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Tallon using tried and true system to rebuild Panthers

by Dan Rosen
In the mix again among all the general managers 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 of 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 the Florida Panthers GM, a challenge he accepted on May 17.

Tallon, who built the Blackhawks into the Stanley Cup championship team before being reassigned prior to the start of the 2009-10 season, spent his first offseason in his new office assessing the situation in Florida and "slowly but surely chipping away at the block."

He's got a long way to go, but Tallon feels strongly that the process is in place.

"We probably had a few more assets to start with here than we had (in Chicago), but it's a challenge and I'm looking forward to it," Tallon told "Some people get comfortable with being only good enough, and that's not going to be acceptable."

"We probably had a few more assets to start with here than we had (in Chicago), but it's a challenge and I'm looking forward to it. Some people get comfortable with being only good enough, and that's not going to be acceptable." -- Panthers' GM Dale Tallon

Tallon has been making headway on putting together the type of lineup he wants and believes can be successful, but none of his moves this summer can be characterized as outlandish. His goal for 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.

Between May 17 and June 30, Tallon made several interesting moves all aligned with the future of the organization.

He signed prized goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom to his three-year entry level deal. He made a deal with Boston that brought defenseman Dennis Wideman and, more importantly, the No. 15 pick in the first-round of the 2010 Entry Draft to Florida for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell.

Tallon made his most noise at the Entry Draft in Los Angeles.

Prior to the start of the first round he made an initial splash by trading defenseman Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich to Vancouver for Steve Bernier, 22-year-old prospect Michael Grabner and the No. 25 pick. Tallon now had three first-round picks plus Grabner, who had 11 points in 20 games last season with the Canucks.

Tallon selected defenseman Erik Gudbranson at No. 3 -- Gudbranson is considered a prized prospect and future No. 1 defenseman. Then, he turned the No. 15 pick he got from Boston into two picks (Nos. 19 and 59) in a trade with L.A. With the 19th pick, Tallon drafted Minnesota high school prospect Nick Bjugstad.

Tallon closed out his big night by using Vancouver's pick at No. 25 to select Quinton Howden, a point-per-game player with Moose Jaw of the WHL last season.

"I feel great," Tallon said when it was over that night. "I think it's a big turning point in our franchise, a very successful day at the draft. We got some good players to fill some needs. They're still young, but still good players. I'm very elated with what happened today. It was a wonderful day."

Sticking with his philosophy of going young and building through the draft, Tallon didn't feel the need to make any splashes through free agency.

He chose to sign Christopher Higgins, Nathan Paetsch, Mike Weaver and Andrew Peters and also acquire Marty Reasoner from Chicago. All five players should make Florida's opening night roster.

"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 as his personnel moves, Tallon hired Mike Santos, Nashville's former Director of Hockey Operations, to be his assistant GM. Tallon said Santos has been a wonderful asset.

The GM 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.

Tallon is not working with the same history as he had in Chicago, but he still wants to incorporate some of the Panthers' past into the present-day organization.

"(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 hinted in August during an interview with that he might still have one more trick up his sleeve to make the Panthers' better right now and for the future, and that was signing Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi. He brought Niemi to Chicago in 2008 when the Finnish goalie was barely known.

Niemi instead signed a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks for $2 million. We're not sure if Tallon ever made an offer to Niemi's camp, but by the looks of things it's not all that big of a deal right now because of all areas, goaltending is the least of Tallon's concerns.

He still has Tomas Vokoun for one more year and Scott Clemmensen for two. Plus, Markstrom is considered the top prospect in the Panthers' system. He is expected to play in Rochester of the AHL this season to get used to all the crease-crashing and traffic he'll find in North America.

"He's really a wonderful human being and I'm glad we were able to seal the deal," Tallon said upon announcing Markstrom's three-year entry level contract on June 1. "This gives him the chance to develop in North America and get his feet wet, get ready for the next step. They are realistic. They see the future; they know how bright it is. The opportunity will be there down the road."

Tallon is following the same philosophy for the Panthers at large. The Blackhawks are his proof that it works.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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