Florida Panthers: The Black and Blue Print; Beating a Dead Horse

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 17: Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon speaks during a Q
MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 17: Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon speaks during a Q /

I am blue. I am black and blue. I am a Florida Panthers fan that still believes this team can accomplish something great — like Kings, Hawks, Penguins great.

Even if they’re out of it by every Thanksgiving (Canadian or American depending on year). Even if the majority of the franchise’s management team (MGMT) does not put the product on the ice indicative of my belief. This is year nine (9!) of Dale Tallon’s blueprint and all I got for it is a set of blue balls.

Not once has the Franchise looked the part of a true playoff team. Instead, they rather sheepishly impersonate a bubble team on the rise.

But the waves were just boiling water simmering down as owners got too involved, and still may be. Though no excuse to anyone who supplies a paycheck or cashes a paycheck in the organization which has failed to deliver on the ice or in the stands for the last nine years.

Listen to me on @whyhockey Podcast over the years (or the Zelepuckin blog before that) and I offered much of the same solutions Florida seek now.

But once again, I will lay out the context, draw up the necessary steps, and implore all fans to apply the desperately needed pressure to the franchise to succeed.

The Context : State of Disunion

Heading into the season, the stated objective by the organization was making the playoffs through stability and a hot start. The stability, a needed device for the start we were told. So to ensure the stable foundation come training camp the Florida Panthers made interesting moves. Or more so, didn’t.

They didn’t alter the coaching staff despite systems and special teams struggles. They didn’t materially alter the goaltending situation swapping out a solid 3rd goalie in Sateri for the wishful lateral move of Hutchinson.

Entering the season pinning all hopes on Roberto Luongo to be ‘the guy’ without even the common courtesy of improving his backup teammate to spell him more relief? Somewhat disrespectful to a future Hall of Famer, and definitely not ideal.

They did add a scoring winger who figures to be a short-term piece, Hoffman, and he has delivered statistically so far. However, this was the area of least concern (even behind centers) after a few years of adding wings through UFA, trade, and draft.

Preseason started without much of a rookie camp. Rookie camp was a two-day affair with a limited squad (brought on by poor development depths).

The thought behind the smaller, low-key event was to spend more direct 1-on-1 time with the prospects. At least spin it that way.

One wonders if the two-day low-key affair could’ve been married to a prospects tournament but that would’ve required money being spent. At worst, it would’ve produced more excitement for a season that has generated zero.

Preseason was much like rookie camp– it didn’t really exist and if it did, it was a sad excuse. Was there a game in Sunrise area at all to get the market enthused?

The Panthers could hardly be bothered to drum up any anticipation by playing young prospects much or by experimenting with many different strategies, looks, or lines. Despite the instance, they would do just that.

Preseason acted as the first warning flag of a summer misspent. All of the deliberate efforts to start out strong instead seemed to cement last year’s weaknesses into habits.

Defenders were still routinely chasing out of position. The goalies looked uninterested or exhausted already. The opportunity to build chemistry on potential line and pairing swaps, should things turn south, was missed. They barely moved beyond one forecheck.

None of this is a particular shock to me. Under Viola and Tallon, Florida has shown an odd propensity for flaunting mediocrity and expertly chasing the unlikely. How true are their wishes for winning when they charge more and more for less and less of a product?

Ownership and the business model I question are unlikely to go anywhere. Commissioner Bettman is trying to find yet another owner for his ‘Yotes team and won’t be spending his time trying to convince Viola finally to get competitive. Bettman sure knows how to pick ‘em.

The purse and purse string holder may not be changed but Florida’s fate can be salvaged. Winning despite ownership is pretty common in sports. Winning despite ownership, management, coaching, defensive issues, and having no goalie is less common.

5 Step Plan

If Vincent J. Viola is as competitive and as serious about winning as he says, these are the 5 Steps he will have his franchise execute.

These are the same steps Whyhockey has been shilling since before Tom Rowe was GM. In the meantime, Florida has gone the opposite way as I suggested.

The most notable in how to acquire, build, and use the six defenders in the lineup. You may disagree with the people I suggest, or how much emphasis I place on a certain aspect in the following steps. That is fine. Just know, so has FLA and look where it got them.


