By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE – The following is the first segment of a number of blogs that will feature an interview with Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who met with the media over the weekend to discuss a variety of issues – kind of a “State of the Cats” address, if you will. One major point, obviously, he made will be the onus of fixing the club, and it won’t necessarily be by watching the youth develop.
PART I: ADDING CATS
Specifically, Tallon said he will add to this team in the offseason, and the feeling was pervasive that it won’t be your run-of-the-mill low-level signings. The club has $30 million to spend over the summer, and the new ownership has made it clear the Panthers need to be pointed in the right direction and have some kind of buzz about them when camp opens.
“We’re going to fix it. We’ve got to surround these kids with some great players,” Tallon said, alluding to Florida’s deep pool of young talent.
While goaltending primarily is no longer an issue after the acquisition of Roberto Luongo – though a strong case could be made against Dan Ellis and his poor play since his arrival – Tallon said to expect changes on the blue line and up front.
“I’d like to bring in at least five (veterans). We have 11 kids in our system under 23 years old that are over 6-foot-2. So we have those coming. But we have to go in the free agent market or make a trade at the draft to get probably two defensemen that are experienced, good NHL defensemen,” he said.
On the offensive front, Florida finished the season with 188 goals, a 2.29 per game clip. Only Buffalo, at 1.82 per game before Sunday’s game, was worse, so a priority will also be placed in finding a winger who can alleviate some of the pressure that’s on the defense.
“You have to have a guy that can score goals and score easily. We’re at the bottom of the heap in scoring. We’ve had a lot of close games. We need a scorer to play with Barkov, we need a scorer to play with Bjugstad, we need one to play with Trocheck, Shore or Pirri. All of these assets we have, some are going to have to go to wing. They can’t all play center. It’s easier to go from center-to-wing than wing-to-center,” Tallon said.
He said that acquiring Luongo could be valuable at attracting talent, just like the organization did when they traded for defenseman Brian Campbell at the Minnesota draft in 2011.
“I think getting Louie here is going to help us close the deal on these free agents. It’s going to be a real asset for us. I think you sell winning and a desire to win. We now have the ability to put a team together to win, and that’s what players want. You can have the best facilities in the world; they just want to go somewhere where they win,” said Tallon.
“I was denied for two years in Chicago – a great city, an Original Six team – nobody wanted to come because the perception was they didn’t want to win. But that’s a perception that’s gone away, and it’s gone away here. We’re going to get the players that want to win.”
Part II…coming soon