Tom Rowe to Return as Rampage Head Coach

The Florida Panthers announced today that Tom Rowe, will return as the head coach for the Florida PanthersAHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage for the 2014-15 season.

Rowe  became the head coach of the Rampage on Nov. 8, 2013 when bench boss, Peter Horachek was abruptly called to duty as head coach of the Panthers replacing former coach, Kevin Dineen. Coaching a group of youngsters in San Antonio, the Rampage went 26-31-3-5 under Rowe. The team showed promise as they jumped into the playoff race in Feb. when they went on a 7-2-0-1 tear and set a new franchise record for road trip success in the process.

Rowe, 58 most notably took over coaching duties for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the KHL in 2012 (leading the team to a 34-18-0 record) and was also an assistant coach for the 2008-09 Carolina Hurricanes  under current Nashville Predators coach, Peter Laviolette. The Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals that season fighting through the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in the process in two back-to-back seven game series.

Joining Rowe behind the bench is Scott Allen. Allen, has history with San Antonio as he was a part of the coaching staff during their inaugural season. Allen, 48 spent two years with the Rampage (2002-04) and helped San Antonio reach their first playoff berth. Allen has journeyed through the AHL as an assistant coach for several teams and spent four years as an assistant coach for the New York Islanders (2009-12).

Allen and Rowe are no strangers to one another. Allen served as an assistant coach to Rowe during his time as coaching the Lowell Lock Monsters during the 2004-05 season.

In a release, courtesy of FloridaPanthers.com, Panthers GM, Dale Tallon spoke about the hiring,

“We are pleased to have Tom and Scott behind the bench leading our prospects in San Antonio next season,” said Tallon. “Both Tom and Scott have worked together before and we are confident that they will create a winning and positive culture for our prospects to grow and develop.”

With a team next year that is built around youth, these two veteran coaches will bring a wealth of experience at all levels of professional hockey to help mold them into a team that will not only look to compete for a Calder Cup as soon as possible but to create a cohesive unit for the future of the Panthers as well.

 

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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.

Ekblad Leaves Team Canada Development Camp With Concussion

There were rumblings of Aaron Ekblad sustaining an injury earlier this week and they came to fruition this morning when Team Canada released the news that the 2014 1st overall selection suffered a concussion.

The Panthers’ first selection at the 2014 draft was participating in Team Canada’s  annual Summer Development Camp, a tune up camp to perform preliminary evaluations for this winter’s World Junior Hockey Championships in Montreal and Toronto.

 

Ekblad has been sent home from the camp but is expected to make a full recovery by Panthers’ training camp which is good news for Panthers fans who are hoping to get a good look at their potential star D-man.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon had this to say: “We have been in communication with Team Canada and have mutually agreed to hold Aaron out for the remainder of the summer development camp, as a precautionary measure,”

While the language here is not as concerning as it can be, concussions are always a sensitive topic and the team and Ekblad himself should approach this setback at a snail’s pace.

“We will closely monitor Aaron’s health for the remainder of the offseason and expect him to be ready for our rookie camp in mid-September.” Tallon added.

It seems like the right steps will be taken to assure a full recovery.

Justin Ullestad: Jimmy Hayes Not Yet Worth Seven Figures

(Editor’s Note:) This article was written by Justin Ullestad, former intern of the Florida Panthers and founder to Bigplayz.com

Don’t get me wrong; I really like Florida Panther’s forward Jimmy Hayes. He’s a big (6’6”, 220), physical presence on the ice and is willing to do the dirty work in front of the net. But with fewer than 100 games played in the NHL over 3 seasons, it’s hard to make a case for Hayes deserving seven figures in arbitration.

Hayes, who was traded from Chicago to Florida in mid-November, saw his first 50+ game NHL season last year in a Panthers uniform, and managed to record 18 points. However, with a closer look at his production, over half of the points came in the month of February (6-4-10) after both Shawn Matthias and Marcel Goc were traded, and injuries to Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Tomas Kopecky, Jesse Winchester moved Hayes into a larger role in coach Horachek’s system. But keep in mind, he spent most of the season on the 4th line with limited power play minutes, and was passed over by AHL call ups Quinton Howden and Brandon Pirri late in the year. 18 points in 53 games is hardly enough to garner “budding star” bridge deal money, but there are other factors aside from his on-ice production that should drive down the price the Panthers are willing to pay Hayes.

