Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon vows to help improve team next season

 
 
Brad Boyes #24 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated by teammates after scoring a second-period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the BB&T Center on April 10, 2014 in Sunrise, Florida.
Brad Boyes #24 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated by teammates after scoring a second-period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the BB&T Center on April 10, 2014 in Sunrise, Florida.
Joel Auerbach / Getty Images

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Dale Tallon isn’t happy with how the Panthers season went down although he wasn’t necessarily all that surprised.

Before this season started, most experts picked the Panthers to finish near the bottom of their new competitive division and be out of the playoff chase weeks before the end of the season.

With little money to spend in the offseason with a team for sale, Tallon tried to salvage things once training camp started by offering tryout deals — and later one-year contracts — to the likes of Tim Thomas, Brad Boyes and Tom Gilbert.

Those moves helped the team out, although in the end it was too little and too late. Florida ended this season with a 3-2 loss to visiting Columbus on Saturday night and ended 2013-14 ranked 29th out of 30 teams. Only Buffalo finished behind the Panthers.

“I’m disappointed with the year, disappointed with a lot of things,’’ Tallon said at his end-of-season meeting with the South Florida media before Saturday’s game.

“We’re moving forward. I’m going to fix it. We have great support now from [new owner] Vinnie Viola, and we’re going to add the pieces to help these kids get where they need to be.’’

For the Panthers to contend in their 20th anniversary season, just about everything had to go right. Although Florida got better-than-expected seasons from rookies Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad as well as veteran Scottie Upshall, it got way too many disappointing seasons from others.

When the team opens camp in September, a number of familiar faces could be replaced as Tallon reworks the roster throughout the summer.

With a top-end goalie in Roberto Luongo as a key selling point, Tallon is confident players want to come south and help put the Panthers back on track.

“You sell winning, the desire to win,’’ Tallon said. “We now have the ability to put the pieces together, and that’s what players want. You can have the best facilities in the world; guys just want to win.

“I was denied for two years in Chicago. We were an Original Six team, great city. No one wanted to come because the perception was we didn’t want to win. That perception has gone away, and it has gone away here. We’re going to get guys who want to win.’’

The Panthers’ offseason begins Monday, although the first order of business comes Tuesday in Toronto. Florida is back in the NHL draft lottery and hopes to hop Buffalo and secure the top pick.

Last season, Florida finished last and was jumped by Colorado. The Panthers picked second and took Barkov, a player Tallon said was all but irreplaceable. When he got hurt in January, the Panthers were still in the mix for a playoff spot — but without Barkov, they weren’t for much longer.

Barkov is one of many young pieces the Panthers are going to work around moving forward.

“We definitely have a bright future with a lot of kids with talent who can be good NHLers,’’ said Luongo, who came back to the Panthers last month and is signed through 2022.

“That’s a good stepping stone for us.’’

Bjugstad became the first rookie to lead the Panthers in scoring (albeit with just 38 points) and Jonathan Huberdeau should be improved after a rough sophomore season following Rookie of the Year honors.

The Panthers got a nice jolt from centers Brandon Pirri and Vincent Trocheck — a pair of proven scorers.

“We need to get over this kind of culture of losing,’’ said Upshall, who had a career-high 37 points to finish second in scoring. “We’ve had losing seasons here, and we need to change that internally. It starts with hard work, and it’s not going to be easy. We have good young players and have made strides.’’

Tallon says he is going shopping with an open wallet from Viola and is aiming at five new veteran players, including a pair of defenseman. Florida’s abundance of young talent is very appealing to other teams. Tallon may just go to that well via trades.

“We have a lot of assets,’’ Tallon said. “We have a lot of kids who are in college, 10 picks next year, a lot in the system. I’m open to any suggestions that make us better quicker without jeopardizing our future.’’

Jovo’s future

Captain Ed Jovanovski reiterated his desire to play one more season with the Panthers although he knows the team may have other plans.

Jovanovski, 37, returned from hip resurfacing surgery this season and played in 37 games since coming back Jan. 4. Jovanovski has one year remaining at $4 million, although the Panthers could buy that out over the summer.

“There are no decisions right now,’’ Jovanovski said. “I have another year on my contract and I want to play. Can I? That’s a different situation. We’ll see where it goes.’’

Said Tallon: “There’s a lot to talk about, talk about his fitness and his health. He showed some flashes of ‘old Ed.’ That was a major surgery and it takes time. We will have some heart-to-hearts and see what happens.’’

On Saturday, Edmonton’s Ryan Smyth had a tearful goodbye as he announced his retirement Friday. Smyth played big minutes in the Oilers’ win over Vancouver and was feted by teammates and opponents alike when the game concluded. Jovanovski, the top pick of the 1994 draft by the Panthers, noticed Smyth’s grand exit.

“I love to compete, do what I do,’’ Jovanovski said. “Having watched Ryan Smyth, that’s the right way to go out. Will I play beyond next year? Probably not. But I have another year on my contract. We’ll figure something out.’’

If Saturday was Jovanovski’s last game with the Panthers, it ended early. He was ejected — and fined $5,000 on Sunday — for an retaliatory elbow to the head of Columbus’ Corey Tropp in the first period.

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