The Florida Panthers
are the only NHL team remaining without a captain -- but general manager Dale Tallon
says that's not due to a lack of leadership in their dressing room, it's because there are so many viable candidates that management isn't in a rush to award the "C" to just one.
"We want to take our time and do the right thing," said Tallon, whose Panthers list forwards Stephen Weiss
and Tomas Kopecky
and defensemen Brian Campbell
and Ed Jovanovski
as alternate captains. "We feel we've got a lot of leaders -- it's a tough decision. It's not just one or two guys now; we've got a whole locker room full of guys, and we do have a lot of young guys in our system that we're high on as well. So we want to take our time and make the right decision."
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Appearing as a guest on Thursday night's "NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman," the 61-year-old Tallon, who helped assemble the Chicago Blackhawks
' championship team in 2010, addressed his new reclamation project in Florida. Now in his second year as GM of the Panthers, Tallon's club entered the day tied for first place in the Southeast Division with perennial favorite Washington -- heady territory for a franchise that hasn't qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2000.
"We're getting a lot of publicity and a lot of coverage, a lot of walk-ups and a lot of interest," Tallon said. "It's just all positive. It's really moving forward. Everyone's excited about our future and where we're headed. It's really fun to go the building every day and just a matter of continuing this on and staying healthy and being competitive throughout the rest of the year, and we'll get more and more people in that beautiful building."
Florida is off to a 9-5-3 start under rookie coach Kevin Dineen
, who was finishing up a season playing for the Ottawa Senators
and still had 129 NHL games left to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets
when the Panthers last tasted the postseason. In fact, many of the traits Dineen displayed during his playing career made him an attractive coaching candidate to Tallon.
"His performance as a player -- he came and brought his lunch pail to work every night, he played, he competed, he got his nose dirty, he scored goals and earned his points," Tallon said. "He just has complete control of the locker room. He's compassionate, he cares, he's a great communicator. He's also a great teacher. The last three rookies of the year in the American Hockey League, he coached. So the things that we want to do here moving forward with all the young guys we have coming up through the system, it's important that we have somebody like Kevin who's got good composure as well. He's able to communicate, he's able to have fun and he's able to get the message across in a real positive manner."
Of course, no makeover is finished without making some changes to the personnel on the ice in addition to that behind the bench, and Tallon was as active as any general manager this summer in adding pieces. The Panthers' three leading scorers entering Thursday's action, Kris Versteeg
(9-11-20), Campbell (1-16-17) and Tomas Fleischmann
(7-10-17), as well as No. 1 goalie Jose Theodore
(6-3-2, 2.45 goals-against average, .921 save percentage), all were signed or acquired through trade during the offseason.
"You've got to change the culture," Tallon said. "And how do you change the culture? Obviously, by winning, but you also have to believe you're going to win. And the new players that we brought in, it goes back to the character issue and the history and what they've done in the past as far as championship teams. It's vital that you surround yourself with champions, so that these guys who have gotten used to losing change that and believe that they can win as well."
One area in which the Panthers have made great strides has been their power play, which finished dead last among the 30 teams last season at 13.1 percent. Florida entered Thursday night's game against the St. Louis Blues
ranked sixth with a 20.3 percent success rate.
"You have to have 10 players to have a successful power play -- you have to have two units," Tallon said. "And we do have enough players now to put two units -- we barely had a chance last year to put a full unit on, and they would stay the whole power play and lose some energy. Now that Kevin's utilizing 10 different guys -- a lot of our offense obviously comes from our back end, when you have guys like Campbell and (Dmitry) Kulikov and (Jason) Garrison. We have a lot of mobility in (Ed) Jovanovski, guys who can see the ice and can shoot the puck well and get pucks through at the point and quarterback the power play. So we have a different look on each set of power-play units, and that's why we've had more success. We've got more energy on each of those shifts than we've had in the past."
After playing the Blues on Thursday, the Panthers will return home to the BankAtlantic Center for their next four games. Florida currently leads the League with seven road wins, but is just 2-2-3 on its home ice, a trend Tallon knows will have to change if the team wants to position itself for a playoff run.
"We simplify on the road and play more of a basic game, whereas at home it seems we're trying to put on a bit of a show and sometimes it backfires on you," Tallon said.