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After rough Start, Tallon Believes Panthers Headed in Right Direction

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- A rough start in their rearview mirror, Dale Tallon believes that brighter days are ahead for the Florida Panthers, who head into the league-mandated bye week just six points out of a playoff spot with 39 games left to play in the 2017-18 season.

"We're in a good spot," Tallon said before the Panthers' game against Calgary at BB&T Center on Friday. "I like how we're playing. I like the position we're in. I think we'll be a better team in the second half for a lot of reasons, more experience. The coaching is starting to come together as far as the system."

The Panthers (18-19-6) have begun to find consistency after a chaotic 4-8-2 start to their campaign. The club has gone 6-3-1 in its last 10 games, including a season-long five-game winning streak that propelled Florida from near the bottom of standings all the way back into the playoff picture at the midway point.

There have been some growing pains and injuries, most notably to starting goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has been out since Dec. 4 and isn't expected to return until February from a lower-body injury. But despite these setbacks, Tallon said that although he's not "elated," he has certainly been satisfied with the way the Panthers have performed given the circumstances.

"We're in a playoff hunt," Tallon said. "New coaches, new players, young team. Being .500 is not a bad thing, considering how things started with a lot of nagging injuries and a lot of people in and out of the lineup; losing our No. 1 goalie. All those things factored in. Things are heading in the right direction."

In his first season behind the bench, rookie head coach Bob Boughner has also been earning top marks from Tallon. Boughner, who spent the past two seasons as an assistant in San Jose, has quickly become a favorite not only among management, but also the players. And although it took some time for his new system to set in, the X's and O's are now starting to become second nature, with Tallon adding that the players are showing "a lot more passion, desire and consistency."

"The coaches have been terrific to deal with," Tallon said. "They've really given a lot of hard work to it. Players, I think, are really responding properly. The guys love the system, they love their attitude and they're great to work with."

Under Boughner, it's been three of Tallon's draft picks that have been shining the brightest for the Panthers. Jonathan Huberdeau (third overall, 2011 NHL Draft) leads the team with 44 points, while Vincent Trocheck (64th overall, 2011) has tallied a team-leading 17 goals and Aleksander Barkov (second overall, 2013), who will represent Florida at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game, has notched 40 points and leads all NHL forwards in average ice time per game (22:30).

"It's great for our franchise, great for our future," Tallon said of the trio's performance. "They're still young guys, they haven't reached the peak yet. Just to see their development and see their maturity, it's really pleasing and exciting for our fans and for ourselves to watch them perform every day, on and off the ice."

The only issue is that there's been little offense outside of the team's triumvirate of stars.

While Huberdeau, Trocheck and Barkov have combined for 47 goals, no other player on the team has yet to crack 10. Nick Bjugstad and Evgenii Dadonov are tied for fourth on the team with nine, while Aaron Ekblad leads the club's defensemen with seven. After that, there's not much else in terms of consistency, as established veterans like Radim Vrbata and Jamie McGinn, who each have five goals, have struggled thus far.

Still, Tallon believes these players are poised to breakout in the second half.

"I think it's going to come," Tallon said. "It takes time. Scoring's the hardest thing to do. We need a balanced attack, of course. Trocheck has done all that we've asked and more. We've got to get contributions from other guys throughout the lineup. I think it'll happen. I think we'll eventually get more and more offense from different guys."

When asked if the Panthers could turn to the trade market in search of scoring help, the long-time general manager reiterated what has become somewhat of his personal mantra around the trade deadline these past few years: the franchise won't sacrifice long-term gains for short-term help.

"We have great kids coming," Tallon said, referencing Florida's strong prospect pool. "We have really good players in our minor-league system. I really like what's happening as far as our future. It's going to take somebody that's going to be involved in that process for us to make a move."

But in a meeting Panthers professional scouts this past week, Tallon said the team did identify certain areas of the game and players that could help the team both this season and beyond. The top priority, as expected, was goal scoring. At last year's deadline, the Panthers acquired Thomas Vanek from the Detroit Red Wings in preparation for a playoff push as well as made several other minor-league deals.

With the Feb. 27 trade deadline still over a month away, the Panthers have some time, but will likley need to maintain their current trajectory and keep inching towards the playoffs in order for Tallon to pull the trigger on any deals to aid a late-season push.

"We're always looking to get better," Tallon said. "We're not in the playoffs right now, so we have to get there. If it takes making that right now, we'll do it."

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