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Nashville influence sprinkled throughout Florida roster

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. — Because of Dale Tallon, Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky, much has been made of the influence the Chicago Blackhawks have had on the success of the Florida Panthers.

To a lesser degree, the Panthers can also thank Saturday night's opponents, the Nashville Predators.

Tallon's right-hand man is Assistant GM Mike Santos, who spent four seasons as Nashville's director of hockey operations before joining the Panthers in 2010.

The Florida roster also includes four former Predators players — Mike Santorelli, Marcel Goc, Scottie Upshall and Jerred Smithson, who was obtained Feb. 24.

Asked about the Panthers' surprising run to the top of the Southeast Division this season, Nashville coach Barry Trotz mentioned the role of his organization.

"There's a lot of Chicago parts, there's a lot of Nashville parts sprinkled all over the Panthers roster," Trotz said after Saturday's morning skate. "Those are two pretty good organizations that you want to get people from. We've been a pretty diligent organization, we've been a competitive team, we've got good growth, good culture and I think Chicago does. They won a Stanley Cup. Dale was very familiar with the parts they brought from Chicago and Mike's very familiar with the parts they got from Nashville. Getting good people, which they have, gives them a real good chance to do what they've done so far."

First-year Panthers coach Kevin Dineen expressed his admiration for the Nashville organization, which has never had a head coach other than Trotz.

Dineen can appreciate that kind of stability, having worked for the Sabres organization before joining Florida. The only coach in the League with a longer tenure than Trotz is Buffalo's Lindy Ruff.

"(GM) David Poile and Barry Trotz have really been a good tandem," Dineen said. "Coming from the stability of a Buffalo organization where Lindy and (GM) Darcy (Regier) have been in the same situation for that length, I think what it does is it takes away a lot of outside excuses, it gives people a chance to go out and do their work.

"It's not a feeling of comfort, but there's this feeling of trust. You know the San Antonio Spurs are the same way. They're
organizations that are built where you bring in quality people and you let them go do their job. Things don't happen overnight, and we're certainly in that stage now. Nashville certainly is an organization that you can pick up some things from."

While the Panthers are trying this season to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2000, Nashville appears headed for its seventh postseason trip in the past eight seasons.

The Predators haven't experienced a lot of postseason success, but they're shooting for a deep playoff run after acquiring veterans Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad at or around this year's trade deadline.

"They're trying to make a statement on and off the ice," Dineen said. "They've been consistently a good hockey team, they go out, they play a very well-structured style of game and they are a hard-working team. You know those expectations are there and in addition to that at the trade deadline they brought in a few players. Paul Gaustad, I was associated with him in the Buffalo organization, so I certainly know what he can bring to the table. I think it's a statement to their fan base and their players that they're serious about being a contender."

Saturday's game will be the only meeting between Florida and Nashville this season.

With the teams in different conferences, Trotz said he wanted to see the Panthers do well, given the former members of the 
organization on the team.

"There's a real good connection with the Preds here," he said. "Other than tonight, I wish them a lot of good luck.

"They want our people, people that have been in our organization. I do take pride in that. Tonight I have no friends on the Panthers side. We have friends, but we want to get the two points."
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