With the addition of veterans Derek MacKenzie, Jussi Jokinen, Dave Bolland, and Shawn Thornton, Hayes’ ice time is likely to be cut down from last season when the Panthers needed him to play out of necessity through stretches of the schedule. With theses quality players coming in (ok…that may be a stretch for Thornton at this point), Hayes’ opportunities to sit in front of the goalie offensively, his spot of value for the Panthers, may be diminished greatly. That coupled with the likelihood that Pirri will be playing a prominent role for Florida this season, Hayes could be seeing his fair share of healthy scratches again in 2014 (was a healthy scratch 6 times last season).

Speaking of Pirri, his recent contract extension may be the most devastating to Hayes’ case for a high dollar contract. Pirri, who was too previously in Chicago with Hayes, recorded 14 (7-7-14) in just 21 games with the Panthers, including seven points in the final seven games. And yet, Pirri signed a bridge deal that will pay him $1.85M over the next two seasons ($925K AAV). It doesn’t take a hockey expert to know that Pirri is worth more at this point than Hayes. Pirri is projecting be a top six winger at some point THIS SEASON. Certainly can’t say the same about Hayes.

But just for fun, lets compare the two even more.

 

2014 Stats w/ Panthers Brandon Pirri Jimmy Hayes
Games Played w/ Panthers 21 53
Point Total w/ Panthers 14 18
Corsi % for the year 51.7% 47.5%
Goals For% 5vs5 for the year 57.8% 48.9%

Unknown-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Pirri being more productive, and flat-out a more important young player for the Panthers moving forward, there is no way that Hayes should/will be getting a higher dollar contract than Pirri.

The other underlying issue with Hayes getting a six digit/year contract is that it sets precedent for future signings down the road. Just imagine the money that the agents that fellow 1st round picks Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad would be asking for if Hayes got a $1M+ contract for 18 points in 53 games. Sure the Panthers have the money right now, but there’s always a limit. And with a number prospect contracts ending after the upcoming season, the Panthers need to make sure they are paying fairly according to production across the board.

Again, I like what Jimmy Hayes brings to the Panthers. But realistically, he is a 4th line player and will likely play 4th line minutes next season, while spending a few nights in the press box.

Bottom line, Pirri got a two-year deal, $925K AAV; Dylan Olsen got a two-year deal, $775K AAV; Hayes should be valued somewhere between those numbers.

For a player who still has a lot to prove at the NHL level, and will have to earn playing time on a much better roster than in 2013, that’s an adequate dollar figure. If he out plays that contract – Fantastic. He’ll get paid in one/two years. But until he proves his full worth to the Panthers and fans, he needs to be paid accordingly.

 

(Usage Chart courtesy of ExtraSkater.com)

How can the Panthers fill their rink?

With single game tickets going on sale early Friday morning, I spurred a debate on the Twitter by suggesting that ticket sales would be on the rise for the upcoming 2014-2015 season. Aside from the usual scoffs at the notion that the Panthers can get people in the building, there were some good points made about the slow but sure culture change that is going on in Pantherland.

It is no secret that I have professed my belief in the “Hockey is the business” model for the Panthers and from what I have seen, the ownership and front office seem to agree. The Panthers have spent big on free agent day and are poised to ice a line-up that they believe to be a competitive one. The Panthers spent big in 2011 and went into the year with a Frankenstein team that ended up winning the Southeast Division. This year the Panthers spent their money filling out a roster with a young and rising core with key and complementary players that will each contribute in their own way.

This orchestra conducted by Dale Tallon and backed by his ownership team all lead up to two variables that directly correlate to one another: Fans in the stands and wins on the score sheets.

