Mar 22, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (1) warms up before the game against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. The Canucks defeated the Stars 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

What The Future Holds For The Florida Panthers

Jan. 16, 2012: Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison (left) celebrates his second period goal with teammate left wing Tomas Fleischmann (right) against the Boston Bruins at the BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Every single Panther fan wanted change, not only in the locker room, but also with the men in suits. Us Panther fans finally got what we wanted as the Panthers hired Stanley Cup winning general manager, Dale Tallon. Dale was a successful general manager for years with the Chicago Blackhawks, including a Stanley Cup victory in 2010. We all knew that things were going to change with the Panthers. What was a lost franchise was somehow going to come back to live and be the team that they used to be in the mid to late 90’s. That’s all that anyone wanted with this team and that is what we got.

Towards the end of the 2010-2011 season, Tallon went onto “blow up the team” as he decided to trade away mostly all of the players on the current roster in hopes to gain salary space while also acquiring draft picks. When a team goes through such a drastic change in personal, they are normally written off for a few seasons as they need the time to rebuild their players and staff in order to be successful in the league.

With the team looking completely different at this time last year, many of us Florida Panther fans were wondering what general manager Dale Tallon would do in his second offseason as the GM here in South Florida. What exactly did he do? Well, he went out and traded for veteran defender Brian Campbell from Chicago for forward Rostislav Olesz. This past season Campbell was nominated for his first All-Star game, while Olesz only played six games games in a Blackhawks uniform, spending the majority of his season in the AHL. That was the first major move made by Tallon and it turned out to be a success. No one saw this coming as many people gave up on Campbell and believed that taking on his large salary would eventually come back and haunt the Panthers, however it turned out to be just the opposite.

When July 1st, 2011 hit, the Panthers were suddenly in attack mode. They went out and immediately made major moves in free agency, adding players to their roster that nobody else wanted. Players such as former 1st pick in the draft Ed Jovanovski who was given the “he’s too old” label, or former Vezina and Hart trophy winner Jose Theodore was people thought that his career was slowly coming to an end. The Panthers also went onto sign Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, and Marcel Goc, all on the same day. With this new found aggression, us fans were slowly anticipating the start of the season. Everyone had faith in Tallon’s moves and we trusted him. Good thing too, as the Panthers went onto to capture the Southeast Division title for the first time in franchise history.

April 3, 2012: Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore (60) during the first period against the Winnipeg Jets at the BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Last offseason, Tallon knew the type of players that he needed to sign in order to be successful, however no one was expecting things to work out the way they did that fast.

This offseason, things seem to be a little different here in South Florida. There is more pressure to win than ever to win. With many big name free agents out there such as Zach Parise and Shane Doan, rumors are beginning to swirl as to which team is going to be able to get the services of these great players. Although the Panthers aren’t involved in any of those rumors for those players, they are in fact rumored to be interested in all-star goalie and former Panther, Roberto Luongo. Im going to try and put this as nice as possible, if the Panthers do go after Luongo and acquire him; it might not be the best thing for the franchise. Despite the fact that Luongo has been one of the most dominate goalies in the league the past few seasons, doesn’t mean the Panthers must go out and get him. There are multiple reasons as why we should and shouldn’t trade for him. While it would be nice to have another former Vezina winner in between the pipes for us, his contract is a little bit too much for the Panthers to handle, not only now, but in the future as well. Luongo’s current contract is set to expire in the year 2022. That’s ten years from now and the price will be just over $5,000,000 million a year. That’s a hefty contract for a goalie that is now 33 years of age. This contract is just not something that Dale Tallon and the Panthers need as it could set back this franchise while they have a very very promising future. The team needs to look into the future and realize that this contract is just not a good thing for us.

Despite the fact that the Panthers have more than $29 million in cap space, shouldn’t give them the idea that they need to trade for Luongo. That money should be used on actual needs for the Panthers, such as their offense. For a couple of years now, the Panthers have been developing goalie Jacob Markstrom in the AHL. It would be pointless for them to stop his development and make him expendable just because the Panthers want a new goalie. The goaltender situation with Theodore and Clemmy is working out fine right now and it is also a lot cheaper than Luongo. I believe that the money the Panthers currently have should go to offensive players and also to Jason Garrison, who is free to sign with anytime once July 1st comes around.

The Panthers defense and goalie situation is set for years to come now, with Markstrom, Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, newly drafted Mike Matheson and potentially Keaton Ellerby if he can begin to come around. However, are offense still needs a little help. At times, the Panthers offense began to disappear last season. The Panthers have arguably the best minor league system in all of professional hockey. While they have players developing in the minors, they must find a way to help this offense immediately. Florida is in a division that has some real offensive threats, such as Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin. These two players possess some of the best offensive skills in the world and are viewed as top three players in the league and on top of all of that, they’re in our division. Last season Tampa failed to reach the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Panthers, teams like Tampa and Carolina are only getting better as they continue to grow in the right direction.

April 1, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (7) skates with the puck against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

This offseason, the Panthers biggest focus should be on resigning Jason Garrison to a long term deal and also improving our offense. Even though the Panthers have enough cap room to go out and sign a Zach Parise or a Shane Doan, I think that it is best to stay away from those players. Giving out a big contract is a huge risk that sometimes pays off and sometimes really destroys a franchises plan for the future. With the direction that the Panthers are headed, it is best to avoid the big time contracts and go after players that they can get at the right price, while still getting help with the offensive numbers.

Hopefully the Panthers can have another free agency this season. With the teams puzzle almost being complete, they must go out and sign players that can help us not only for next season, but for years to come, while staying away from the bigger contracts that can ultimately hurt our teams chances down the road.

While teams are continuously improving, the cats must do the same in order to remain successful. I have full confidence in Dale Tallon and believe that he is doing an excellent job here in South Florida. I will continue to put my trust in him until proven wrong as this team is looking better than they ever have and will hopefully continue to be like this for years to come.

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Tags: Alexander Ovechkin Brian Campbell Chicago Blackhawks Dale Tallon Dmitry Kulikov Ed Jovanoski Erik Gudbranson Florida Panthers Free Agency Hart Trophy Jacob Markstrom Jose Theodore Keaton Ellerby Marcel Goc Mike Matheson Nhl Roberto Luongo Rostislav Olesz Scottie Upshall Sean Bergenheim Shane Doan Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning Tomas Fleischmann Vezina Trophy Washington Capitals Zach Parise

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