Tallon uses myriad of methods to build rising D corps

There is an old NHL proverb passed down from generation to generation that dictates the winning formula for a team to embrace and thereby succeed: “Build from the back out.”

It is this mantra that hints at stabilizing your core from the defensive side out when trying to build a winning team that can keep winning for years on end.

Dale Tallon inherited a limping roster when he was hired and has gone through the process to turn it into one of the most promising, young and dynamic groups in the National Hockey League. He stabilized his net when he realized Jacob Markstrom was not cut for full-time duty and is now in the midst of cementing his D corps that will hopefully lead to real success in the short and long-term.

Dale Tallon’s defensive rebuild conforms to many rebuilds we’ve seen in the league over the years with one notable exception. He has used key draft picks to select core players, traded for young undervalued players from other organizations and signed complimentary pieces via free agency. Despite taking the beaten path in those regards there, is one piece that he added that did not conform to the traditional rebuild schematic. The piece that I am referring to is Dale Tallon’s long con….but we’ll get to that.

When you look at the Panthers’ potential defense for the upcoming season you see the results of the aforementioned beaten path which Tallon walked with great effectiveness.

The Key Draft Picks

Dmitry Kulikov, drafted 14th overall in 2009, 99 points in 313 games played after making the team directly out of camp after his draft. The Panthers committed to Kulikov long-term and clearly see him as an integral part of their defensive system.

Kulikov ate minutes for the Panthers finishing 2nd on the team in terms of total minutes played and was deployed almost with complete neutrality between the offensive and defensive zone last season, meaning that the coaching staff believed in him in both offensive and defensive situations.

Within the last two years Kulikov has been on the upward swing possession-wise and has had a positive impact on his team’s performance while on the ice.

Next up: Erik Gudbranson, the Panthers’ esteemed 3rd overall selection from the 2010 entry draft. Erik was thrown into the fire as Kulikov was and has been through the struggles that one would expect a young defenseman to go through while playing in the NHL as an under-20 year old. While Gudbranson’s skill set is elite and the talent is obvious, he is only beginning to carve his niche on the ice as was evident at times last season. Regardless of the past, the future is bright for the likely captain of the Panthers and a serious jump (and I mean serious) in possession metrics suggests that he is coming into his own as planned. At 22 and with the best surrounding cast since his debut, Gudbranson is primed for another season of improvement.

Then there’s the 6’3 216 lbs colt in the room, Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers invested heavily in the defenseman in June and undoubtedly plan to make him a part of their core for as long as they can (aka his entire career). Ekblad’s elite talent is undeniable and his ability to transition that from the junior game to the NHL is obviously paramount for the Panthers’ success in any realm. It’s a risk to select a defenseman first overall due to their slow development and potential for failure but the Panthers clearly thought that he was worth the risk so he will have to make it worth their while.

The undervalued trade target

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure has never been truer when it comes to Dylan Olsen (and his fellow former Blackhawk Jimmy Hayes). Chicago deemed Olsen (and Hayes) expendable to regain the services of Kris Versteeg and I believe I would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks the Panthers got the worse end of the deal from a player perspective. Olsen went from a fringe NHLer in Chicago’s system to a mainstay blue-liner in Florida and managed to put up positive possession numbers for the first time in his career with a weaker line up supporting him. Olsen is poised to keep his spot on the blue line out of training camp and cement his spot in the NHL as a valuable top six defender.

The complimentary free agent

Any good GM knows that free agency is for filling out the roster, not building it. When Dale Tallon went on a spending spree in 2011 he picked up players to fill the roster while his prospects were gaining experience in the minor league and junior ranks. That spree pushed the Panthers into the playoffs but that clearly did not equate to long-term success. Tallon’s youth is finally maturing and he is now at a stage where he can use free agency to go after players he deems suitable for his squad.

Enter Willie Mitchell. Mitchell is the kind of player that GMs love. He’s a winner at all levels winning an ECAC title with Clarkson University, a IIHF World Championship gold medal and of course the two Stanley Cups with the LA Kings in 2012 and 2014. He is a 12 year NHL vet who has made a positive impact on every team he has played for. He is a leader who leads by example and is not afraid to put his body on the line as is evident by his team-leading 128 blocked shots last year. To impress you more, even with Mitchell’s high blocked shot totals he is still a fantastic possession player who creates more positive possession events than he gives up and considering he blocked 128 shots last season that is a lot of positive possession events.

Mitchell will bring a sense of stability to the Panthers defense this season. He will be a solid veteran presence to the young guns both on and off the ice and of course will be relied upon heavily by the coaching staff in key situations when needed.

The long con

Finally, we get to Brian Campbell.