Over the last 5 years you can see a shift in capacity percentage at the BB&T Center

Year Capacity Percentage Record
2008-2009 78.7 32-37-13
2010-2011 81.5 30-40-12
2011-2012 86.4 38-26-18
2012-2013 88.3 15-27-6
2013-2014 75.5 29-45-8

Source: http://www.hockeyattendance.com/team/florida-panthers/

A lot goes in to the attendance of an NHL team but the common denominator is always the on ice product. Fans will watch a team that they think can win games. That’s sports fans 101, nothing new. You can see a steady increase in attendance from 2008-2012 that culminates in the season following the Southeast Division Championship and subsequent first round elimination. Unfortunately that momentum was met with the team’s worst finish in 5 years leading up to their worst attendance in the same span.

If the fans don’t expect wins then the team shouldn’t expect the fans.

So what makes this year different? Is this year even going to be different? I’ll spare you the optimistic rant but Tallon’s rebuild is in full swing. The core is there, the complimentary parts have been acquired and the team is poised to ice the most competitive version of themselves that the league has seen in a long while.

The marketing side has done its job to set the tone for the upcoming season. They have started to build fan pride and unity with their “One Under The Sun” slogan. They have created and upheld the buzz of the youth movement with the “Be Here to Witness” campaign. In addition to the posters and social media efforts, Tallon was also fairly blunt about the acquisition of Roberto Luongo being as much of a marketing move as it was a hockey move. Tallon was right to do it; Luongo’s presence has not only excited the fans but brought a media relevance that the Panthers have lacked in recent years.

These actions appear to have the market ready to go for the 2013-2014 season but it ultimately comes down to the on-ice product. The Panthers on ice play will dictate if the initial surge of season-opening attendance will linger or taper off.

When a fan base is used to a losing team and starving for a winning one, the sheer notion of competitive hockey can be enough to bring fans in. I think that this will be the driving force behind the resurgence of the attendance at the BB&T Center. The fans will slowly realize that this team is V.2 of a rebuilt squad that is slowly coming into its own. They will see the dynamic youth, the scoring veterans, the entertaining goaltending and be drawn in as they have in the past.

The Panthers have a tough task ahead of them, but they are primed to surprise and with that the seats will be filled.

Panthers Re-Sign Defenseman Erik Gudbranson

On Thursday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced the re-signing of RFA Erik Gudbranson to a 2-year deal.

From the Panthers press release:

“Erik is an important part of our young core of talented players who we are pleased to have signed,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told the team’s website. “He is a big, strong and physical defenseman who is one of the building blocks for our team. We look forward to his continued development and his contributions to the South Florida community.”

Gudbranson, 22, is a former 3rd overall draft pick in the 2010 draft and kicked off Dale Tallon’s tenure as the general manager of the Panthers. The Orleans, Ontario native is coming off of a career-high 9 points (3G-6A-9P) and 114 penalty minutes.

The 6’5, 216lb Gudbranson, known for his efforts within the South Florida community, was recently awarded the Panthers Community Ambassador of the Year.

 

We welcome your comments and feedback!

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2014 Draft Profile: Nikolaj Ehlers

If there is any player in this year’s draft class that can easily sneak his way into the top five at the draft on Friday, it’s Nikolaj Ehlers of the Halifax Mooseheads. Ranked at 13 by NHL Central Scouting, Ehlers is the top prospect from the QMJHL in a class that is dominated by the OHL and WHL. At the midterm rankings, central scouting had Ehlers ranked at 22. The left winger skyrocketed his way into consideration to be one of the elite prospects in this years draft pool. The 2013-14 season was Ehlers first season of North American hockey and the transition was one that was done with ease. Ehlers was phenomenal, posting 104 points (49-55-104) in 63 games and 28 points (11-17-28) in 16 playoff games earning him the title of QMJHL Rookie of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year and Best Professional Prospect.

Born in Denmark, Ehlers’ was grew up around hockey with his father Heinz Ehlers being a professional player himself. The elder Ehlers’ was a ninth round draft pick of the New York Rangers in 1984. Despite never suiting up for an NHL game he played pro hockey around Europe in the top leagues in Sweden and Germany, before becoming a coach and moving his family to Switzerland. At age 11, Nikolaj began his new life in Switzerland and started developing the skills that make him the standout player he is today. In the 2012-13 season, Ehlers got the chance to play for Biel as a 16-year old in the Swiss-A league, the same team that locked out NHL stars, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Kane played on while they awaited their regular jobs to resume back in North America. After playing a few games of pro hockey with men, Ehlers was drafted sixth overall in the CHL Import Draft by Halifax.

