veteran Roberto Luongo who, for already the second time this season, exited with an injury last night. Behind him is the incredibly inconsistent James Reimer who everyone in the league (except the Panthers front office apparently) knows is not a viable answer in net at the NHL level.
Then there’s the big trade Dale Tallon made this summer, acquiring Mike Hoffman from the Ottawa Senators through the San Jose Sharks. He’s been a perfect fit with the Panthers offense and leads the team in points. But, that still doesn’t fix what is broken in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, the team is better with him in the lineup. But the team surrenders three or more goals in more than half their games. Even the best offenses in the league would be losing more often than winning.
Forwards are Fine – In Fact, they’re Elite
Florida has five players scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace right now. Between Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Nick Bjugstad, plus prospects Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett waiting in the wings, Florida is built to score in bunches.
Advanced stats tell the same story too. The entire roster minus two players (minimum 10 games played) have positive and strong Fenwick numbers, suggesting they’re generating plenty more shots and opportunities than they give up. Those numbers look the same for the defensemen, mostly because they’re so offensively-geared that they still create good scoring chances. That’s why Yandle is scoring at a point-per-game clip himself from the blue line too.
Florida’s Defense just Needs to Play Defense
The defense is so focused on getting the puck up the ice that they consistently miss assignments behind them. The reduced shot quantity Florida gives up for their goaltenders is skewed, as they’re seeing fewer shots but all from dangerous locations.
An average team might give up 35 shots, 25 of which are fairly routine and the other ten are tougher for the goalie to stop (for example, one breakaway, a couple scrambles, and the rest just shot from high percentage areas). Florida only gives up 30.5 per night, but a much larger portion of those come from breakaways, turnovers, and other defensive breakdowns creating a high-percentage scoring change for the opponent.
Sure they can score, but they give goals up just a little easier. If this team is ever going to be successful in this Dale Tallon, Barkov, Huberdeau and Trocheck era, they’re going to have to improve the back side of the team. Pushing offense this hard through their defensemen has them getting scored on way too often.
Dale Tallon Must Pull Trigger Before Losing his Job
At this point, Florida is in a do-or-die mode for Dale Tallon’s blueprint. He’s assembled this team, and they aren’t delivering the wins. He needs to be flexible now, and be willing to trade a player who he may have included in his idea of the “core”. Otherwise, it’s him who will be out the door next.
Options for Dale Tallon to Explore
Florida could do without one of the three offensive defensemen they currently have, and trading Matheson could be easiest and get the best return for the team too. Yandle has a massive contract, and Ekblad is the team’s future on defense. His concussion history could make for a weaker return too. Ideally, Matheson would be sent somewhere in exchange for a defensive defenseman, or a couple draft picks. Maybe it could just be a situation of “addition by subtraction”; not that Matheson is bad, but just that having one less offensively minded guy playing defense would benefit the team.
Another move that could wake the team up would be sending Nick Bjugstad out, again for a defenseman or prospects and draft picks. He’s still young enough, and definitely big enough size-wise, to attract a trade partner. It would really send a message to everyone on the team that no one is more important than winning. Bjugstad is one of the eleven roster players drafted by Florida, and one of many more on the team to never suit up anywhere but as a Panther. He grew up a Panther, playing with Barkov, Trocheck, Ekblad and so on his whole professional career. Unfortunately, that isn’t as important as fixing this team.
At some point, that core has to be held accountable, and now seems to be that time. The blame is starting to fall on Dale Tallon as his blueprint isn’t winning. He watched the Chicago Blackhawks team that he built go on to win three Stanley Cups. It wouldn’t surprise me if that same order of events happened in Florida. If he’s unwilling to flex his plan, he will likely lose his job.
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