Sometimes You Just Gotta Walk On.

Josh, Dave, Frank & Paige

Josh, Dave, Frank & Paige

As Panther Parkway begins its third year of existence, this new season of hockey will come with great anticipation.  The Florida Panthers have revamped their roster with veteran players via free agency in hopes to begin a path towards becoming a more competitive team.  Additionally the youngsters that are going through their maturation process will be looked at to take the next step in their development, and be counted on to make more significant contributions. I’m sure we’re all excited to see how the new roster gels, and to see how head coach Gerard Gallant puts all the pieces together in his first year behind the Panther bench.

However this article isn’t about the Panthers.  It’s actually about our site, and the future of it.  Don’t worry, we’re still here.  But we too are going through some “personnel” changes.

Due to the fact that I care so much about Panther Parkway and the readers of it, I felt that I owed you an explanation of what my plans are.  I have been in hibernation for most of the summer and haven’t written much of anything for quite some time now.  I’ve been extremely quiet on Twitter as well.  Unfortunately that’s not going to change anytime soon.  I’ve been working towards making some changes in my career (re:day job) that won’t allow me to spend the time necessary to give you the quality writing that’s deserved.  That being said, I have decided that I need to do what’s best for me not only professionally, but personally.  That decision is to take a step back.  Very far back.  For how long I can’t say.  Today, I start a new challenge in my life that I am so looking forward to.  If you’re a client, no need to worry.  Nothing changes for you, although certain things may have a chance to get better.  I’ll be in touch with you soon enough.

The site will be in good hands so no need to be concerned.

As I take this sabbatical, I need to thank some people who’ve helped me in this journey that we’ve been on.  I have to start first with David Lasseter.  Dave was the first writer who joined me over at our other home.  You know, that site with the “catchy name”.  Dave added his quick wit, his wry sense of humor, and his expert analysis to the site.  But Dave did it in a way that was always fun to read.  Except of course when he just posted video’s of things blowing up after an embarrassing loss.  He knew how to display the anger for all of us. Dave has become a good friend as well, and I will always be thankful for him taking the leap into this with me.  And for some help with a couple minor traffic violations. :)

Josh Luecht who joined shortly after Dave and gave me the “push” to seek credentials for the site.  Josh also is to be thanked for getting us to start a podcast.  Who ever thought that three guys like us would ever get anyone to listen to three people talk about the Florida Panthers?  But you did listen.  At one point we were like the three amigos.  Or maybe it was the three stooges depending on who you talked to.

And of course, Paige Lewis.  I guess you could say we were the fab four. More about her later .

Gaby Kiger who now has a sweet gig with Fox Sports, and Chrissy Parente who moved on from here to do some internship work with the Florida Panthers as she works towards her degree.  While I don’t know if we actually helped, at least I can say I knew them before they were famous!  Good luck ladies!  Oh and congrats Gaby on your recent engagement.

Mike Lewis who was with us briefly has also moved on to a full time position with the Panthers.  It was great having you here, and I always like it when someone gets a chance to chase their dream.  Good luck Mike.

Jameson Cooper. I’m not sure what to say about Coop.  Between his diligent work, his excellent interviewing skills, and his sometimes silly and off the wall tweets, he has become not only one of our better writers, but has also served double duty for me as a marketing assistant for my business.  He picked up the slack for me so many times on the site, and has done an outstanding job for us from day one.  He too has become a very good friend, and I know he’ll do great things wherever he goes.

Mike Obrand who is currently on honeymoon with his lovely bride Carly in Greece (writing for us apparently gives people the love bug).  Mike is going to add his “Canadian” flair to this site and I promise you he’ll be a great read each and every time he posts something.  I still owe him a drink or two, and I promise that sometime after he returns and things settle down a bit, we’ll get together and toss a few back.  Or I’ll at least try to convince him to buy insurance from me.

Finally, I have to thank Paige Lewis. I often refer to Paige on twitter as my hockey wife, I cannot thank her enough for what she’s done for me and the site.  One of the main reasons for the success of Panther Parkway is due to Paige, and people need to know just how hard she works at it.  And how dedicated she is to it.  Proof of that are the accolades our podcast “Panther Parkway Radio” gets, which she has taken to new heights.  Except on those nights where the silliness just takes over, but hey, we have fun.  Smarter than most people give her credit for, she has more hockey knowledge in her little fingernail than many people have in their entire brain.  While she’s technically young enough to be my daughter, she’s mature way beyond her years.   I honestly love her more than I can say here.  She has become a special person in my life, and I will forever be grateful for the friendship we have.  Mike Dixon, you’re a lucky man.

