Not only did the Florida Panthers win 25 of their final 35 games — tied with the Winnipeg Jets for most wins in the league during that time — but they became only the second team in NHL history to finish with at least 96 points and not make the playoffs.
The strong finish, plus the team’s skilled young core, has general manager Dale Tallon bullish about the future.
“I like the depth of our team,” Tallon told reporters Tuesday as players cleaned out their lockers at BB&T Center. “I like the depth of our organization. I am especially excited about our future and the players we have coming in the system. We are going to have a great young core, and this team is going to be a dynamite team for a long time to come. We’re in good shape.
“We have great commitment from [owner] Vinnie Viola, great young coaching staff … great young players who finally believe and trust themselves and will take this to another level.”
In barely missing the playoffs, Tallon said: “It was unfortunate the four best teams since the All-Star break, three of them were ourselves and the teams we were chasing. Not satisfied, but we’ve come a long way. [Missing postseason] is going to be a motivating factor for us moving forward. We have to remember this and not let this happen again.”
One reason for the slow start, Tallon said, was “six of our seven young defensemen not having experience. That was hurtful in the beginning of the year in a new system.”
Tallon addressed several issues:
▪ On whether the Panthers would be a buyer in free agency: “Depends who it is. We don’t want to block our young guys either. We will look to add the pieces that will make us better. Whether it’s young guys or free agency, we haven’t decided that. We have time to figure that out. We will watch closely in the playoffs, guys that will be unrestricted free agents to see how they play and if they fit into our long-term plans here.”
▪ On needs: “We have to cut our goals against down a bit and add a little offense as well.”
▪ On why Florida didn’t add more at the trade deadline beyond Frank Vatrano: “Teams we were looking to add pieces [from] wanted way too much. The price was too high.”
He made clear Florida wasn’t going to give up top prospects Henrik Borgstrom or Owen Tippett in a midseason trade.
“Frank was a good pickup for us. We like what he brings to the table.” Vatrano, a restricted free agent, had five goals and three assists in 16 games after his acquisition from Boston.
▪ On the team’s goaltenders: “They all played well. Twenty two wins for [James] Reimer, career high for him. [Roberto Luongo’s] numbers were fantastic. If he had been healthier and not missed as many games, that probably could have been the difference as well. Harri Sateri won four big games for us. We have to make sure we have a lot of depth in that position. That’s something we will adjust.”
▪ On Aleksander Barkov, who had 27 goals and 51 assists: “What more can you ask of that young man? ... We have to surround him. We have to take some of the stress off him being the guy every night.” Tallon said Barkov — whose late-season shoulder injury is not serious — “is not going to play in the World Championships.”
▪ On Borgstrom, who scored his first NHL goal last week: “Getting that first goal out of the way, throwing him into Boston [games] twice — tough environment to play in — he did very well. Based on our exit meeting today, he said he knows he has a lot to learn. Once he’s comfortable, he’ll improve. He knows he has to get stronger and quicker.”
▪ On the performance of Bob Boughner and the coaching staff: “Terrific. These guys as a staff work harder than anybody I’ve ever been around. They’re positive, insightful, knowledgeable, passionate. Our coaching is as good as anybody’s in the league, I think.”