Commit to a goalie replacing one of Reimer or Hutchinson in the rotation, even if it means committing to Montembeault starting games should Luongo go down.

Ideally, acquire someone to rest Lu and quickly. There’s likely around 30 games (60 pts in the standings) left in the season that Luongo won’t be starting, whether that be due to injury, back-to-backs, or just plain rest – and you need a goalie who can get you the best points percentage in those other games.

Do you go for Bobrovsky or Varlamov? Maybe, but they’re no spring chickens either and hard to dislodge in season.

The best bet would probably be to target a team with a few AHL and goalie prospects like NYI, NYR, CGY, PHI, NSH, WSH and try to snag one.

No use re-hashing why Reimer and Hutchinson won’t cut it. Their overall negative play is enough evidence.

Beyond this year, they need to come up to speed with the other organizations around the league and take goaltending seriously.

In such a hit-or-miss position, they need to add multiple goalies under 25-years-old into the system in perpetuity. In sum, plan as if Roberto Luongo is unavailable for your next playoff series.

This is pretty obvious and agreeable.


Find an internal or external option who can take over Defensive coach responsibilities from Jack Capuano and utilize the group better.

No ill will to Jack Capuano but here’s the case for change. The D pairs are not cohesive and enough body of evidence together suggest it’s not waiting for chemistry to form.

Defenders are constantly out of position and consistently not between the man and the net, usually trying to jump the breakout or puck-watching when on the weak side.

The current system emphasizes the defense drive shot production up high in the zone & off the rush, which provides limited, low-danger perimeter chances for and a high possibility of quick chances going the other way.

The ideal system for generating offense with defenders should see D rotate with forwards and drive shot production through ‘Royal Road’ passing and getting to the goalmouth.

The system shift being a new focus on activating into the play off the cycle versus Capuano’s current focus of jumping the defensive zone on the breakout. More importantly than just inside the offensive blue line, FLA needs rethinking on defenders roles in the other two zones as well.

Tighter gaps in the neutral zone is a noticeable need. Current defenders’ gaps typically are so big they not only take away the possibility to physically step up and make a hit to separate the puck from man but are too big that they are outside poke check range as well.

The open real estate often results in easy access into the zone for the opponent. Often times both FLA D will have their feet inside their own zone before the puck crosses the offsides faceoff dots in the neutral zone. And when you allow NHL players that much time and space it usually ends up in a quality scoring chance.

Tighter gaps cut down on opponent zone time and allow high-quality counter-attack chances for a pouncing Panthers team.

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Weakside D need to be under (behind) and holding the middle for partner support. Puck movement needs to be quicker, harder, and include shorter passes more on a diagonal. FLA should quit over-relying on the straight line long passes to get out of the zone.

Focus on lifting sticks, and checking through the hands and sticks in front of the net and in battles. Know who your man is and where he is at all times. And most importantly, cut down on stupid penalties.

Cross checks to the back, hacks and whacks, hands on the shoulders get penalties and the team’s penalty kill rate is a bad grade, even for Florida public schools. Capuano owns a portion of all this.

Breaking up Ekblad and Yandle was a good move by Capuano but 18 months in the making and they wasted the chance in preseason to try it out with no points on the line.

It allowed Yandle to lower his 5v5 workload and execute more on PP. Ekblad has also looked better offensively after the change. However, there needs to be progressive steps taken to move the group forward beyond what was known last November.

The acquisition of Bogdan ‘Big Dan’ Kiselevich has gone largely unused in top 4 and was brought in specifically to secure one of Ekblad and Yandle’s game.

May as well as add Matheson into that group needing security blankets. Matheson could use Kiselevich’s calming effect he lent Weegar.

Kiselevich’s acquisition, hype, and lack of use is another piece of evidence in addition to the late breakup of Yandle/Ekblad that Capuano’s decision making on the D door is not up to snuff.

Yet it’s defensive forwards and offensive defenders that stay in the Cats error prone lineup and not the offensive forwards or defenders who, you know, defend. Kiselevich is next to the KHL if the scratches keep coming undeservedly.


