When Dale Tallon took over the General Manager role with the Panthers we all knew our luck was changing. After all that he had accomplished with the Chicago Blackhawks—taking them from the bottom and molding them into a Stanley Cup contenders (eventual winners)—Tallon seemed like a perfect fit with the floundering Floridians.
It seemed at the time of Tallon’s appointment that he would try and utilize the core of promising youngsters that the Panthers had collected over the years of high draft picks and busted expectations. As time would tell however, Tallon wanted to put his own stamp on the franchise and its playing staff. The change of direction began in earnest with the addition of his own draftees; starting with the 2010 entry draft.
While the 2010 draft was widely seen as a success by the Panthers, it would still take time to translate in to on-ice success. In fact, apart from 3rd overall pick, Erik Gudbranson, the true effects of this draft have yet to be felt on the NHL-level.
The subsequent 2010-2011 season also saw the all-too-familiar failures as the team again finished as the third worst team in the league. However, the following summer and up-coming season of 2011-2012 would change all of this…
Dale Tallon must have realized during his first season with the team that it simply was not good enough and needed to be blown up. This he did, gathered picks and prospects, and then went all-out in an overhaul that shook the league in its sheer audacity and scope.
To begin with Head Coach Peter Deboer was let go and replaced with AHL coach Kevin Dineen. While Deboer, it could be claimed, was not alone to be blamed for the results of the lackluster Panthers during his reign; after all he had very little in the way of top-end talent to work with (and he’s done pretty well with the Devils after landing there). It could, however, perhaps be claimed that his voice was becoming stale in the dressing room and was possibly also on the verge of losing the respect of players; most notably goalie Tomas Vokoun (who was later let go to free agency after snubbing the best contract offer he was to get that summer) and forward Shawn Matthias. Who knows how many other, less vocal, players he had rubbed the wrong way?
Either way, a new voice was needed, and Kevin Dineen was Tallon’s choice for the role. Somehow the league managed to overlook Dineen’s fantastic season with the Panthers this summer, but his inexplicable Jack Adams snub does in no way detract from what he achieved here last season. It was nothing but a miracle he accomplished in taking Florida to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years!
Next Tallon added his number two Mike Santos and let him take over the responsibility for the Panthers new/old/ AHL affiliate—the San Antonio Rampage. Again this turned out to be a masterstroke as Santos was able to retool the affiliates and make them competitive. The Rampage made it to the second round in the playoffs for the first time last season and gave its budding Panthers prospects some much needed playoff experience.
The most notable, and bold, move was however to go out on a free agency shopping spree that echoed around the league. Few believed that such a drastic retool of the Panthers could give immediate effect, but under the inspired guidance of Dineen they managed the impossible in not only making the playoffs with a virtually new team, but also pressuring the eventual Eastern Conference winners New Jersey all the way to the buzzer—losing only in a heartbreaking game 7.
Tallon always claimed he had a blueprint he was following all along. At first he was doubted, perhaps even scorned by cynical fans and critics around the league, but he has proved them all wrong.
Whatever happens this coming season, just in taking the Panthers to the playoffs—he has done what everyone else failed in doing during the previous decade, and has thus earned our trust.