I would also like to thank the Florida Panthers organization for their trust and confidence in giving us the access to the players and coaches of the team.  You did this when we were just three guys thinking we knew what we were talking about.  In our own minds we did, but our message had to be tamed, and it ultimately was.  While we don’t get paid for this, we all respect the credentials that were given to us, and by doing so I think everyone would agree that our writing improved dramatically because of it.  My stepping back doesn’t change that, as Paige has the same philosophy about things as I do.  There will be some new writers added, and some exciting things will be happening as things move forward.

In closing, I would like to thank all the readers of the site, the followers on Twitter and our Facebook Fan page.  I would like to thank the many people who have had me as a guest on their podcast or radio shows, and if you’re reading I’m still available to do that when my schedule permits. I also need to thank all the other media members that I’ve met, and everyone associated with writing and hockey fandom.  I have a great deal of respect for people like George Richards and Harvey Fialkov who are the Panther beat reporters.  You guys have a tough job.

I have made many friends because of this, and while I haven’t met all of you in person, the one’s that I have met have been absolutely some of the nicest people around.  This decision was a difficult one to make, but I know that it’s the right choice not only for Panther Parkway, but for me as well.  I’ll still have a hand in what goes with the site, but my real life career has to take priority.  I’m sure that you can appreciate that, and I hope you understand.

A trademark of my articles always includes a music video of Bruce Springsteen.  Here he is from his performance this past April at the BB & T Center in Sunrise, Florida.  He talks at the beginning about why he wrote this particular song that he’s performing, and references people coming together for one idea.  Kind of like how Panther Parkway came to be.

 

Thanks everyone for your support and your friendship.

 

Local Boys Colin Suellentrop & Cody Payne Invited To Florida Panthers Rookie Camp

The Florida Panthers Development Camp begins today at the Panthers Ice Den in Coral Springs, Florida.  The week long camp will feature some of the brightest and talented players in the Panthers organization.  Many of these players will be looking to solidify their careers with Florida, while some (Aleksander Barkov) have already shown that their ability and skill level is NHL ready.  For those who feel that Florida isn’t a place to grow hockey players, two invitees are out to prove differently.

Plantation born Colin Suellentrop and Weston born Cody Payne will be competing for spots in the Panthers’ system.  Suellentrop was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 4th round (116th overall) in 2011 is known as a “stay at home” defenceman who’s described as a player with good size, reach, and skating ability.  The full evaluation of Sullentrop can be found in Hockey’s Future. He’s been playing in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals for the past 5 seasons and is looking forward to the opportunity being given him by the Florida Panthers.  He’s made some significant progress over the past few seasons, and his continued physical development could be an attractive presence on the Panthers’ blueline in the future.  Looks like Colin, a well spoken young man has some leadership abilities as well, as he wore the “C” in this past season’s final game for the Generals:

Cody Payne is a center who was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 5th round (145th overall) in 2012.  The scouting report for Payne indicates that like Suellentrop he too has size (6′ 2″, 220 lbs), has the ability to be a power forward as well as having a bit of a mean streak.  Payne scored 26 goals last season with the Saginaw Spirit, and 24 goals the prior season with the Plymouth Whalers. According to the scouting report in Hockey’s Future,  his grinding style and energy probably slate him for 4th line NHL duty should he be able to reach the NHL level.  Not being afraid to drop the gloves and mix things up could be Payne’s ticket to his NHL future:

Development camp dates and roster can be found here.  All sessions are free and open to the public.  This is a great opportunity to see players like Aleksander Basrkov, this years first round pick Aaron Ekblad, along with fan favorite Rocco Grimaldi among others looking for a chance at an NHL career.

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

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Lower Cap Ceiling Opens Up More Possibilities For The Florida Panthers

Free agency begins tomorrow July 1st, and with the slightly lower than anticipated cap ceiling that was announced by the NHL, there are some teams that currently find themselves close to or over the limit.  The expected cap ceiling for this coming season was $71 million, however it was announced on Friday that the league has settled in at $69 million.  This is a little more than $5 million above last years number of $64.3 million.  The salary cap floor came in at $51 million for the upcoming season.  Both numbers give the Florida Panthers room to spend, and it is anticipated that general manager Dale Tallon will be extremely busy.

The Panthers currently sit at slightly over $40 million going into Tuesday’s frenzy (according to Cap Geek), and while the Panthers have money to burn on free agents, the lower cap number also opens up some trade possibilities.  Tallon has already said that he would like to acquire at least 2 defencemen, as well as 2 forwards to fill some much needed holes.  Looking to acquire much needed scoring, and some veteran leadership on the blueline to mix in with the promising youth of the club is how the Panthers are approaching this off season.

Teams that are in trouble with regards to the cap ceiling include the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.  These teams are either over the cap currently, or will need to shed some salary in order to sign players for the up coming season, thus opening up a multitude of trade opportunities league wide.  The Penguins for example have nine players to sign, and only 13 million of cap space.  Not a good deal of wiggle room leading one to believe that something’s going to happen.