When Brian Campbell was traded to the Florida Panthers on June 25th 2011 the narrative was that of “A cap dump by Chicago to rid themselves of a shell of a player that they thought they were getting to a team he won’t succeed with.”

Not exactly a rousing endorsement for the Panthers, but after finishing last in the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs for the 10th straight year the pundits didn’t have to be generous to the team in Sunrise. From the Panthers’ perspective it was more than a cap relief favor to the GM’s previous employer, it was the start of the locomotive that was and is Dale Tallon’s rebuild of the Florida Panthers.

NHL GMs think that far ahead and that’s what Dale Tallon was doing when he traded for Campbell. He acquired a piece that would help the team in the short-term and one that would evolve into the cornerstone of his defensive corps in the long-term.

Tallon took it on the chin when he traded for Campbell but he is only reaping the benefits of acquiring a premiere all-around defenseman who can, has and will do it all for the Panthers.

Let’s talk leadership. Brian Campbell epitomizes the word.

I don’t just mean that he is a “leader,” of course he’s a leader. He’s a 35 year old decade plus player with 838 games under his belt. He’s a Stanley Cup Champion, has been a Captain, an alternate captain and is a poised and professional person who deals with fans and media with aplomb. His career speaks for itself in terms of intangibles but I want to talk about the aspects of his game that makes him the cornerstone of the team.

When I said leader I meant “leader” as in team leader in 5 on 5 ice time since he was traded to the Panthers. In fact he led by 288, 220 and 281 minutes within the past 3 seasons, which is insane. He has either led or finished 2nd in shots taken by a defenseman since his Panthers debut and has been among the team leaders (and led in 13-14) in blocked shots. He finished 2nd, 1st and 1st since the 11-12 season in takeaways by a Panthers defenseman. To top it all off, since 2011-2012 Campbell has led all Panthers’ D in points.

Beyond these stats, his possession numbers are exceptional.

He boasts a 52.1% Corsi For Percentage which means that when Campbell is on the ice 52.1% of the total shot attempts are going towards the opposing team’s net. To give you a comparison, that is 38th best among defenseman after the 13-14 season and best on the Panthers by 1.5%, which is astounding. Campbell literally drives possession forward for the Panthers better than any other D by a significant margin.

In terms of Fenwick (shots directed toward the net that aren’t blocked) Campbell clocked a 52.5%, 1% better than the closest Panthers D and good for 39th in the league.

These numbers are even more impressive when you take into account that Campbell played the 3rd most 5 on 5 minutes out of any defenseman in the NHL. To add to his impressive resume his 5 on 5 Zone Start Ratio is 50.8% meaning that he was nearly evenly distributed between the offensive and defensive zone which alludes to my “all-around player” label.

What impresses me most about Campbell’s metrics are his Relative Corsi and Fenwick numbers. He is a +3.0% 5 on 5 Corsi and Fenwick player which means that the team is much better (3% better) at possession when he is part of the 5 man on-ice unit. That is, again, a full percent higher than the next Panthers D which means he is better at making the team better than any other defenseman on the team.

With skating that cuts the ice like a knife does warm butter, a hard and accurate shot with a quick release, a premiere first pass and exceptional defensive skills, Brian Campbell is the whole package for the Panthers. He is the unequivocal cornerstone of a defensive group that has been carefully constructed and perfected over the years. Campbell was brought in with the knowledge that he would one day be this player for the team. He knows what it means to be a Panther, he wears an A and is a strong candidate to wear the C and has been through the absolute worst the franchise has seen. With the team ready to rise up from the bowels of the NHL, Brian Campbell is at the helm.

With less than two months until opening night, the current blue-line for the Panthers is shaping up to be one of the most talented defensive corps the franchise has seen in a long time.

Florida Panthers and the Role of Leadership in the NHL

The leadership debate has been kicked into high gear recently in the hockey world and everyone who’s everyone is throwing in their two cents (5 cents if you’re from Canada). Leadership is a tricky notion in any realm to define and quantify, but in the sports world leadership is more like an omnipotent force than quantifiable trait. The inspiration for this piece comes from Steve (Dangle) Glynn, who debates the quantities/qualities of leadership in this video: http://theleafsnation.com/2014/4/7/leadership-in-hockey-what-s-that

Steve questions whether or not leadership is even real, if it’s tangible based on goals, hits, motivational speeches etc. It’s a great video; I’d check it out if I were you.

So what is it? What is leadership?

To re-hash and expand on what Steve said: Is leadership defined by production? Fighting? The notion of clutch-ness? (That’s a whole other can of worms)

Is it defined by being vocal in the locker room? On the bench? On the ice?

