MIAMI, FL -- The red marks on my forehead had barely disappeared from it being in my hands for months. Another Panther season gone kaput. Another second week of April where my team was making tee times.
Then, out of nowhere, Bill Torrey and the Florida Panthers organization, known now for its astounding futility, brought in new GM Dale Tallon, architect of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Like most fans, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. After years of questionable-at-best management and the nightmares that were Mike Keenan and Jacques Martin, the thought of real stability moving this team forward was practically unsettling. Suddenly, optimism and positive comments started showing up from the dwindling fan base, and sunshine was suddenly bestowed on this dark franchise.
When Tallon arrived in South Florida he sent an email to each player on the roster and asked if they wanted to be part of the new future of this organization. Only Nathan Horton responded with a desire to leave. For most Panther fans, this was long overdue as he was jettisoned to the Boston Bruins with Gregory Campbell for Dennis Wideman, the 15th pick and a 3rd rounder in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
The other high priority matter for Tallon was to sign Jacob Markstrom, the clear cut goalie of the future. The 31st pick of the 2008 draft has completed two solid seasons in the Swedish Elite League and is now ready to learn the North American game. He was signed in early June, and is eager to play in the NHL, although he will likely spend a year playing for the Amerks in Rochester. Promising young defenseman Jason Garrison was also signed to a two-year extension. Tallon's philosophy is to build from the net out, so the combo of Markstrom with a young, talented blueline bodes well for the future.
Tallon's office was hardly set up as the NHL Draft arrived, and if Panther fans had any doubts about a plan being in place, those doubts were refuted.
In addition to Horton and Campbell, Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich were dealt to Vancouver for the 25th pick, Steve Bernier, and Michael Grabner. Tallon tirelessly swapped picks in creating practically two drafts in one with 13 picks in the seven round draft, featuring Erik Gudbranson (D, 3rd), Nick Bjugstad (C, 19th), and Quinton Howden (LW, 25th).
They also found incredible value in the second round in John McFarland (LW, 33rd), and Alex Petrovic (D, 36th).
Tallon's first draft has infused this organization with depth and character, which included eight forwards, four defensemen, and one goaltender. Here's hoping that all the pundits that gave the Panthers an "A" for the assets acquired in the draft are proved correct.
No time was wasted in filling other holes in the organization. Michael Santos was brought in from Nashville as Assistant GM, former Panthers defenseman Gord Murphy as Assistant Coach, and former captain Brian Skrudland as Director of Player Development. Coach Peter DeBoer has done an excellent job dealing with a young roster and many injuries, and now has some new faces on and off the ice to further the building process.
Supplementing the youth movement are several veterans that will play a vital role in the locker room as well as on ice success.
In addition to draft-acquired Wideman, Bernier, and Grabner, Tallon also added Christopher Higgins, Marty Reasoner, Mike Santorelli, Andrew Peters, Nathan Paetsch, and Mike Weaver.
Tallon stated from Day One that stockpiling character in this organization was his goal. The draft and summer signings have created a new look and identity for this organization.
Fans should be happy that every player has a chance to start, and watching this evolution will be exciting for years to come.