In Toronto there is talk that ex Blackhawk Dave Bolland will hit the market, and Bolland and Tallon are acquaintances from Chicago, however, Bolland is a center, and the Panthers for once seem to be deep at that position.  Yet Bolland if healthy could provide some much needed grit at the right price (keyword: at the right price)

Besides teams making a pitch for such sought after free agents as Tomas Vanek, Mike Cammelleri, Matt Moulson, Radim Vrbata, Matt Niskanen, and Anton Stralman, trade possibilities add another element to clubs wanting to improve as well as having the ability to spend to do so.  The Panthers are certainly one of those teams since they sit near the bottom of the league in payroll.  Last summer when new ownership was sorting out it’s details, Dale Tallon basically had his hands tied, and wasn’t able to make any major acquisitions via trade or free agency.  Things are slated to be different this time, and Dale likely will have his cell phone fully charged.

Let’s be clear.  We are not about rumors.  We never were, and we never will be.  However the wish list, or target list of players that the Panthers can now afford to go after has grown since teams will need to adjust their rosters.  In Chicago, players such as Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya have been talked about as potential candidates to be moved.  Sharp’s agent said however that Sharp isn’t going anywhere, but sometimes that’s the kiss of death.  Oduya on the other hand could be had at the right price.  Chicago would also like to unload Kris Versteeg, but likely won’t find a partner, unless they can hide him in a traded players suitcase.

The Bruins are likely to lose Jarome Iginla to free agency, and could be looking at trading Johnny Boychuck and or Chris Kelly, both of whom make $3 million or more per season.  In Philadelphia Vincent Lecavalier is apparently on the block with 4 years remaining on a $4.5 million dollar deal.  He’s also due a $2 million dollar bonus on July 1st.  There was some discussion on Twitter last night about Vinny, but there’s nothing official on any of it.  Also, it was learned on Sunday that Buffalo’s Christian Erhoff was bought out, making the 31 year old puck moving defenceman one of the top blue liners available.

Jason Spezza has put the Ottawa Senators and GM Bryan Murray in a bind with his trade request.  Problem is, Spezza has a no move clause, which he exercised over the weekend as Murray had a deal in place to send him packing to Nashville.  Other players being shopped could include defencemen Michael Del Zotto in Nashville, and Josh Gorges from the Montreal Canadiens.

While the Panthers are dealing from a point of strength in that money is available, the downside is they’ll likely have to overpay for free agents in order to attract them to South Florida.  Yet the promise of improving youth, could be swaying the minds now of both players and their agents.

As for trading, Dale knows how to wheel and deal.  When he acquired Patrick Sharp for the Blackhawks from the Philadelphia Flyers, no one knew anything about him.  Look at Sharp now as he’s averaged almost 25 goals per season over 9 years.  Dale acquired Sharp for Matt Ellison (who?) and a 3rd round pick.  Does he make a play one more time for hockey’s most handsome winger?

Erhoff and Niskanen or Josh Gorges on defence, with Moulson and a big name acquired in a trade, and who knows…..the weather won’t be the only thing that’s bright about South Florida.

This summer is a fantastic opportunity to make a splash, and begin the process of turning this franchise around.  Get some rest Dale.  We expect you to be very busy.

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

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

 

Florida Panthers Place Ed Jovanovski On Buyout Waivers

The speculation of Captain Ed Jovanovski’s future with the Florida Panthers has been laid to rest.  As a player at least. The veteran defenceman who came back to South Florida in 2011 after beginning his career with the Panthers in 1994, has been placed on buyout waivers.  Jovanovski signed a four-year contract with the Panthers in 2011, and the Panthers will buy out the final year of that deal.  Jovo was to earn $4 million this season with a $4.125 million dollar cap hit.

His return to the Panthers in 2011 was met with signficant joy, yet unfortunately for the rugged and very determined veteran defenceman, injuries and his grinding style of play finally caught up with him.  Last season Jovo came back from a major hip operation, that not many would have attempted.  He was limited to 37 games after being activated in January and had 5 points and 39 penalty minutes.

Jovo was brought back to help the Panthers younger players such as Erik Gudbranson, and provide leadership both on the ice and in the dressing room.  Jovo did what he could, but his body may no longer be able to keep up, at least at the pace that he was playing at.

Jovanovski achieved a number of accolades throughout his career including, being named to the all rookie team in 1995-1996, an Olympic Gold Medal in 2002, and five NHL All-star appearances.  He was one of the major contributors during the Panthers cinderella playoff run in 1996.

Jovo earned the nickname “Jovo Cop” early in his career when he leveled players like Eric Lindros, among many other prominent players.  Upon his return to the Panthers in 2011, he showed that he still had that edge in him as displayed by this crushing blow to Linus Omark of the Buffalo Sabres: Poor kid.