The word that seems to follow Ehlers around is “dynamic”. He has incredible speed, soft hands and the ability to open a game up offensively for his team. Halifax looked to fill the void that Nathan MacKinnon left in the Mooseheads lineup when he left for the Colorado Avalanche, and Ehlers did just that. The 104 points that Ehlers scored this season ranked him fourth in QMJHL scoring, right behind his teammate and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, Jonathan Drouin‘s 108 point (29-79-108) campaign. Many scouts originally thought that Ehlers’ play was made responsible by Drouin’s top-end playmaking skills, but once Ehlers was moved off of Drouin’s line, he still excelled. Scouts began changing their tune pretty quickly and although Central Scouting has him ranked outside of the top ten, many including ESPN‘s Corey Pronman and TSN‘s Craig Button have Ehlers ranked fifth and sixth overall respectively.

The team that walks away with Nikolaj Ehlers at the draft could be strolling away with one of the biggest steals of the class if developed properly. It’s no secret among scouts that Ehlers needs to put on weight. His 5’11” 163 lbs. frame may help him be a dominant force among teenagers and young men, but will not help him against grown men. It would be criminal to rush Ehlers into the NHL next season. The Danish forward will need to get bigger and stronger, not to mention prove he can carry a Halifax team without Drouin and even their top defenseman, Florida Panthers prospect, Mackenzie Weegar. It may take a year or two for Ehlers to be NHL ready, but the wait will be well worth it.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon made it no secret during his scouting trip in Halifax that Ehlers was on the Panthers radar in some capacity, even comparing him to the draft selection he made in Chicago in 2007, another year where it was looked at as a “weak draft”. That pick was Patrick Kane. The possibility of the Panthers trading down to get a winger wouldn’t come as a shock considering the offers for that number one pick could be of good value and could add a dynamic scorer to the depth chart for Florida. The Panthers lack a true goal scoring threat and the speedy forward might be the right choice for the team if they trade down. Aside from just being a goal scorer, Ehlers reads plays well, is not afraid to go into the corners and is responsible defensively as well, as he saw time on the penalty kill and also led the league with a highly impressive plus-65 rating.

A clip of Tallon talking Weegar and Ehlers (starts at 2:32)

No matter who chooses Ehlers at the draft, he is bound to find himself in the top ten. His ability to dance through defensemen and pile on points will not be ignored. Keep an eye on this prospect for a few years, even if he isn’t NHL ready just yet, when he’s ready he could explode onto the scene. The flashy Dane brings what Tallon described as “an entertainment value” and teams have to put people in the seats. Many factors contribute to a prospect’s successful transition into the NHL but if Ehler’s transition to major junior from Europe is any indication of his potential, then Ehlers very well might have a solid career in the NHL.

NIKOLAJ EHLERS
POSITION:LW
HEIGHT: 5’11″
WEIGHT: 163 lbs.
SHOOTS: LEFT
TEAM: HALIFAX MOOSEHEADS (QMJHL)
UNIFORM NUMBER: 24
NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING RANK: #13 NORTH AMERICA

 

2012-2013 Biel U20 Elite Jr. A 32 26 23 49 34 | Relegation 2 4 0 4 2
Biel NLA 11 1 1 2 0 | Playoffs 7 0 3 3 0
Denmark U18 WJC-18 D1A 5 3 8 11 2 |
Denmark U18 (all) International-Jr 13 7 14 21 8 |
Denmark U20 (all) International-Jr 3 1 1 2 2 |
 2013-2014 Halifax Mooseheads QMJHL 63 49 55 104 51 | Playoffs 16 11 17 28 18
Denmark U20 WJC-20 D1A 5 2 4 6 4 |
Denmark U20 (all) International-Jr 5 2 4 6 4 |

 

 

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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!

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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!

