Should He Stay or Should He Go?

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Game Day Preview: Panthers VS Canadiens

FLORIDA PANTHERS: 27-39-8 (62 PTS.) vs. MONTREAL CANADIENS: 42-26-7 (91 PTS.)

GAME DAY SONG: Snowbird by Anne Murray

It’s game 75 for the Florida Panthers as they take on their Atlantic Division rival (that still sounds weird) Montreal Canadiens. The Panthers come in looking for a win to end their 3 game home stand on a high note after being blanked by the Hurricanes 3-0 in Sunrise on Thursday. On the opposite side of the coin the Habs, who are in the midst of a 4 game roadie, come to South Florida from Motown after just escaping the Wings with 2 points.

Where they’ve been

The Panthers returned home from their Western road trip looking for some positivity and got just that when they came back from two down to send the Senators home gaping at the dazzler that was Vincent Trocheck in the shootout. Against the Hurricanes, the Cats ran into the Kazak Krusher Anton Khudobin who turned aside all 35 shots (35!) he faced for the shutout to send the fans home with the burning desire to destroy their Borat DVDs. The Panthers are 3-6-1 in their last 10 and are continuing on their quest to end their season on a high note by spoiling the March break of thousands of visiting Montrealers.

Across the rink, the Habs are quite hot posting a 7-3 record in their last 10, winning 7 of their last 8 and have won 4 in a row. It’s not all roses as the Habs stole one in Detroit after hanging on for a 5-4 win over the decimated Wings.

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Should the Florida Panthers Be Buyers This Summer?

The Florida Panthers are in a unique situation.

In my first piece for Panther Parkway I outlined my take on the state of the Panthers. Consider this an extension to that piece. I went on about how the Panthers have a good mix of youth and veterans that will eventually lead to a highly skilled competitive team. I plead for patience due to the fact that youth takes time to develop and that the model franchises for the NHL give their prospects ample time to grow. I also pointed out that the new ownership group is serious about putting a contending team on the ice by spending to the cap and giving Hockey Operations all the tools they need in order to get the Panthers to the level of respectability that fans expect to see.

I know all of you read my last piece (over and over) so why am I recapping? It’s because I left out one key aspect that can define the Panthers as a franchise for years to come.

Dale Tallon is at a crossroads. Thus far in his tenure he has gone about a rebuild much like the one he orchestrated in Chicago. He drafted high, loaded up on elite prospects, insulated them with complementary players both young and old and has stabilized himself in goal for the next  4-5 years. What really put the Blackhawks over the top in 2009-2010 was the addition of Marian Hossa. Tallon knew that his team was ready to make the move so he went out and committed huge years and cash to Hossa who has been an instrumental part in the Blackhawks’ success these past few years.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s time for Dale Tallon to make a choice. Does he continue the traditional rebuild or does he shake things up and slam down on the gas pedal? The thing is that the latter is right on par with Tallon’s “Traditional rebuild.”

We know that he has the gusto to make the big move, we’ve seen it before and now for the first time in his tenure as GM of the Panthers he has financial backing to actually make it happen.

To clarify, I’m not comparing the Panthers to the Blackhawks in terms of readiness to compete for a Stanley cup. I’m comparing the Panthers to the Blackhawks in terms of Tallon’s strategy and course of action.

To sum up: I think that Tallon is going to fast forward this rebuild. This off-season is key for the Panthers. Free Agency is always a good way to land a big fish but the pond is a bit bare this year and the key free agents might want to head to a team that can “win now” as opposed to a team that can “win in a few years from now” a la Moulson or Vanek.

So, readers, it’s time for the Panthers to make a trade.

It’s time for the Panthers to be buyers.

I’m not going to go ahead and make phony trade proposals, that’s always fun but really gets you nowhere because values are skewed and team glasses are worn. However, I’m definitely going to outline the kinds of players that Dale Tallon could potentially go after.

The Panthers need the kind of player that isn’t available via unrestricted free agency. They need the kind of player that doesn’t grow on trees, one that you have to pay for in order to reap the reward of his play. The Panthers can do it. They have a surplus of youth and that massive asset in the potential top 5 overall pick in 2014 entry draft. Nay sayers will scoff at the pick saying it is a weak draft but come draft day everyone including rival GMs go draft happy.
The choice to trade the pick is Tallon’s but as previously stated the Panthers are primed for a big move.

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Former Panthers: Where Are They Now?

It’s should come as no surprise to you that there are a large number of for Florida Panthers roaming around the NHL.

As a few members of the Parkway crew and I started compiling this list we came to realize that there are a lot and I mean A LOT of former Florida Panthers in the NHL. As the “Era of Sell” comes to a close there may not be as many former Panthers as we’ve seen the past few seasons so I thought it would be appropriate to profile these ex-cats in memory of their service to Sunrise.

Player: Stephen Weiss

Fictional Twitter Handle: @WeissWeissBaby

Current Team: Detroit Red Wings

Highlight with Current Team: Pavel Datsyuk said hi to him

Fun Off-Ice Fact: He was mistaken for Eminem while at an Arby’s once

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From the Outside Looking In

What do you call a Snowbird that just never goes back up north? Smart?

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “Snowbird” is someone from a cold climate that migrates south for the winter only returning home when the weather gets bearable again.