This was certainly a difficult decision for Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers.  It’s never easy to tell a player with Jovanovski’s determination and heart that his time is up.  Whether Jovo stays with the Panthers in another capacity or moves on remains to be seen.

I would personally like to thank and congratulate Ed Jovanovski for his contributions to the Florida Panthers during his career.  He should always  be remembered for his gritty style of play, his leadership skills both on and off the ice, and his dedication to the sport that he loved to play.

If this is indeed the end of the line, he has nothing to be ashamed of.

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

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

 

Why Gerard Gallant Makes Sense As The Florida Panthers Head Coach

After nearly two months of speculation, and countless interviews with potential candidates, Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers announced on Saturday that Gerard Gallant will be the next head coach of the club. Gallant was among a long list of suitors wishing to become the 13th coach in 21 seasons for Florida, and according to Dale Tallon, Gallant is exactly who he wanted.  This quote from the blog post of Panthers beat writer George Richards describes briefly why this was Tallon’s choice:

“This was a very extensive search,” Tallon said on Saturday afternoon.

“It was a very informative and very successful search. We’re all very excited about this. He has a reputation for integrity and his passion for the game is beyond reproach. Ownership feels the same way I do.”

Gallant played in 615 games during his NHL career, most with the Detroit Red Wings, except for fifty-two games with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  For those of you who watched him play, you’ll remember the type of player he was.  Hard working, strong skating, a nose for the net, and never afraid to mix it up.  Gallant played for the Red Wings during a time when Detroit was in a fiercely competitive division with teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota North Stars and St. Louis Blues.  Those Norris division matchups required teams to play tough, and Gallant was certainly no exception to that rule, as this video will attest to.  Adding to his toughness, Gallant could score goals as well, putting up five consecutive seasons of 20 or more goals, including four consecutive seasons of more than 30.  If Gallant can infuse this work ethic, and determination into the Florida Panthers roster, the Panthers will no longer be a pushover.
Gallant has also been highly praised for his work with younger players.  The Panthers are loaded with youth, some of whom are taking their first steps in the NHL, and some who will be up and coming over the next couple seasons.  Jonathan Huberdeau will likely be the first Panther player to welcome Gallant with open arms.  Huberdeau had 105 points in 67 games playing for Gallant as a member of the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2010-2011.  As we all know, Huberdeau suffered the definition of a sophomore slump last season, and Gallant’s hiring should have a positive affect on the budding star player.
While many would determine that Gallant didn’t accomplish much while he was the head coach in Columbus, you’d likely be correct in saying that.  However if you take a look at the rosters he was forced to deal with, it’s very unlikely that even a Scotty Bowman in his prime could have done much better.  Everyone deserves a second chance, and Gallant after coaching the Blue Jackets for 142 games over parts of three seasons, and serving as an assistant with two NHL teams, sandwiched around is stint in the QMJHL, has surely paid his dues.  He comes to the Panthers hungry to win, wiser because of his experience, and ready to change the “country club” atmosphere that has plagued this organization on and off for the past dozen seasons if not more.
People in Montreal were quick to express their well wishes for Gallant, and have made many comments that were not only appreciative, but positive, as it appears that Gallant will be sorely missed.  Gallant was known for his solid communication skills, his passion for the game which he was able to translate as a motivator and teacher.  In addition to those attributes his tactical skills were a major reason for the success that Montreal enjoyed this season.  Hats off to Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin for allowing Dale Tallon to speak with Gallant, giving him another chance as a head coach.
The Panthers are in need of everything that Gallant brings to the table.  During his career Gallant accumulated over 1600 minutes in penalties, and despite his smaller size (only 5′-10″), he insisted on stepping up for his team, and never back down from some heavyweights such as Marty McSorely, and Brad May.  Gallant’s nickname is Turk.  You may use that at your own risk.
With the proper mixture of veterans that hopefully will be acquired this offseason, Gallant seems to be a solid choice to raise the level of play here in South Florida, and have a team that works for 60 minutes each and every game.

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

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Three Free Agents The Florida Panthers Should Consider

We all know that the Florida Panthers have money to burn this summer in free agency, and the hope is that Dale Tallon will be able to land one, if not two marque players in an effort to bring not only scoring, but respectability to South Florida.  It’s a tall order, and there will be much competition for some of the bigger names out there.  Hopefully the Panthers won’t have to over pay too much for any of the players that they’ve targeted.  Besides making an effort to attract a couple of big names to help fill out the top 6 at forward, and a defenceman or two, there are a few players that are flying below the radar that could instantly help this team.