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2014 Draft Profile: Sam Reinhart

Welcome one and all to the Sam Reinhart prospect preview. /thunderous applause/. This is a continuation of Panther Parkway’s 2014 Draft Profile Series. Considering this piece will be profiling the Kootenay Ice phenom Sam Reinhart I took the liberty of seeking out the sage wisdom of Cody Nickolet. Cody, formerly @WHLfromabove and now @avs_tweets on twitter, is an expert on Canadian Major Junior hockey with a specific focus on the Western Hockey League.

Cody was great enough to partake in an interview centering around top prospect Sam Reinhart, so here we go:

Mike Obrand: For our readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your familiarity with the Western Hockey League (WHL)?

Cody Nickolet:  I’ve worked in the league for the past 4 years, doing a little bit of everything including radio color commentary, managing the communications and community relations departments for the Saskatoon Blades.  Along with that I’ve worked as a scout of WHL talent for a pair of different draft publications, while also maintaining a blog and personal set of NHL Draft rankings featuring WHL players.  This year I also did a bit of bantam scouting for the Blades, which is nice as I get a more hands-on feel for all the players who will be entering the league over the next couple of years.

So now that you all know who we’re dealing with here, let’s get to the topic at hand.

Standing tall at 6’1 and weighing in at 183 lbs, Sam Reinhart has been hailed as one of the top prospects heading into the 2014 NHL draft. Through 4 seasons playing for Kootenay in the WHL he has amassed 101 goals and 153 assists for 254 points in 203 games, including an astounding 105 points in 60 games this past season. Through 29 playoff games he has tallied 26 points including his 23 points in 13 games in 2014.

Reinhart ranks 2nd overall among Bob McKenzie’s April 15th pre-draft rankings, 3rd overall among North American skaters in the NHLs CSS final rankings and 1st overall on the ISSs rankings as of June 3rd.

While opinion on his draft stock differs it is needless to say that Reinhart is a top 3 talent in this upcoming draft.

You know that the Panthers have the first overall selection. Will they use it on Reinhart? Should they? Well…

MO: First off, to be blunt: do you think that Sam Reinhart should go 1st overall in the 2014 entry draft?

CN:  Unfortunately, I don’t think he should.  And that’s not because I don’t like him as a player, I do.  I think he’s just in a bit of a tough spot this year, mostly because of the class of 2014.  It’s not a super strong crop at the top and unfortunately that leaves him in a somewhat bad light.  As for the rest of his competition at the top in 2014, the guy for me is Aaron Ekblad.  Not only is he a do-it-all defender with size, but I’m usually a guy that wants to ensure my team has a solid core of defenceman going forward.  Is Aaron Ekblad a legit 1st overall type of guy in another draft year?  I would probably say no to that too, so it’s not only a guy like Reinhart who might take some undue criticism in a few years when looking back at this class.

Cody blames the overall talent of this class for the lack of a clean cut number one pick, which I agree with. Teams will look at need over flat out ability. The Panthers have a solid crop of young forwards with skill so the time may come to go for the top flight defenseman, as Cody suggests.

Nevertheless, Sam Reinhart is a player that would help any team including the Panthers. Let’s take a closer look.

MO: Can you speak about the play style of the Kootenay Ice and how Reinhart fits in with that style?

CN: This is an interesting question, just because Reinhart has had two different coaches during his time with the Ice.  When he first entered the league he played under Kris Knoblauch.  He was a young coach who played an extremely disciplined system.  They could lock it down as good as any team in the CHL, and they won a WHL title with him at the helm in 2011.  Reinhart was a 15 year old on the team at that time and wow was he ever impressive then.  He was so smart and fit in well as a 3rd line center with a cage on, due to his age.  It’s pretty unbelievable thinking back to those early games of his WHL career.  Since then they’ve hired Ryan McGill, who really lets the offensive guys be creative and likes to play with much more tempo than the previous staff did.  They’ve had an extremely small top 6 in the last couple of seasons and like to play with speed.  That speed has forced other teams to back off when trying to defend, and Reinhart has used his vision, hockey sense and passing ability to shred teams apart.  He’s a great fit for how they play and in the end it’s likely an offensive style that was molded to make a player like him succeed by using his best talents.