Is it by example? Putting your body on the line to help your team win? Attending charity events? Being available to the media no matter the situation?

Is it how you interact with your teammates? Patting them on the back when they do something right? Teaching them when they did something wrong? Calming them down when they’re making mistakes?

Is it just being old? How many cups you’ve won? How many years you’ve been in the league?

To me, leadership is a mixed bag. It’s a combination/selection of everything I listed above and more.

You can sense leadership in sport (and life, really) at any level, from the professional grade to the beer league. There are people who others gravitate to for inspiration, support, guidance or security. There are people who possess those unquantifiable quantifiable qualities that make people gravitate to them.

The term “Leadership” is used so often these days so it’s not insane to see why it’s been watered down and questioned as much as it is being. When a team wins or loses, part of that result was due to what we call leadership. Players cite their captains, alternates, goal scorers, grinders, goalies, coaches etc. as people who were impactful on the game’s outcome. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and are defined by the many variations of leadership. There’s not just one answer, there’s not just one quality, leadership is an orchestra.

When it comes to a team’s captaincy group, I have no doubt that whoever makes the decision takes all of these qualities into account. Technically a team only has captains and alternates so that there is a designated group of people to talk to officials. Obviously that has evolved into what we have today. Being a captain or an alternate is seen as a prestigious honor.

We rank the best captains; we debate if a player should be captain, we even put more weight on a goal when it was scored by a captain or when captains fight! Obviously leadership matters in the NHL and whatever you quantify leadership as it has an impact on how you watch the game and how the game is played.

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Tom Gilbert Will Miss the Remainder of the Season After Undergoing Surgery

Florida Panthers defenseman, Tom Gilbert, who signed a $900,000 contract with the Panthers this off-season, underwent Sports Hernia surgery Thursday morning, and will miss the remainder of the 2013-2014 season.

Gilbert, 31, who was bought out by the Minnesota Wild last summer, was given a second chance with the Panthers, who were looking for another veteran presence to play alongside Brian Campbell. Currently second on the team in ice-time, averaging 21:20 minutes per game, Gilbert proved to be an important addition to the Panthers blue-line.

In addition to his lofty ice-time, Gilbert is currently 5th in scoring on the Panthers, with 28 points (3g-25a-28p) in 73 games.

 

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

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

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

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Panther Parkway Post-Game: Panthers vs. Devils

Stars of the game

1st: Brad Boyes (1G-1A-2P)

2nd: Scottie Upshall (1G-0A-1P)

3rd: Jonathan Huberdeau (0G-2A-2P)

Goals (Panthers 5 , Devils 3)

FLA: Brian Campbell (7) Assists: Jonathan Huberdeau, Jimmy Hayes

NJD: Jaromir Jagr (22) (Powerplay) Assists: Damien Brunner, Travis Zajac

NJD: Bryce Salvador (1) Assists: Patrik Elias, Ryan Clowe

NJD: Patrik Elias (15) Assists: Damien Brunner, Andy Greene

FLA: Quinton Howden (2) Assists: Scott Gomez, Jonathan Huberdeau

FLA: Brad Boyes (18) Assists: Unassisted

FLA: Scottie Upshall (13) Assists: Brad Boyes 

FLA: Vincent Trocheck (1) (Empty Net) Assists: Brian Campbell

Highlight

With another goal recorded tonight, RW Quinton Howden has scored 2 goals in 2 games since his recall from the San Antonio Rampage! C Vincent Trocheck also notched his first NHL goal with an empty-netter to make it a 5-3 final!

Quote of the game

Tweet of the game

Next Up

The Florida Panthers take on the Vancouver Canucks at the BB&T Center, on Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

Tune into FOX Sports Florida to catch all of the action!

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

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

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

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Panther Parkway Post-Game: Panthers vs. Bruins

Stars of the game

1st: David Krejci (3G-0A-3P)

2nd: Chad Johnson (23-24 saves – .958 sv%)

3rd: Zdeno Chara (0G-0A-0P)

Goals (Bruins 4, Panthers 1)

BOS: David Krejci (14) Assists: Unassisted

BOS: Jarome Iginla (19) Assists: Jordan Caron, Chris Kelly

BOS: David Krejci (15) Assists: Kevan Miller

FLA: Brian Campbell (6) Assists: Sean Bergenheim

BOS: David Krejci (16) (Empty Net) Assists: Milan Lucic, Jarome Iginla

Highlight

What could possibly go down as the biggest blockbuster trade of the 2013-2014 season, the Florida Panthers traded G Jacob Markstrom and F Shawn Matthias in exchange for G Roberto Luongo.

Quote of the game

Tweet of the game

Next Up

The Florida Panthers take on the Buffalo Sabres at the BB&T Center, on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Tune into FOX Sports Florida to catch all of the action!

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

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

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

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Erik Gudbranson is Ready to Instill Fear in Panthers’ Opponents This Season

Erik Gudbranson (Wikipedia)

Erik Gudbranson (Wikipedia)

For the majority of last season, opposing teams around the NHL had few reasons to fear the Florida Panthers. A young team riddled with both injuries and inexperience that finished the year last in the NHL in both goals scored and goals allowed per game. Luckily for the Panthers, they will start the upcoming season with a clean slate and the opportunity to redefine themselves however they’d like.

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson is hoping to use that opportunity to bring some fear back into minds of the Panthers’ opponents.

The 3rd overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Gudbranson is entering his third year with the team and the final year of his entry-level contract. While the pressure of a contract year can weigh on any player, Gudbranson enters this season fueled by the pain of last year and not the dollars and cents of his next big deal.

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For Mike Matheson, It’s Just a Matter of Time

Mike Matheson (John Quackenbos/Boston College Media Relations)

Mike Matheson (John Quackenbos/Boston College Media Relations)

With a sound offensive game and skating abilities that even Kristi Yamaguchi would envy, 19-year-old defenseman Mike Matheson has worked his way to the top of an already impressive group of talented Florida Panthers’ defensive prospects.

Selected in the 1st round (23rd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Matheson, a Quebec native, spent the 2012-2013 season sharpening his skills while playing collegiate hockey for the Boston College Eagles. While he would have been able to get more game experience playing in the CHL, Matheson expressed to me in an interview earlier this year that playing collegiate hockey would give him more free time to spend in the gym, putting on weight and building up his frame to withstand the rigors of the NHL.

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Panther Report: 2013 IIHF World Championship

IIHF

With the preliminary round winding down and the quarter finals set to begin this Thursday, the action is just starting to heat up at the 2013 IIHF World Championship. With each team already having competed in at least 6 games, Team Canada and Team Russia have risen to the top of their respective groups. Although no Panthers’ skater has grabbed any headlines  throughout the tournament, there have still been some exceptional performances worthy of noting.

Below, I have listed the current statistics for each Panther player represented at the World Championship as well as adding a brief comment on their play.

Brian Campbell (Canada)

GP: 7

G: 0

A:2

Note: As he was for the majority of the season in Florida, defenseman Brian Campbell has been a workhouse for Team Canada so far this tournament. Through 7 games played, Campbell is 2nd on the team in total TOI with 140:23 minutes played. Also, Campbell’s +7 rating is good enough for the best +/- rating on the entire Canadian roster.

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Florida Panthers’ 2013 Player Grades: Defense

Erik Gudbranson. Photo Source: Michael Miller/ Wikipedia Commons

Erik Gudbranson.
Photo Source: Michael Miller/ Wikipedia Commons

With the disappointing 2012-2013 season on its’ way to being understandably forgotten by both fans and players alike, we must take one final moment to begrudgingly relive the events of this year as I hand out my end of the season player grades. Although the Panthers were only able to muster a pedestrian 15-27-6 record – good enough for last in the entire NHL – there were still a few players that can look back on this season with pride.

While many players will be receiving grades that would merit summer school, there are a few skaters with bodies of work good enough to be hung up on the refrigerator. Considering the amount of call-ups and short lived NHL appearances by skaters due to frequent Panther injuries this season, I have decided to grade only players who competed in at least 20 games this season.

For this report card I will be taking a look at the Panthers’ ill-fated defensive unit. After seeing some improvement last season, the Panthers’ defense took a big step backward as they finished the season last in NHL in goals allowed per game (3.54). Frequent mental lapses and an inability to clear dangerous pucks were just two of the numerous problems that defined the team’s defensive struggles this season. Considering just how bad the Panthers’ defense looked almost every game, you will be hard pressed to find too many good grades below.

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Rostislav Olesz: Reviving His Career in the AHL?

Like most Panthers’ first round draft picks from the early part of this decade, former 7th overall selection Rostislav Olesz is still trying to find his place in the NHL. A native of the Czech Republic, Olesz came into the NHL with an impressive skillet and even greater expectations. Sadly, after just over 5 seasons with the Panthers, Olesz never quite reached the lofty expectations that were put on him – reaching a pinnacle of 30 points during the 2006-2007 season.

Years later, as the team was starting to rebuild under the guidance of new General Manager Dale Tallon, Olesz was finally shipped out of Florida in exchange for Blackhawks’ defenseman Brian Campbell. Although it was mostly designed as a salary dump for the cap-wary Blackhawks, the team still hoped that maybe they could squeeze something out of this former first round pick.

[Read more...]

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