Mayson Raymond is a player that this site has long been a fan of, and is someone that can make the Panthers better immediately. Raymond who last year was ignored by all 30 NHL teams until the Toronto Maple Leafs scooped him up in September, signing him to a one year deal, could fit in very nicely on either the second, or third line for Florida.  Raymond who tallied 25 goals while playing for the Vancouver Canucks in 2009-2010, and scored 19 for the Leafs last season has obviously shown a goal scoring touch.  His speed makes him a dangerous threat, and his ability to play solid two way hockey makes him useful on special teams.

Raymond earned a paltry million dollars last season, and would likely be looking for a 3 or even 4 year deal at this point in his career. He’ll be 29 in September and is still young enough to fit in with the youth movement here, and also brings some playoff experience as well after seeing post season action with the Canucks.  Dale wouldn’t have to offer the moon, yet if Raymond would consider a deal in the $2.5-$3 million dollar range, he’d be a perfect fit.

Devin Setoguchi is a former 30 goal scorer for the San Jose Sharks who has somehow seen his production dwindle.  Playing with the Sharks, “Gooch” scored 84 goals in three plus seasons, and added 14 more in the playoffs.  Devin isn’t big by any means, but can play a power forward type game, as has to ability to play physical when needed.  He had 143 hits last season in 75 games for the Winnipeg Jets while scoring only 11 goals, but wasn’t seeing much time on the top two lines.  Still, he’s a player who we know can score when given the opportunity, and will add a much needed physical element to a Panther team that has been known to be soft.

I don’t think that Setoguchi would be able to command the $3 million he was paid last season, and should come in at about a million less, still has some game in him at 27 years old, which is when most hockey players are hitting their prime.  He won’t be highly sought after either, and could be another “bargain” for Florida.  His physical presence could be something that’s been missing on the anemic power play, as he could plant himself in the crease.  An attribute that’s been missing since the days of Gary Roberts. 

Willie Mitchell is a 37 year old defenceman, coming off of his 2nd Stanley Cup. Though he doesn’t show a lot of flash, Mitchell has been a key part to the LA Kings success over the past 3 seasons. And on the Panther’s blueline, that’s something that’s sorely needed.  Mitchell has also been very durable throughout most of his career, and would provide fantastic veteran presence to help young defencemen like Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen. He won’t pile up a ton of points, but his physicality and shut-down defensive style is something to be desired in the Panthers dressing room.

While the Panthers wait for players like Ian McCoshen and Joshua Brown to become NHL ready, Mitchell could be around long enough to fill the middle pairing till the kids are NHL ready.

The Panthers will enter the free agent market in July with a lot of work to do, and while many want the “big” name player(s) signed, they’ll also have to fill in the roster with “needs”. Any one or even two of these three players can step in immediately and be significant contributors to the club.

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

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

 

Two Free Agents Who Don’t Make Sense For The Florida Panthers

With $30 million dollars to spend this summer in free agency, Florida Panther GM Dale Tallon has been given the go ahead by owner Vincent Viola to spend money on much needed talent.  Talent that can hopefully turn the franchise around and produce a team that is capable of competing for the playoffs year after year, and soon can challenge for a Stanley Cup.  Sounds easy right? Because Dale did it once before (in Chicago), he can certainly do it again. Can’t he?

Not so fast my little whippersnapper.

Despite the fact that the Panthers have money to spend, there needs to be a well thought out process of who they make offers to, for how much, and for how long.  It’s been said that this years crop of unrestricted free agents isn’t the greatest.  Well don’t get your hopes up for the summer of 2015 because that group looks about the same if not worse.  Unless you think that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane won’t be resigned by the Blackhawks.  Which if that’s what you are thinking stop reading now, move to Bora Bora, and we’ll come get you in a couple of years.

The top two names that come to mind for most people are Tomas Vanek and Marion Gaborik.  Both players will command big dollars, and long-term deals.  With likely a no movement clause built in as well.  Vanek and Gaborik are proven goal scorers, yet seem to disappear at various times for various reasons.  Rumor has it that Vanek would love to play in Minnesota where lately they seem to hand out fat contracts like my favorite Greek restaurant hands out it’s home cooked bread.  Gaborik has endeared himself to the Kings, and seems to have adapted to coach Darryl Sutter’s two-way system.  He’s also surrounded by many other skilled and talented players.  Digest all these thoughts before you make the statement that these two players can make an immediate impact on the Panthers and that they should offer the world to them.

The Wild have approximately $22 million in cap space this summer, but will need to strategize carefully since they have 8 players that are UFA’s this summer, and only 7 players signed past this coming season as well.  The Kings on the other hand can spend up to $13 million, and are rumored to be buying out center Mike Richards to free up more space, therefore keeping Gaborik is possible.

