SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are in the hunt.
With a quarter of the season left to play, the Panthers are four points out of third place in the Atlantic Division and three points behind Toronto for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Hampered by injuries for the majority of their season, the Panthers have recovered from a sluggish start and have looked like a serious threat since top-line forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau returned to the lineup in mid-March. Over the past three weeks the Panthers have won eight of their last 12 games to move into contention.
"In addition to (Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleskander Barkov) we've also gotten (Alex) Petrovic back, (Jussi) Jokinen back, and (Nick) Bjugstad back," Panthers President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon said. "We were missing five key guys for much of the season. Now, they're back playing well and they're healthy. Knock on wood, hopefully they stay healthy and we can make a good run of it."
This weekend, Jameson Olive of FloridaPanthers.com's sat down with Tallon at the BB&T Center to get his thoughts on Florida's current lineup and what trades, if any, the club will look to consummate ahead of the NHL's trade deadline on Wednesday, March 1.
FloridaPanthers.com: Now that the Panthers have clawed their way right back into the thick of the playoff picture, what sort of moves, if any, can fans expect at this year's trade deadline?
Tallon: We're looking and listening to everything.
There's not too much going on for us right now. There are too many teams still involved, believing they have a shot [at the playoffs]. With few teams selling, there's a trickledown effect and the prices are high. We're not going to mortgage our future just to get a Band-Aid.
We like our team, we have a very good team and the team is playing very well. For us to move forward (on a potential trade), it has to make a lot of sense. It can't disrupt the chemistry of our team, which is terrific. And it has to be a fair deal that doesn't have a negative effect on our future.
FloridaPanthers.com: This year's playoff race seems to be especially tight as we approach the final of stretch. From your perspective, what kind of effect will this have on the trade deadline?
Tallon: There are still 27 or 28 teams that have a chance to make the playoffs.
I think the combination of that - and what might happen in the expansion draft in June - has made teams reluctant to take on long-term deals because they might have to protect that player and lose another player they have a better liking for.
We're in a good position though and we've talked to a lot of teams. There are some deals that might make sense and others that don't.
We're going to do everything in our power over the next few days to make sure that we don't leave any stone unturned. We might have a great opportunity to add something positive to our team and if not, we're happy with the team that we have. We feel we have a team that can compete and go deep in the playoffs.
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FloridaPanthers.com: This is the third straight season in which the Panthers have been in a position to play the role of buyer rather than seller. After several years of rebuilding, what has this sustained success meant to the franchise?
Tallon: That's the key. We want to be buyers the rest of our time here. We're in a good position to do that. We have a great nucleus and good, young men on our team. I think we're going to be in that position for many years to come - that's the goal.
Ultimately, I'd rather bring up somebody from the American League that we feel is going to be part of our future, rather than acquiring a Band-Aid for a big price. We've got some good kids that we're real proud of in Springfield that are young and able to play. If we have to, we can rely on some of those guys to come up and fill roles for us.
FloridaPanthers.com: When you make a deal at the trade deadline, typically you're bringing in a rental player. That didn't end up being the case when your club acquired Jaromir Jagr from New Jersey prior to the 2015 deadline. How impressed are you with how that deal has panned out over the years?
Tallon: We felt that he would be a great add to us for many reasons, not just his playing ability. It's turned out to be a really positive move for our franchise because of what he's brought to the table and how he's been involved in mentoring our young guys to get better. His play has been phenomenal as well.
FloridaPanthers.com: How does the dynamic between yourself and the team's assistant general managers, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier, work behind closed doors when the phones start ringing on deadline day?
Tallon: We've got a great team here. We're all working together and communicating extremely well. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's what's best for the Panthers.
We're on the same page and every day we're discussing everything; our communication has been terrific. We're getting great support from ownership and we're all working together to get us over the hump.
FloridaPanthers.com: Is it a relief once the deadline passes and you know where your roster stands?
Tallon: There are two days that are really stressful (for a hockey operations department): the trade deadline and July 1. Honestly, free agency is probably more stressful. It's part of the deal and part of the fun of being in this position.
The one thing is: we've talked to everyone. We're going to make sure that we're in communication with all of these teams to see what's available and what makes sense for us.