Die-Hards, Fans, spectators, and lurkers, this is a conversation that needs to be had. It may not be comfortable and it may well not be received at first, but nonetheless Florida needs to have this discussion.
The era of Tallon officially came to an end on August 10th. Say what you will about the tenure, it had its highs such as setting franchise records in points during the regular season (2016). It also had its lows in the handling of the expansion draft. Quite the range if you ask me. I am not here to beat a dead horse and say who is at fault, and who deserves credit for that range but something is clear, the core has been through all of it.
The core coming into the 2019-2020 season consisted of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad. The team struggled to find consistency during the season which put management in a position to “wake” the core up. Trocheck was ultimately the sacrificial lamb that was supposed to light the fire that was missing: instead, that fire collapsed inwards onto itself, quickly turning to ash as though it was deprived of oxygen.
Let that image sink in for a minute.
Simply put the core has been given plenty of opportunities and tools to be successful. The ugly truth is that they are not good enough. They can put up numbers during the regular season, but never when it matters most. The 4-game series against the Islanders proved this point. Even Islanders reporters could see the problem. The Panthers were dominated by a lesser-skilled team, but a team that played like a unit. This Panthers team has not played like a unit since the departure of Jagr. The puck-possession game has not been seen since either. We all knew what weâ€™re going to get with that line and yet it couldnâ€™t be stopped (except for the 2016 first-round play-off against the Islanders).
(Image Property of the Florida Panthers)
So where does this leave the organization? Clearly the next GM will have some decisions to make. Florida ownership and management have come out and said they are searching for someone outside of the organization. A GM search that I see as a charade or as the military calls it a smoke-screen. “Outside” of the organization is a very loose term to use when describing the search. The names that have been brought up such as Michael Futa, Scott Mellanby, Chris Drury, Bill Armstrong, and Kevin Weekes are all interesting and fit the “outside” bill. But what is compelling is the one missing name in that conversation, Eric Joyce. Do not be surprised to read that after an “extensive search” that what the team needed was right at home. It would explain the departure of Chris Pronger as he knew before the start-up of the play-offs that he would not be the next GM. Reading Prongerâ€™s comments on the attitude of the roster and not being held accountable signals to me that he understands the problem in Sunrise. Itâ€™s the core, management, and ownership in their lack of commitment, accountability, and doing whatever they need to, to win. He would be a great hire, and what the team needs.
The core have proven very little in the way of progress where it matters most; winning, making the play-offs, and leading when the team needs it the most. Did Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane step up this season in the midst of their roughest stretch with the franchise? Yes, and they led at the right time. They stepped up and took it to the Edmonton Oilers who have probably the games best duo in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatil. Barkov, Huberdeau, and Ekblad let players like Anthony Beauvillier, Andres Lee, Derick Brassard walk all over them.
I offer you all this. It is time to move on from this core. Aleksander Barkov has two years left on his contract. No doubt he would bring in a kingâ€™s ransom that could fill a lot of holes within the roster. A high 1st rounder, top 2-Defender, and a top prospect would be the start. Jonathan Huberdeau also has three years remaining on his deal. I could see a similar pay-out on his move from the organization. As far as Aaron Ekblad goes, I am of the opinion he was paid too early and still needs someone to play with him to make him effective. Not what you want to see from a player touted as a first pairing D-man. Getting out from underneath his contract would allow more flexibility.
It is time to shake things up for real this time in South Florida.
I am eager to hear all of your thoughts and opinions on what the organization needs to do to be a contender.
Thanks for reading.
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