Vanek was traded three times this season alone after spending eight plus seasons withe the Buffalo Sabres. He has scored 40 or more goals twice, 30 or more goals twice, and surpassed the 20 goal mark 5 times including 27 this season while playing for the Sabres, Islanders and Canadiens.  He has a wicked and very accurate wrist shot, has a nose for the net, and is a pure goal scorer who like most, scores in bunches.  However he’s known for vanishing at times.  Part of his name one supposes, yet his playoff performance this season with Montreal left many Canadian fans with a change of heart on his future.  Scoring only 5 times in 17 playoff games, Vanek spent time stuck to the bench during long stretches of games, and was demoted to the fourth line for much of the series against the New York Rangers.  He was criticised for his play, or lack of.  And at times looked as though he couldn’t wait for the series to end.  Is that the kind of player you want to throw $7-8 million per year or more at?

It’s a shame because this is the type of player that could be a game changer for Florida, however if there’s any question about his work ethic, which there seems to be, this is a player the Panthers should stay away from.

Marion Gaborik is a similar player to Vanek.  A highly skilled forward who can play either wing, and when healthy and engaged can score timely goals.  And lots of them.  He’s bounced around in his 12 year career playing for Minnesota, the New York Rangers, Columbus, and now the Los Angeles Kings.  He’s had 3 seasons of more than 40 goals, 3 seasons of 30 or more, and has scored 347 times in his dozen seasons.  However (you knew the other shoe was going to drop), his problem has been injuries.  Knee, shoulder, collarbone, and concussion symptoms have all afflicted Gaborik at various times.  Yet, like Vanek he’s still a sought after player, and with his outstanding playoff run with the Kings this season, he’ll command a big salary as well.

Gaborik has completed the final year of a $7.5 million dollar deal that he signed with the New York Rangers, and will be looking for a raise, especially based on his output in this years post season.  The down side to this is that Gaborik is at the end of a contract year, and has had other “flashes” of  brilliance before.  That combined with his injury history, and the fact that he’s 32, going on 33, which isn’t old, finds him on what could be the downside of his career.

The Florida Panthers can’t ill afford to lock up either of these players at the salary they’ll be demanding.  They did that once in the Pavel Bure era, and all it did for them was improve attendance for a brief time, while crippling them financially.  Bure’s knees were already a question mark prior to his arrival in Sunrise, and by the time he was traded, they were held together with duct tape.

Despite the fact that both Vanek and Gaborik are world-class players, the question marks surrounding them, and the salaries they will demand aren’t meant for South Florida.  The smart thing for the organization to do is look elsewhere.  Tallon has some holes to fill, and we all know the Panthers are in desperate need of goal scoring and a solid blue liner or two.  They need a game changer offensively, however that player likely comes via trade, and should come via trade.

As far as “cheaper” UFA’s go, the Panthers could take a long look at Paul Statsny, yet he’s a center, and that would force either him or a player like Nick Bjugstad to move to the wing. Not a bad scenario, but one that neither player nor team is looking to do.  You’re going to stay away from Dany Heatley cause, well, he’s Dany Heatley.  You’re likely going to get more value  from Matt Moulson who won’t command such a huge price.  Moulson who didn’t have a great season is more affordable, and fits the price range as long as he’s not getting more than $5.5 million per season (at least he shouldn’t).  I think the world of Jarome Iginla and if he was 32, I’d take him in a heart beat. He could be the heart and soul of your team, and instantly give you credibility.  Unfortunately for Jarome, he isn’t what Barkov needs on his wing, he’s 36, and wants to win a Cup before he retires.  His time is running out, which eliminates him from the list.

That leaves besides Moulson, a long list of players who aren’t elite, but still very good, who won’t cost an arm and a leg.  Dale will have to outbid for some, like a Ryan Callahan, or a Milan Michalek.  But what should happen first is a blockbuster trade that involves moving the number one draft pick for an established and proven NHL player that will signal that the Panthers mean business and are ready to compete.  Thus making Florida an attractive destination.

The Panthers need a player, or players who are entering their prime, not in it, or past it.  They need these players to be hungry to win, have a solid character and a winning and positive attitude.  Difference makers.

Tallon’s decisions must be smart and they must be made as ruthlessly as possible.  It’s warm and sunny with beaches and year round golf  down here.  Did I mention no state income tax? But as a former coach of this team once said, too many distractions like those will cause player’s who don’t have the mental capacity to stay focused to think they’re in a retirement home for hockey players.

Dale has to prove that stigma no longer exists.

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

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

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Who Is The Right Coach For The Florida Panthers?

