TORONTO -- Back in the mix among all the general managers again is Dale Tallon, and forgive him if it feels like he's gone back in time.
When Tallon was hired as the Chicago Blackhawks' general manager in June 2005, the cupboard was particularly bare and the challenge to turn the moribund franchise around was great. He sees similarities between that and his current job as Florida Panthers GM, a challenge he accepted May 17.
Tallon, who built the Blackhawks into Stanley Cup champions, has spent the first three months of his new job assessing the situation in Florida and "slowly but surely chipping away at the block."
"We probably had a few more assets to start with here (Florida) than we had there (Chicago), but it's a challenge and I'm looking forward to it," Tallon told NHL.com from the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp Fueled By G Series.
Tallon has been busy since he took the job, but none of his moves can be characterized as outlandish. His goal with the Panthers, who haven't made the playoffs since 2000, is to build a winning organization through the draft and the occasional shrewd trade or free-agent pickup.
Prior to July 1, Tallon signed prized goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom to his entry-level deal, made a deal with Boston that netted him Dennis Wideman and a first-round draft pick for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell, drafted Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden in the first round of the 2010 Entry Draft, and acquired Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner from Vancouver for Keith Ballard.
He hasn't made any splashes in free agency, but he has signed Christopher Higgins, Nathan Paetsch, Mike Weaver and Andrew Peters. Tallon also acquired Marty Reasoner from Chicago for Jeff Taffe.
"We added the pieces we needed to add to make ourselves better," Tallon said. "We added more depth at all positions, and we did it in a fiscally responsible way."
Just as important, he hired Mike Santos as his assistant GM. Tallon said Santos, who came from Nashville, where he was the Director of Hockey Operations, has been a wonderful asset. Tallon also brought back former Panthers Brian Skrudland (Director of Player Personnel) and Gord Murphy (assistant coach) to work in the organization.
Skrudland and Murphy played on the Panthers' 1996 squad that reached the Stanley Cup Final, and Skrudland was the team's first captain. Combined they played 666 games in a Panthers uniform.
"(The Panthers) still have history; it's not as deep as other teams, but it is what it is," Tallon said. "They had good success early and I want our players to get a feel for that and what it's all about. Bringing Gord and (Skrudland) back, I want our players to feel like we do have some history. It's important."
Tallon, though, may still have one more trick up his sleeve to make the Panthers better right now and for the future. He convinced Antti Niemi to sign with Chicago in 2008 and we all know how that worked for the Blackhawks. Niemi is an unrestricted free agent again, and Tallon could be able to convince him to come to Florida.
Of course, Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen already are under contract and Tallon confirmed that Vokoun, who is owed $6.3 million this season, virtually is untradeable right now. Clemmensen has two years left on his contract that pays him a reported $1.2 million annually.
Tallon likely would have to make a move or two to make a reunion with Niemi possible, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. Tallon did not deny interest in Niemi when asked directly about the Cup-winning goalie.
"Do I have interest in him? We have interest in any player with his history, that is a champion," Tallon said. "We're open for business 24/7. We're looking to get better at every position on a daily basis.
"When I started in Chicago, Detroit was the model, and I think in the East it's George (McPhee) and what he's done in Washington. That's the model. We want to emulate what they've done and where they are going. We've got to get across the finish line. Some people get comfortable with being only good enough, and that's not going to be acceptable."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl