By Bill Whitehead
With the ink just drying on the contracts of GM Dale Tallon, new assistant GM Tom Rowe and coach Gerard Gallant, the suddenly second-place Florida Panthers (21-12-4) can turn their attentions to the play on the ice and try to finish this season’s second half as strongly as the first.
So what’s next on the agenda?
The suggestion and subsequent answer might put to rest the biggest fear of Florida fans, who’ve watched numerous odd-man rushes by the Panthers and man-advantages produce nothing more than an extra pass or whiff on a shot or…an extra pass. Really, overpassing and poor shooting have doomed the Panthers’ offense for the longest time (Billy Joel at BB&T Center reference).
So add some scoring.
A December to Remember has transformed the Panthers, who were in sixth place in the Atlantic at 9-9-4 in late November and 16 points behind Montreal, into what clearly looks like a playoff team. Even without last year’s top goal scorer Nick Bjugstad, the Panthers have reeled off a 13-3-0 sizzling streak that has had them perched atop the division on two occasions.
There are two approaches to take here.
First, Tallon could leave the club as is – you know, the old “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” method. One key would be getting Bjugstad healthy and back in the lineup, and that looks imminent. You might see him against his home state Minnesota Wild on Sunday.
And while fans may not want this – and their complaints are loud ones – the club wants to work Dave Bolland back into the mix in a fourth-line role with Derek MacKenzie and either Quinton Howden, Connor Brickley or Shawn Thornton. The Panthers are paying Bolland all that cash for production, and they really want it in the playoffs.
The other option – and the one I’m all for – is adding on like on Amazon.
If Tallon and the organization feel they have something special – and last month would indicate that may be the case – then why just settle for getting in the playoffs? Dale didn’t do it last time the Panthers were playoff bound. He added John Madden, Jerred Smithson and Wojtek Wolski, who all made contributions down the stretch and in the postseason.
The numbers say add. Florida is 16th in scoring at 2.60 goals per game, tied with Nashville and Calgary. On the back end, the defense has been stellar: The Cats are allowing just 2.24 per game – third in the league and a reflection of the strong play of Roberto Luongo and everyone in front of him buying in to Gallant’s system.
And if the organization feels it has something special, then add. Maybe bring in a scoring winger and instead of just getting into the playoffs they secure a better spot and get home-ice. Then maybe play not just one round like against New Jersey, maybe a couple.
Those playoff Cats that won the Southeast Division four years ago lost a league-high 18 games after regulation, cashing in on the loser point like it was a winning scratch-off ticket. The Panthers these days are 6-4 in overtime and 5-1 in shootouts. They don’t just get to the extra session, they win more often than not.
For starters, Tallon should look at Winnipeg, Columbus, Vancouver (Radim Vrbata played for Dale), Edmonton (glut of forwards now with Leon Draisaitl breaking out) and Anaheim to see if something can’t be worked out to bring in a 2nd line winger who can bury shots and boost scoring. Florida has the cap space and assets to do it.
Perhaps they should.
Tallon and company just have to figure out how special this team is.
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