Good things come to those who wait.  Haste makes waste.  One of those two phrases will come into play here with the Florida Panthers as their search for a head coach continues. As of Friday, we learned that general manager Dale Tallon has interviewed as many as 10 candidates for the head coaching position with Gerard Gallant and Ron Wilson being the most recent. Now that Dan Bylsma has been let go by the Pittsburgh Penguins, it is believed that Dale is, or has already reached out to him. Adding Bylsma and Wilson to an already long list of candidates shows that Tallon is doing his due diligence in his search for the right man to lead this team. Even assistant coach John Madden has a remote chance for the opening. That being said, who really is the right man for the job?  And will this extensive and thorough search prove to be a valid one?

Without naming names at this juncture we can all state our wishes for the type of coach we think is a good fit.  Everyone knows that the previous three coaches had no NHL experience.  Peter DeBoer, Kevin Dineen and Peter Horachek all had some success at levels below the NHL, but unfortunately that success never really translated to the big league.  The last Panther head coach who had experience was Jacques Martin who did so well as a head coach he was fired, only then to be hired as the GM.  All that manuever did was prolong the tailspin the organization was in.  That ownership group is long gone, and new owner Vincent Viola is here now to right all those wrongs and put a winner together.

Yet South Florida hasn’t been a great market to attract coaches recently, and many of the one’s available seem to have some skeletons in the closet, which isn’t uncommon.  That includes Marc Crawford, Ron Wilson, Gerard Gallant, and even Bylsma. However as we all know, most coaches have a short shelf life, unless your name is Barry Trotz, who was apparently the only choice for the Washington Capitals.  While each of the aforementioned names, as well as some others have done well at various levels, the next choice must be the right choice.

We can give a Gallant a second chance, or a Bill Peters a first chance.  These are two names who’ve been successful in the minors, but not at the NHL level, or haven’t had an opportunity yet.  No offence to either candidate, but haven’t the Panthers done enough of that? Men like Crawford and Bylsma have won Stanley Cups and have experience, but one is well-traveled (Crawford), and the other has kinks in his armour (Bylsma). Ron Wilson has won over 600 games, but doesn’t trust young players, and has a very acerbic personality.  And let’s face it, after all is said and done, the one you want, may not want you…….

As we head into what is likely the home stretch in the decision making process it’s important to choose a coach that has the ability to take this team to the next level.  There can be no middle ground in this whatsoever.  This coach needs to be good with rookies, and young players since we have so many. He must also have the respect of the veterans who may sometimes need to be the buffer for the younger players.  This next coach must know how to win, be hungry to win again, and be able to get his players to go to the wall for him and each other, game after game.  The best examples of that are Darryl Sutter with Los Angeles and Joel Quenneville with Chicago.  They hold their players accountable, are respected, and know how to win.  They are capable of making in-game adjustments that lead to success.  Their players believe in them, and the system that they bring.  You think it’s easy to coach a team of superstars?  It’s not as easy as rolling four lines.  It takes much more than that and both Darryl and Joel have demonstrated they are more than capable of stirring the drink.

The occasional fan likes to see someone given a chance, and see a fresh face.  That’s nice and is a popular choice many times.  While the dedicated, or diehard fan wants a more stern approach with someone who will crack the whip when needed.  The Florida Panthers future is riding on this decision.  While South Florida has a lot to offer anyone as far as its weather and no state income tax, those aren’t necessarily trade offs if the team can’t produce a winner.

The team needs a leader behind the bench who offers guidance, and has experience at all levels and in all situations.

The list is short.  The margin for error is thin.  The future rides on this choice.

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

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

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Panthers Receive Permission To Speak With Gerard Gallant

The list of candidates for the head coaching job with the Florida Panthers became longer Monday when General Manager Dale Tallon received approval from the Montreal Canadiens to speak with assistant coach Gerard Gallant.  Gallant, like Tallon, is a former player having played in 615 regular season games, and 58 playoff games in the NHL.  Gallant has coaching experience at many different levels, having coached in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, as well as serving as both an assistant and head coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders (assistant) and Montreal Canadiens (assistant).

Gallant spent seven years with the Blue Jackets – two of them as their head coach, where he compiled a 56-76-4-6 record in 142 games with a very mediocre roster. While he didn’t find much success in Columbus, he was very successful in the QMJHL, guiding the Saint John Sea Dogs to three first place finishes, three league final appearances, two QMJHL championships and one Memorial Cup.

As a player, Gallant spent his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings, and played one game for the Tampa Bay Lightning. One reason that Tallon is likely interested in Gallant is that he’s hopeful he can transform his style of play into the style of play for the Florida Panthers.  Gallant played much bigger than his 5′ 10′” frame, scoring 211 goals, adding 269 assists for a combined 480 points.  Gallant scored 30 or more goals in four consecutive seasons for the Red Wings, and as I remember him, was a pain in the rear to play against.

Gallant played with snarl despite his lack of size, and was never afraid to mix it up, as he served over 1,600 penalty minutes during his career. He could bring a toughness behind the bench, an element that the Panthers desperately need, thus making him an attractive potential choice.