Replace Vincent Trocheck / Get the most out of Vincent Trocheck.

This section changes a bit with Trocheck’s surgery. Prior to his injury, the biggest issue with the offense was getting more from Trocheck. Without him, the question becomes who can they get more from now?

Does that mean more than a Borgstrom call-up after Thanksgiving? Management may be smart to go get the production from outside the Org. This is expanded in Point 4 below.

MGMT (management) would be silly to forget this Trocheck issue though entirely. As soon as 21 returns, the issue re-appears, might as well detail it here and now.

Given to bouts of frustration that only compound his poor play, Trocheck has continued ragging the puck too much, not headman-ing the puck to his wingers (He has good ones this year, no excuse), shooting from too far out while unable to get the puck to the net, taking stupid penalties, and chirping the refs.

The MSG broadcast crew on Saturday ahead of the match against the Rangers relayed Boughner sitting down with the center prior to the game 1-on-1 to sort things out. The immediate payoff? Nada.

My friend Angie still has the best idea to date– First line right-winger Vincent Trocheck. Left wing on the line could be the usual Dadonov or Huberdeau or really, anyone. The purpose is simple.

Trocheck will be forced to defer, move the puck, keep his head in the moment with his captain as center. Trocheck’s quotes on his respect for Sasha lead one to believe it would work.

FLA has the centers to do this. Both Vatrano and Bjugstad are playing well this season and have Boughner’s trust.

Henrik Borgstrom is a helluva hockey player, 21-years-old, 14 points in 14 games, & recently spent the weekend playing with Micheal Haley.

He should be called up–period–but could be called up to fill in the second line center spot (or wing spot left by someone else moving to pivot). McCann & Malgin have played well enough that they aren’t an issue either.

Opportunity and pressure to score in 2C duties could spark their missing finish this season. Both have had trouble converting chances.

I imagine this Trocheck injury situation would play out differently had Borgstrom been given ¼ an NHL season already to jump from 3rd to 2nd line now.


Where can Tallon improve on the roster to support the overburdened and over injured core?

Luck and health according (which is starting to unravel), the current Florida Panthers roster talent level bounces around ‘Playoff Bubble.’ Dale Tallon and those above, below, and beside him need to strengthen the overall skill of this 23 man roster in order to capitalize on some of the solid contracts of talent they have assembled.

The Panthers have tons of cap space with a small number of contracts and prospects keeping the possibilities to add wide open.

Their current cap hit projected total is inflated by currently 9.4mil in injured players not on LTIR now with Trocheck added to McGinn and ex-captain MacKenzie. Not to mention the weeks with 3 goalies and Hutchinson’s buried hit.

McGinn and MacKenzie who shouldn’t be figuring into any NHL cap space regardless of health but FLA likes to proactively pad cap hits before the years even start with dead weight. Luongo’s retirement cap hit going to Vancouver is an added cushion. The room is there for the using.

Any cap space FLA claims is not there they spent on dead weight or just do not want to spend. An issue dating back to owners’ hiring of an inexperienced hockey expert = who gave the Yandle, Reimer, and Rowe contracts out.

Points 1 through 3 above were all known for the majority of the year last year and longer among those looking closely.

That puts crosshairs on Tallon to make amends and a move or two. Tallon will have to evaluate whether he can make these improvements solely from call-ups (Borgstrom, MacDonald, McCoshen, Montembeault) or coaching swap (assistant or head), or whether he should target netminders, puck movers, or goal scorers on the market.

Nylander is a real option. Tallon should be aggressive to nab a player he’s long coveted but should also look into cheaper options, i.e. Sprong, Nichushkin, Puljujarvi, Fiala.

Panarin may be here in Free Agency for free (something Tallon should set up now as well) but Trocheck’s injury may speed things up.

Tallon may decide to just focus on shaking up the Top 4 D that is growing stagnant once again. LAK’s Jake Muzzin would be a hopeful potential partner for Ekblad and is realistically available.

Yandle and Ekblad are the only two defenders you could argue are safe from a trade this season based on contract and on ice play.

