Last weekend, the Florida Panthers engaged in a free agent signing barrage unlike any other since its expansion season. In the process, the organization gave its long-suffering fanbase a shot of adrenaline that it’s been waiting on the past ten years. But while the majority of Panther fans were giddy over the thought of a team with real NHL players, the North American media was generally split. Some lauded the moves of Dale Tallon and his daring efforts with the aim of returning the team to the ranks of the relevant. Others opinions (many coming from Toronto-area media outlets) chastised the moves as foolish and another nail in the coffin of an organization that’s been on life support since the Clinton Presidency.
First off, let me get this out of the way and agree with many others, including some of the writers for this site: They overpaid. In some cases, they way overpaid. And I’m completely ok with that. All teams in the doldrums have to overpay at some point to get back on track. Would you really expect any of the guys signed would come here if the Cats had offered a deal similar to what a contender was offering? It wouldn’t happen. But there those who look at the signings, look at the money spent and blast the team as leading the team and its future into oblivion with these moves. To those who allege that, I direct them to this. For those who can’t click that link, it’s the roster of the players who will be attending the Panthers Rookie Development Camp next week.
While no one was really paying attention, the Panthers have built a strong foundation of prospects. How strong? Hockey’s Future, a website dedicated to the game’s future ranked Florida number two overall,. And this was before June’s draft which saw the team add even more, including Jonathan Huberdeau, the third overall pick, who headlined another highly regarded draft class. And by the time those prospects are ready to drive the bus and sign their second professional contracts, the contracts signed a week ago will be ready to come off the books.
So while others simply look at last week’s signings on the surface, Dale Tallon has added a group of veterans, many of whom are thought to be good dressing room guys. It changes the culture of a team so that the young players who are coming up come into a dressing room filled with the right kind of people. It’s filled with guys who want to be part of the solution to a organization that need them. It’s filled with guys who have a wealth of recent playoff experience, guys who have played on winners, and a few who even have their name engraved on the Stanley Cup. That’s the environment you want to bring young players into to help them grow. Reminds me of a line from a terrible 80’s song that, while cheesy, holds some truth: “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” And THAT’S the point of Panthers 2011 free agent frenzy. It’s about the future. And along the way, they might surprise and win a few more games in the present.
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