Another reason Gallant is getting an opportunity for the opening is that he coached Panther forward Jonathan Huberdeau in juniors. Huberdeau scored 177 points in 104 games with Gallant as his coach, and after last year’s sophomore slump, Gallant may be the right choice to inject some confidence back into the young and promising forward.

The question remains however does Gallant have enough of the coaching experience at the NHL level that Dale Tallon is looking for?  Tallon obviously is searching for a successful coach who has won, who has a philosophy that fits what the organization wants, and a coach that is not only good with veterans, but is good with young players as well.  The development of the youth on this team is imperitive to any success this organization is going to have.

With the draft coming closer, and the Stanley Cup Final beginning on Wednesday, the time to make the announcement is almost here.  Most major news items don’t come during the Cup Final, yet one wouldn’t be surprised if during an off day during the series, the Panthers steal the headlines.

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

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

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Florida Panthers Coaching List Getting Slimmer

With the 2014 NHL draft less than 30 days from now, the list of candidates for the head coaching position for the Florida Panthers has grown slimmer. When this writer posted this article on April 30th, the list of potential candidates was fairly long, and the choices seemed fairly reasonable. Since that article was posted there were 13 candidates, and that list is now down to 9. And I’m not so sure that I like 50% of the names.

Barry Trotz was just hired by the Washington Capitals, with rumors that Claude Noel (never really a candidate) will come on board as an assistant. Peter Laviolette was hired earlier this month by the Nashville Predators, in hopes to revive their offensive game. Randy Carlyle was thankfully extended by the Toronto Maple Leafs. (We appreciate that very much!). Larry Robinson was named director of player development in San Jose, so he’s not going anywhere either. And finally, Ken Hitchcock was given an extension in St. Louis, which is a good thing since there aren’t nearly enough Shake Shacks in South Florida to keep him happy.

That leaves us with Guy Boucher, John Stephens, Dan Bylsma (pending new GM’s decision), Terry Murray, Ron Wilson, Marc Crawford, Jeff Blashill and Mike Keenan. Keenan just won a championship in his first season behind the bench in Russia, and he’s likely not leaving, so don’t get nervous, fans. Two other names who weren’t on that list who became available are John Tortorella, who was relieved of his duties after just one season with the Vancouver Canucks, and Kirk Muller, who was just hired by the St Louis Blues as an assistant coach.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said earlier that he’d like to hire an experienced and offensive minded coach. That almost rules out Guy Boucher, who isn’t necessarily all that experienced, and is a touch defensive minded. However he brings a no-nonsense attitude, which is something I believe this organEYEzation needs.  Hab fans were clamoring for Boucher to take over for Jacques Martin and with good reason.  Boucher does have many good qualities, and deserves another chance after a short-lived run in Tampa Bay with the Lightning.

The Panthers decision on the next coach is more important than what they do with the upcoming first round pick. Rumors are that Tallon is listening to offers, and he should, as long as it gets the team a proven NHL ready player. That said, the next coach should be the coach that is expected to take the team to the next level and not be a bridge till the youngsters grow up.

Tallon has also indicated he’d like to have John Madden stick around as an assistant, and will hopefully be able to influence the coach that he hires to do so. However, that may or may not be a condition of hiring, you’d have to think that a coach is going to want to name his own assistants.  But it’s not entirely out of the question.

The Panthers as we know need help with special teams, as last year’s roster failed miserably in both power play scoring, and penalty killing efficiency. The defense when playing 5 on 5 was below average, and the team struggled to score goals, and was consistently taking the first 20 to 25 minutes of each game to find their legs. All that said, this choice, and the person(s) who comes in will have their work cut out for them. The staff will have to be detailed, be able to motivate, and prepare a youthful roster that is expected to mix in some veteran leadership, and get this team to play a full 60 minutes.

The two names I keep hearing the most are Ron Wilson and Marc Crawford. They are both experienced, tough, and offensive minded. Although in the dressing room, Wilson can be a bit more “offensive” than Crawford, if you get my drift.

For my money, I wouldn’t mind seeing Crawford get the job with John Madden as one of the assistants. If Madden is able to stay on, I think that makes an interesting combination. Crawford has won before, and would be a respected coach. Madden is well liked, intelligent, and can help instill the work ethic needed to build a winning culture.

The answer to whom gets the job should be coming soon, and while it might be a waiting game to see what happens in Pittsburgh with Bylsma, it would be nice to know the fate of the Panthers sooner rather than later. You want your input from your coaching staff on the draft, and how you want to build your roster, and which free agents to go after that fit the coaching style.

There hasn’t been an offseason with this many important decisions that need to be made in quite some time.  Making the right one’s and not the popular one’s will move this team forward.

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

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

 

 

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