But neither should be deemed truly untouchable. At this point, urgency is of importance and so is making the moves that deliver results.

So Tallon needs to strike strong and strike confidently because he’s on the chopping block. Whatever moves, or lack thereof, are made this year could very well dictate his future with this organization.


How much time will Boughner get?

The end of this year? Until this time next season? Until Coach Q tells Dale his vacation is over?

There are positives to his tenure. Boughner will ride his main guys when needed and appears to be liked. He’s presided over a hot streak or two like most young and new FLA coaches.

A trajectory that matches Pete DeBoer (legit NHL head coach) or Kevin Dineen (successful coach, albeit outside the NHL HC realm) are both plausible. Is that enough to continue to let Boughner lead the best core Florida has ever iced?

Like Point 4 (The Move) Tallon may head to the guillotine based on his decision-making process & outcome over ‘The Decision’ with Boughner. There are two argument positions to stake to move on from Boughner.

The first is the argument focusing on Boughner’s coaching skill in the current season and next season in a vacuum. What skills of Boughner’s will lead the team to win a playoff series or as close as a coach can deliver a franchise to that?

Or, conversely, what lack of skills or bad habits of Boughner’s will prevent the team from winning in the playoffs. The largest piece of evidence that Boughner is not the man for the job is his lack of in-game management skills.

Games and matchups often seem to get away from Boughner. He has trouble clotting the bleed and one could imagine him fumbling through playoff series head-to-head with Cooper, Julien, Babcock or Cassidy.

When he has the time in between games the changes he conceives and executes are at best a mixed bag of helping and hurting. How possible is it for a coach with this weakness to win a playoff series or two in the next two seasons?

Florida Panthers
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Florida Panthers

The second argument is agnostic of Boughner’s overall talent level or potential. Instead, this second argument is around whether the current roster and franchise can wait for a developing coach to hit stride and take a stronger hold of the reigns, given the team’s current field position behind the eight ball for the second year in a row.

Fair or unfair to Boughner, the clock on achieving the hyped potential of this core was ticking before he was introduced as Head Coach. And it will certainly soundtrack any conversation on Boughner’s performance, and merits of keeping him on.

It’s folly to fire a coach with no better (or as good as) successor lined up. Viola’s learned this once before. That is not the case this time.

Joel Quenneville is available and unless Mike Babcock or Jon Cooper or Scotty Bowman enter the market, there won’t be a head coach available in the next few seasons that would so quickly turn things around and even create excitement and ticket sales throughout the fanbase. Tallon has the connection to Q and it’s pivotal to bring this one home.

There are plenty of other options after Coach Q. Beyond the experienced hands, Sheldon Keefe is the top one (but may not be available mid-season), or Sweden’s national coach Rikard Grönborg.

Even if the decision is a new head coach is a post-season move, Tallon needs to be doing the legwork now.

Trying to get Coach Q lined up. Scouting Keefe’s Marlies and trying to network his connections. Interviewing Grönborg, as well as any other currently available candidate. This is in parallel to a preliminary search for coaches off-the-radar.

Ownership may have reservations with Tallon picking another coach and it would not be surprising to find out Chris Pronger would be heading these efforts.

Like all of these points above, finding the coach for this core should’ve been handled years ago, allowing the team to be two steps down the right path by this point, not still searching for their footing.

And it might mean Step 5 is about finding a new GM and coach.


To make the playoffs this season it would take the first three steps laid out to be executed well, in addition to the needed bounces and health.

To be true contenders they’d need to polish off the remaining steps, realistically in the offseason. The team likes to present they are one piece away, one prospect maturing, one trade, one bounce, one point, from being with the big teams in the league. The now dead and defunct 2010 Blueprint looked for that vital ‘one’ to simply… happen.

My ‘Black and Blue Print’ argues it’s not just ‘one’ but five. Five questions, five areas, five bullet points, five steps Florida Panthers MGMT need to tackle to live up to the playoff contender they are building and billing.

And until they are all checked off, there’s not much more needed saying.

Next. Change is Needed to Save Sinking Ship. dark

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