This seems like a very good fit from a Panthers perspective. Dale Tallon has preached that he wants an offensive coach who knows how to utilize the talents at his disposal. There is no doubt in my mind that Sam Reinhart would flourish in such a system as he has with Kootenay.

MO: What would you say are Reinhart’s most attractive assets as an NHL prospect?

CN:  First things first, his hockey sense.  In my several years following the WHL and hockey prospects closely, I don’t think I’ve seen a player as smart as Sam Reinhart.  He processes the game at such a high level, really approaches his offensive attack like a game of chess.  He knows where to go to and where to put pucks in order to generate offensive chances.  To go along with that, his passing ability and vision are both phenomenal.  You mix in a shot that’s steadily improved over the last few years and you have a guy that can beat you in a variety of ways, and often does.

I don’t think there’s much more that you want from a prospect. A lot of the time you see that a player has the skills but lacks the sense. In Reinhart’s case you can see that first and foremost his hockey sense is his best asset. The ability for a player to see two steps ahead and act instead of react is something that makes a star NHL player.

MO: What would you say are Reinhart’sleast attractive assets as an NHL prospect?

CN: His skating has always been an area that I looked to as an area that needs to improve.  He’s a fine skater at the junior level, but he’s not an overly dynamic player.  There aren’t too many games where I’ve seen him blow by defenders or catch guys flat-footed.  I think his stride is ok, I just think it will take some time for him to get a stronger lower body and to work on his explosiveness and footwork.  If he can ever get that part of his game to an “above-NHL-average” level, he could be an extremely dangerous weapon to have.

Strength comes with time and Reinhart has just that. As he continues to grow and train with NHL players with NHL regimens you’ll see that leg strength come into play. Chances are he won’t reach the elite level in terms of his skating but I don’t think that will hamper his career as an NHLer.

MO: How high is Reinhart’s ceiling? What role do you project him to fill when he reaches his prime?

CN: I think he has the ability to be a middle of the pack 1st line center. That might sound harsh, but I think he could end up being a guy that’s not quite a top 10 center in the NHL, but is more of a guy who is ranked 10-15 in that area of the league.  I don’t see him as a true franchise cornerstone guy, even though I’m sure some scouts do.  Ideally for me he would be a guy that is one day a fantastic second line center on a championship-caliber team.  I think he’ll be a captain of an NHL team one day and a guy that can play first line powerplay minutes and also someone who can kill penalties if you need him to.

Obviously if you’re picking somebody first overall you want them to be a franchise player. The perceived weakness of the draft class may be hurting Reinhart here but I think it would be perfectly acceptable for a team to select this type of potential 1st overall should the team need these services and talents.

MO: Is Reinhart NHL ready?

CN:  This is a tough one.  I think it really depends on the team and situation he ends up in.  If you just analyze his game, he’s very close.  He’s so smart and can think his way around the ice.  But, can he get around the ice well enough as an 18 year old?  That’s debatable, but probable.  Can he match up physical against grown men as an 18 year old?  That’s also debatable, but less likely to be probable.  I think if Reinhart was going to an established team that could insulate him effectively and protect his minutes, it would be an easy yes for me.  But, if he ends up with a team like Florida or Buffalo or Edmonton, teams who lack some size, depth and experience up front, things get more tricky.  In the end, with a gun to my head, I say Reinhart plays in the NHL in 2014-15. 

Slotting a player in based on need isn’t necessarily the best way to go when it comes to developing prospects but if a player is going to help you win then it shouldn’t be a question. As a winger, Reinhart can slot into the Panthers lineup immediately and make a difference but I don’t think he is best suited there as Cody indicated above.

It might be a blessing in disguise for Reinhart as the Panthers’ do have great depth down the middle. Another year in Kootenay could help his strength and stock before cracking the NHL down the middle later on his career.

Is a center what the Panthers need most with the top pick? I don’t believe so, but a player of Reinhart’s caliber is something that no team can afford to pass on.

Luckily, or unfortunately, for the Panthers it is their choice to make.

A big thank you to Cody Nickolet for the interview.

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