As a born and raised Montrealer, every winter I would do what pretty much everyone else on the island does: Go to Florida for Winter Vacation. And so I did, for 25 consecutive years. I’d hop on the snowbird express and spend 2 weeks in South Florida. As the years went on and when I was able to plan the trip myself and not conform to my parents’ itinerary, I thought it would be pretty cool to see the Montreal Canadiens take on the Florida Panthers in Sunrise.  So, for many years I would join my fellow Montrealers from Surfside, Bal Harbor, Sunny Isles, Hallandale, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Boca, and Deerfield, and venture West away from the beach for an evening of Habs hockey.

We’d come in, be obnoxious, chant “Olé Olé Olé” and make Panthers fans wish we got stopped at the border.

This isn’t going to be a piece about Habs fans or a piece about the Habs, actually this is probably the last you’ll hear about the Habs from me on this site.

This is going to be a piece about what a Montrealer, who is a frequent flyer to South Florida, has learned about the Florida Panthers and where they’ve been, who they are and where they’re going.

On top of coming down every Winter, I’d also be in Florida 5-6 times per year so I know what it’s like down here. I know the market, I know the fan base, and I know the intricacies and complications that the Panthers face on a day-to-day basis because I lived on the opposite side of the fence my entire life.

The biggest thing that I took away from my frequent visits to Sunrise was that while the Panthers fan base isn’t large by definition, it is proud and passionate. Very passionate.

So before we get into this, a tip of the hat to the Cat fans out there who bleed red and show up when everyone expects you not to.

Now onto the Panthers.

Pleading for patience is something that I’m sure you all have heard countless times. Patient is probably the last thing you want to be as Panthers fans. You have been patient for years. You’ve been waiting for a stable contender since the Stanley Cup run of 96, and who is to blame you for wanting to win?

I’m sure you’ve heard the “this time it will be different” line before, but this time, THIS time will actually be different.

Why will it be different this time?

Because of Vincent Viola. For as long as I can remember the Panthers have separated Hockey and Business. For some reason the two couldn’t coincide. They’d ice the team and put on the promotions and try to fill the rink however they could. With Viola, I think the Panthers’ brass know that Hockey IS the business. Viola is letting his Hockey Operations department spend to the cap. This alone makes all the difference. You have to give yourself the best chance to win, and using finance to do that is part of playing in the NHL.

Viola understands that if you build it, they will come and he’s letting his team…build it.

I’ll ask again: Why will it be different this time?

Because of Dale Tallon. In the off-season of 2011 he went on a signing spree and inked players who are now part of the Panthers core. Players like Bergenheim, Fleischmann, Kopecky, Upshall and Campbell are cemented in the “We See Red” movement and are ideal pieces in putting a winning team together. Fast forward to this year’s free agency, he brought in Brad Boyes and steal of the season Tom Gilbert, who are the players you want on your team if you’re going to build a winner.

Oh and then there’s the recent acquisition of one Roberto Luongo.

Luongo is the first time Tallon employed the combination of business and Hockey in a transaction since the start of the new regime. It didn’t take long. What I alluded to earlier is exemplified perfectly in Roberto Luongo. He’s a fan favourite, he’ll bring fans in, and he’ll help the team win. Business and Hockey.

Luongo is an elite NHL goaltender who will give his team a chance to win every night. That is the bare minimum for a goalie and that (and more) is what he’s going bring to the table for the next few years.

The Panthers are in more than capable hands with Tallon, that much is clear. He has a plan and is sticking to it and isn’t afraid to be patient in order to achieve his goal. He’s building his team the right way.

So again: Why will it be different this time?

Because of Peter Horachek. Horachek spent 10 seasons in Nashville under Barry Trotz, the model of consistency in the NHL. If there’s one thing you want from a Panthers’ coach its consistency. Horachek brought in his philosophy of hard work, discipline, responsibility and skill to his team that has undoubtedly benefitted from this mantra. The team went from 3-9-4 or 3-13 before Horachek to 21-23-3 when he was brought in. The basic record alone shows a massive improvement in play.

Beyond the record, you can tell that by watching the games the Panthers are a “never say die” team. They don’t coast, they don’t watch, they play to the whistle and to the final buzzer. Its cliché, but it’s true. Horachek learned in Nashville that stability, strong team defense and team perseverance can go a long way to making waves in the league. Add a roster with more raw talent than he had in Nashville, and watch the sparks fly.

One more time: Why will it be different this time?

Because of the youth.

Oh boy, the youth.

The core. Barkov, Huberdeau, Kulikov, Gudbranson and Bjugstad. All players with off the charts high-end talent. All players who are growing and will continue to grow with the Panthers as the team joins the league’s elite.

Outside of that core? A crop of supremely talented, unheralded young players who you’ll fall in love with quickly. Brandon Pirri, Vincent Trocheck, Dylan Olsen, Drew Shore, Quinton Howden, Colby Robak and my personal favorite, Jimmy Hayes. This group may not have the high-end talent possessed by a Huberdeau or a Barkov, but they’re young, learning and will surprise us all.

On top of all of this? The players who aren’t pros. Among many, Ian McCoshen, Rocco Grimaldi and Mike Matheson will play NHL Hockey and lucky us they’ll be doing it with the Panthers.

These players will grow together, not just as players but as people, as professionals. That’s how a team wins and that’s how a team keeps winning.

It’s a slow burn but the train is on the right set of tracks. It just needs time to gain momentum.

So that’s what I’ve learned, from the outside looking in as a transplant Floridian with a passion for Hockey.

The Florida Panthers aren’t there yet.

But that’s a big, big “yet.”

Go Cats Go

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeObrand

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