Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 08/17/14 at 03:49 AM ET
The Florida Panthers nearly stole the spotlight away from the Wings and Leafs during HBO's 24/7 series, and of the Atlantic Division's non-playoff teams I'd argue that the franchise may be a Phoenix Coyotes East off the ice (their financial situation is quite the mess), but on the ice, the Panthers have the greatest chance of serving as not only a playoff spoiler for their Eastern Conference opponents, but also a potential playoff-qualifying team.
NHL.com's "30 in 30" series profiles the Pantehrs today, and they note that Dale Tallon was predictably aggressive in improving the Panthers' roster over the past half-year, trading for Roberto Luongo and signing Jussi Jokinen, Willie Mitchell and another former Blackhawk (the Panthers have more than a few players from Tallon's previous employer's team) in David Bolland; they note that the Panthers' top prospect, Aaron Ekblad, is probably NHL-ready, and of course the Panthers hired a new coaching staff headlined by Gerard Gallant, too...
And in addition to discussing Ekblad's would-be defensive partners and "5 Questions" that the team faces going into the 14-15 season, NHL.com's Alain Poupart engages in a conversation with Tallon that, let's say involves personnel moves which allow more substantive, "We aren't that far off" talk than what was issued by Saturday's profiled team:
"My goal is to compete for a playoff spot all the way right to the bitter end," Tallon said. "That's what we're looking to do. I think if everybody has years that live up to their potential and the players develop and come together as a team and with our new coach, our goaltending and another year of experience for our younger guys, I think this team has got the ability if we stay healthy to compete for a spot."
After finishing 27 points away from the last playoff spot last season, it might seem unrealistic to think the Panthers have a chance to return to the postseason for only the second time since 2000. But after his hiring in June, new coach Gerard Gallant compared the situation in Florida to what he saw in Montreal after becoming an assistant coach there in 2012.
The Canadiens missed the playoffs in 2011-12, were back in the postseason the following year and last season made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final.
Gallant not only is looking for the same kind of turnaround he saw in Montreal, he wants the Panthers to play the same style of hockey.
"We've got a lot of skill, we've got a lot of speed, and I always look back at Montreal and they were a team that played fast hockey," Gallant told floridapanthers.com. "And we always used the (term) 'fast hockey.' It's about being first on pucks. It doesn't have to be a physical brand where you're running people over all the time, it's about being first on pucks, paying a price to win those one-on-one battles, and that's the way we want to play. We want to be fast hockey out there."
Tallon also believes that he's brought in free agents and a goaltender who will provide leadership and composure for his mostly young team:
"We've added so much character," Tallon said. "We brought in some Stanley Cup champion guys that are excited about coming to Florida and not only being successful in their own right, but also helping our young guys develop quickly. Obviously it's going to take a little time with new coaching and a lot of new faces. It's going to take a little time to jell, but I like the direction we're headed."
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
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