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ST PAUL — When Dale Tallon announced his “blueprint” for rebuilding the Florida Panthers, most Panther fans were undoubtedly skeptical — and with good reason. The franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs in over 10 years and recent failures in the draft have made the future look bleak to most fans.
That may have all changed Friday night.
The 2011 NHL Draft kicked off from the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota with a handful of “can’t miss” prospects in the top five. Ready to unveil the new home jersey on its #3 overall pick, the Panthers were guaranteed to get a top-flight talent, the only question was which direction would they go.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gabriel Landeskog predictably went 1st and 2nd, respectively, and the Panthers were left with a big choice at #3. Earlier reports had Florida eyeing the NHL-ready, stand-out Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson.
The offensively challenged Panthers passed on Larsson and opted for Jonathan Huberdeau, the talented center/winger from the St John Sea Dogs. Huberdeau is regarded in some circles as not yet being NHL ready due to his size and inexperience.
Tallon plans to not rush any of his young players and if necessary, Huberdeau could start next season in Juniors before joining the big club. Despite this, Tallon seemed to be beaming afterward, calling the addition of the Laval, Quebec native “another big piece of the puzzle.”
He wasn’t done yet.
The puzzle began to take shape a little more when Tallon pulled the trigger on a trade that sent talented but disgruntled winger Ratislav Olesz to the Blackhawks in exchange for defenseman Brian Campbell. It was Tallon who inked Campbell to his 8-year, $56.8 million contract when he was the GM for Chicago.
The Panthers are likely to take on several more exorbitant veteran contracts during free agency and beyond as they attempt to spend their way to the NHL’s cap-minimum payroll. The floor is currently at $48 million, and the addition of Campbell still leaves the Panthers with over $25 million to spend to meet that mark.
According to The Hockey News, Tallon is trying not to think about the floor as he puts together the Panthers’ roster saying, “I’m not doing this to get to the floor. I’m doing this to become a good team. Period.”
That kind of optimism is something this team hasn’t had in over a decade. Thomas Vokoun, Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo. These are just a few of the names that still haunt Panther fans to this day, constant reminders of some of the head-scratching and often frustrating moves made by the franchise.
Tallon’s blueprint in Chicago led the Blackhawks to its first Stanley Cup victory in nearly half a century. Hopefully Tallon will be able to do for the Panthers what he did for the Hawks and change the landscape of hockey in South Florida.
News and Notes:
The draft started with a nice tribute to the former director of NHL Central Scouting E.J. McGuire, who passed away earlier this year from a battle with cancer…Also remembered was former Wild and NY Rangers player Derek Boogaard, who also died earlier this year. Derek’s brother Aaron was brought to the podium to announce the Rangers’ pick and was treated to a very touching standing ovation from everyone in the Xcel Energy Center…A big welcome back to the logo-less and jersey-less Winnipeg Jets…Fans at the draft weren’t shy, showering NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the Vancouver Canucks and the Dallas Stars with boos all night.
About the Author
Written by Jon Melton
Born in the Northeast and now residing in South Florida, I've traveled the country in search of truth, justice and the best hot dog. A regular contributor for the Miami Herald, I cover all the sports that SOFLA has to offer. Have questions, comments or cleverly constructed insults? Feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org