Florida Panthers: Thank You, Dale Tallon, For the First Day of Free Agency

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 8: Joel Quenneville is named Florida Panthers Head Coach. Florida Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon announced today that the team has named Joel Quenneville as head coach of the Panthers. At the BB&T Center on April 8 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 8: Joel Quenneville is named Florida Panthers Head Coach. Florida Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon announced today that the team has named Joel Quenneville as head coach of the Panthers. At the BB&T Center on April 8 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Florida Panthers finished the first day of free agency and a big round of applause is due for Dale Tallon.

After the season was over, the Florida Panthers had a wealth of areas that needed to be addressed. Some problems were overt as goaltending and coaching, while others were more precise such as penalty kill needs, defensive mentorship, or the ability to manage and optimize Aleksander Barkov’s time on ice.

Yesterday, Dale Tallon worked his magic and could’ve constructed the best lineup possible for the team under given conditions.

First, let’s start with coaching. The team fired Bob Boughner nearly immediately after the season ended. Since 2011, the Panthers have had five new coaches, three of which were premeditated and two being interim coaches.

After failing to select the correct coach three times, the Florida Panthers finally selected the correct long-term pick in future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville. Terrific choice, and with no changes to the team, the team would immediately become better in form, leadership, and development.

Second, would have to be none other than goaltending. The trade for Roberto Luongo was a shot of nostalgia and excitement, but his sequel to the original tenure was less successful from a statistical perspective.

Although he had spurts of his 20-year-old self, his tenure was replete with injuries and inconsistency. Outside of the playoff run in 2016 (where he was downright phenomenal), he and fellow backups couldn’t provide the necessary backstop for a true playoff contending team.

Insert the only two-time Vezina winning goaltender currently playing to the lineup, Sergei Bobrovsky. The money was spent on the best available player and fans will have the chance to see if the money was well worth it.

Over many years, including the time with Tallon, the Panthers ownership have had tight purse strings regarding budgets for free agency and the roster in general.

This year, our ownership made a pledge to spend and Tallon put the money to good use. With this signing, we can at least say we got the best player available and let the chips fall where they may. As opposed to searching for savings or “trying out” Robin Lehner or Semyon Varlamov as their No. 1 on cheaper contracts.

Lehner was a great story this year, and Varlamov is a formidable goaltender, but neither compare in resume or gameplay to Bobrovsky. Is the contract expensive? Yes, but this was the right move and big splash to make during this free agency, with these players, and the needs of the team right now.

Third, our beloved defense. With the rumors circling Artemi Panarin, I was worried the focus was in the wrong direction.

A team that just finished the season with two 90-point players, two 70-point players, five 20-goal scorers, and three 30-goal scorers should not consider pure offense as a focus of priority in terms of cap space allocation.

Especially when none of the seasons above are represented by former 30-goal scorer, Vincent Trocheck, who missed a considerable amount of time, and finished with his worst year statistically since joining the NHL full-time.

With that said, it looked as though the Panthers were being viewed as favorites to secure him with the figures ranging from $10.5 – $12.5 million dollars per year.

At the top end, we’re looking at 50% of outstanding cap space ($25 million) designated to pure scoring with a team finishing 4th last in goal against last year.

There’s little doubt that the Panthers need a traditional defensive defenseman but it appeared the team was determined to put scoring over our defense. Not to mention the lack of mentorship for our blue chip defenseman Ekblad and Matheson.

That’s where you enter Anton Stralman. A soon-to-be 33-year-old, experienced, hard-nosed defenseman with terrific gameplay and penalty kill acumen.

A perfect role model for the youth throughout the lineup, but in particular for Aaron Ekblad, seen as the future defensive building block of the team but has had little guide to improving for success.

The move also adds a prodigious penalty killer to an already top 10 penalty kill. If the penalty kill increased by just two percentage points, the Panthers would have a top five power play and penalty kill. That’s a realistic possibility next season given all the pieces of the potent power play will be returning next year.

Fourth, our depth. Any spectator for a Panthers game could notice that Barkov plays… a lot! His usage is limitless and confined to no circumstance.

If you need a goal, need to prevent a goal, first penalty kill, first power play, big defensive zone faceoff, big offensive zone faceoff, and any other conceivable in-game situation a coach could need. His versatility is what makes him so unique, but is a threat to injury.

Having Barkov blocking shots and taking big hits in the defensive zone while averaging well over twenty minutes a game is insanity and poor player management.

Imagine the production Barkov could have if he didn’t start 55% of his time in the defensive zone. That’s right, Barkov tallied 96 points last season, while starting in the defensive zone 55% of the time.

Juxtapose Sidney Crosby, who tallied 100 points (4 more than Barkov), started in the defensive zone 42% of his shift. Connor McDavid, at 116 points, also started in the defensive zone 42% of his shifts.

Dale recognized this and added two key players in Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari.

Both of these players add considerable help to managing and optimizing Barkov and Vincent Trocheck’s ice time.

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First, with Acciari, Tallon brings a player that averaged a minute and thirty-four seconds of penalty kill time last season. In comparison, Barkov averaged two minutes and four seconds.

That’s a considerable amount of time with your first-line center exposed to blocked shots and hard minutes of energy used. Acciari also averages a near 50% in faceoff percentage and started in the defensive zone 65% of his shifts.

Connolly, by contrast, provides little value other than that of his recent goal-scoring ability while regulated to minimal ice time.

Over the last three years, Connolly has been able to put up at least 15 goals, netting 22 last year, while averaging eleven, twelve or thirteen minutes of ice time. That production per ice time is very impressive and useful when trying to add depth throughout the lineup.

Projecting as a third-line winger, Connolly’s presence can prove difficult for teams looking to focus on Barkov, Huberdeau, Dadonov, and others, allowing more flexibility between the lines for Coach Q.

With these signings, the Panthers can rely less on Barkov to shoulder most of the defensive responsibilities, penalty kill burdens and scoring responsibilities throughout the season, allowing for more balance and a greater chance for success.

In summation, since the start of the offseason, the Panthers have addressed their coaching woes with a three-time Stanley Cup/ Hall of Fame Coach, addressed their goaltending by signing the only goaltender currently playing to win the Vezina trophy twice, addressed their 4th worst goals against average by adding a top-talented experienced veteran defenseman in Anton Stralman, and added depth to the forward position that should provide complimentary scoring, penalty kill assistance, and defensive zone faceoff and ice time assistance.

All this came at an expense of $20.4 million dollars of cap, with $5.6 million of the $25 million cap space available for the trade deadline next year. What a tremendous success this free agency and offseason has been, thus far.

dark. Next. Florida Sign G Sergei Bobrovsky to Seven-Year, $70M Contract

For those upset and looking for a big splash in secondary scoring, remember that the Panthers ranked 9th in goals for last season…. and Trocheck had 10 goals. Great job and thank you, Dale Tallon!