At one point during Friday's press conference, Panthers General Manager was asked how he felt to be "this summer's Pat Riley." The reference was made to the Miami Heat president who last summer put together a terrific off-season by snagging three of basketball's biggest stars during free agency (with Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh).
While Tallon didn't necessarily grab a "superstar" so to speak, he did have an impressive two-week span in which he added 11 new players to the fold either via trade or free agency signing.
"I don’t have his face and clothes," joked Tallon. "It’s an honor. I’ve admired him for many years. He’s a champion and that’s what we want to be. We’ve got support from Cliff and his partners. That’s why these players came here. They see that we’re committed and we want to win and they want to have fun doing it.
"It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Pat Riley, but you know we’re here to win and if we can win as often as he’s won, that’d be great."
The Panthers introduced nine of their newest players to a packed Chairman's Club at the BankAtlantic Center. The only two not to be in attendance were forwards Sean Bergenheim
who just got married and is currently on his honeymoon and Marcel Goc
who, along with his wife, just had a child.
"These players have passion and the willingness to win," said Tallon. "And they want to be Florida Panthers."
For a lot of the players, it was great just to kick things off, even if it was nowhere near the ice.
"We had the opportunity to tour the practice facility, which wasn’t there when I played here," said defenseman Ed Jovanovski
who was the Panthers first pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft and played in South Florida for three and a half seasons before being traded to Vancouver. "Seeing the staff that was there when I was there, making me welcome. Just walking into this building and seeing familiar faces. It’s always a place where I’ve consider home…It's good to come back."
"With what they’ve done over the last few weeks, I couldn’t be happier," said defenseman Brian Campbell
who was acquired in a draft day trade from Chicago. "You look at the lineup we’re going to produce this year. I don’t think we’re going to give any team a break with the depth that we have."
"It’s a privilege to be here today and be part of this new group of guys that has been welcomed so greatly to this south Florida area in these last couple days," said forward Scottie
Upshall who signed on July 1st as a free agent. "For me it was a great opportunity to come down here."
Jovanovski, Campbell and Upshall were joined by new teammates Matt Bradley
, Tomas Fleischmann
, Tomas Kopecky
, Jose Theodore
, Nolan Yonkman
and Kris Versteeg
For several of them, including Kopecky (trade and sign) and Versteeg (trade), it was the chance to get back with the man that helped them hoist the Stanley Cup.
“Given myself and my track record I think you should expect anything can happen,” joked Versteeg about being acquired from Philadelphia on July 1. “But with Dale here, I knew if I was going to go anywhere, it was probably here. He’s been a guy that’s masterminded a Stanley Cup victory in Chicago. He’s a guy who brought me in when I was 20 years old. He’s someone I believe in and I couldn’t have been happier to come anywhere than here.”
“I knew Dale was the kind of guy, pretty stubborn, that would do anything to win,” said Kopekcy. “You can see what he did in Chicago and it made sense for me. I wanted to come down here. I talked to Soupy (Brian Campbell
), after he got traded, and I realized this was a great opportunity for me.
“This is a great challenge for us. I don’t think this has ever happened in the NHL, this many guys getting traded or signed. This is rebuilding a new team and I want to be part of it and obviously everybody up here wants to win. There’s a great challenge ahead of us and I’m looking forward to it.”
And while the challenge for Tallon, head coach Kevin Dineen and all of the players will be difficult, especially in terms of gelling as a group, it’s something that everyone is up for. The challenge of getting back to the playoffs and the challenge of hoisting that Stanley Cup, just like in Chicago.
“It was pretty crazy when I was 21 and we’re with Dale in Chicago and his team’s in last place the year prior. He makes a speech and tells us that we’re going to walk the Stanley Cup down Michigan Ave. and I thought “this guy is nuts”,” said Versteeg laughing. “Three years later that dream came true for the whole organization so I’m a firm believer in him and this organization.”
“I fell off the wagon because of him,” quipped Tallon about Versteeg. “Sixteen years without a drink and he forced me to drink out of the Cup. Jack Daniels. It was pretty bad."
“We’ll do it again.”
And if that happens, they'll join the great Riley in bringing a championship down to South Florida.