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Q&A: Dale Tallon's Offseason Assessment

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. - This offseason couldn't have gone much better for the Florida Panthers.

After falling just one point short of the playoffs, general manager Dale Tallon headed into the summer with a fairly short shopping list, searching for only a few key pieces to compliment the team's rock-solid core that rode a second-half surge to a 96-point finish last season.

In addition to locking up four of the club's restricted free agents, Tallon went out and acquired Russian import Bogdan Kiselevich to shore up the blue line, brought in goaltender Michael Hutchinson to serve as an insurance policy in net and traded a few draft picks for winger Mike Hoffman, a perennial 50-point scorer with a penchant for putting up points on the power play.

"I think it's great," Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said of Florida's offseason moves. "We were 25-8-2 towards the end of the year. It's a number that we do like to fall back on. Obviously, it unfortunately wasn't a playoff number. But if we can do that throughout the year and create something along the lines of that run, we'll be in good shape."

With the upcoming season fast approaching, FloridaPanthers.com's Jameson Olive recently sat down with Tallon to discuss the team's offseason moves, roster compilation and the outlook for the upcoming season - one that the team hopes will be highlighted by a return to the playoffs.

OLIVE: By inking MacKenzie Weegar to a one-year extension last week, Florida officially tied up all of its loose ends heading into the upcoming season. With most of the team's pieces now in place, what is your overall assessment of the offseason?

TALLON: I think we made ourselves deeper. We kept the core together and added some pieces that will make us better. We've given our organization more depth all the way through, including in the minors. Overall, it's been a nice, productive offseason thus far. I'm excited, and I think our players are, too. We have stability within our organization moving forward. We didn't make any drastic changes, but that's a good thing.

OLIVE: I've talked to several players this summer who told me how excited they were that the team was able to make improvements without sacrificing any of the key contributors to last season's success. For yourself, how important was it to add without subtracting?

TALLON: After what's happened the past few years, and given the history of this franchise, Vinnie [Panthers owner Vincent Viola] and I believe that we have to build this stability. That's something that we focused on this offseason, and I think we did a really nice job. We added to our current roster without really disrupting anything, as far as consistency and stability.

OLIVE: With Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Evgenii Dadonov all coming off career-best seasons, do you believe that bringing in Hoffman now gives the Panthers one of the best top-six forward groups in the league?

TALLON: Well, I think we're deeper, obviously. We have speed and scoring ability. I think it's a good mix. If a couple of our young guys that also have speed and offensive ability are able to have good camps and make our team, that'll give us nine forwards that can score. That makes it even better for us. The end goal is to have all of our lines be productive and make it difficult for opposing teams to play against.

OLIVE: You managed to acquire Hoffman without having to part with any of your first-round picks, prospects or roster players (Florida sent a 2019 second-round pick, a 2018 fourth-round pick and a 2018 fifth-round pick to San Jose). In your opinion, how much did that deal alter the offseason?

TALLON: You have to pay a lot for that type of player in free agency; you have to trade some of your rosters players to get a talent like that. It was a very opportune time or us. It worked in our favor. It doesn't happen very often, where certain teams have to unload cap and have to make deals that maybe they're not really willing to do at the time. For us, it was the right choice. It was the right move. We did pay. I'm not one to give up draft picks that readily. I really appreciate the value of a good pick. It's not like we gave up nothing. We gave up some future picks, but we also felt it was necessary to add that depth to our team, especially when it's the type of player that Hoffman is.

OLIVE: By adding Hoffman to what was already arguably one of the league's top young cores, do you believe this is the most talented group of players you've assembled since taking over as Florida's general manager in the summer of 2010?

TALLON: I don't live in the past. I don't compare teams. I like our team. I like the direction we're headed. I like what we've got coming [in the pipeline]. The pieces are starting to fall into place, as far as our depth chart and the types of players I like to have within our organization. We think we're getting closer to what we should have long-term. You just never know, but I'm happy about the team we have now. I'm looking forward to the challenge of this year.

OLIVE: As it stands now, the Panthers currently have eight defenseman and more than 15 forwards that will be fighting for NHL jobs in the upcoming season. With that in mind, how much are you looking forward to watching those position battles in training camp?

TALLON: The inner-competition for jobs is key, especially seeing how people respond to them. It usually brings the best out of players, and hopefully that's the case. We're looking forward to stability with our coaches. With Bob [Panthers head coach Bob Boughner] having the first year under his belt, everyone will be more familiar and know what's expected of them.

OLIVE: After the season, you talked in length about how happy you were with Boughner and the rest of the coaching staff. With changes behind the bench being a fairly common occurrence in the NHL, how important is it that the entire staff from last season is back?

TALLON: It's the most important. You have to develop that stability. You can't be changing coaches and changing styles every other year. It just does not work. We feel very confident in our coaches. I think they did a great job in their first year, and I think they're going to do an even better job this year. It'll be easier for them to be consistent in their message. The players know and understand what is expected from them. Overall, I think that blends into the stability issue that we're trying to maintain here. We want to develop a culture of winning and trust.

OLIVE: When it comes to wins and losses, few players will likely have a greater affect on next season's outcomes than Roberto Luongo. After watching him fight through injuries last summer and into the season, how big is it for the team to finally be healthy in net?

TALLON: I think it's fabulous. I think Louie's excited about our team and that he's healthy. He's had a good summer to get ready and come in and have another solid year for us. He was excellent, and our goaltending was very good last year, especially in the second half. We like the position we're in there. We're very confident. Obviously, if he stays healthy, we've got a legitimate chance.

OLIVE: You talk about having a chance. Overall, what are your expectations in 2018-19?

TALLON: We've got to get that extra point. We've got to get to the dance. That's the key: you get to the playoffs and then go from there. Our goal is to make the playoffs and then see what happens, let the chips fall where they may. It's all about getting to the playoffs.

OLIVE: A big reason for last season's success was the strides that the team's forwards took, most notably Barkov and Trocheck each surpassing the 70-point plateau. Heading into this season, do you think Florida's young defenseman are primed for a similar leap?

TALLON: I think so. I think they learned a lot. That's the toughest position to learn, other than goalie. It takes 300 games, according to lore, to become a top NHL defenseman. Most of those guys still have yet to reach that milestone. Things will be bigger and better for them moving forward. The more experience they get, the more games that they play, they're going to be very, very good defenseman for a long time. That's really optimistic and very positive for the Florida Panthers.

OLIVE: The Panthers will not be participating in a rookie tournament this season. What went into that decision and what do you expect from the organization's revamped rookie camp setting?

TALLON: We're going to experiment with it this year. We felt that we wanted to spend more time devoted to mentorship and more one-on-one situations with our players in a rookie camp situation. We'll see. This is an experiment that we're trying. We've had some injury issues in the past with these tournaments, so we want to bring in our core guys, our young guys that we believe in, and a few other free agents as well and spend more time with them to see if that's more beneficial in the long-term for our organization.

OLIVE: Now that the dust has settled this summer, how do you think the Panthers measure up to the rest of the top teams in the league?

TALLON: I don't measure ourselves against anybody at this time. We're trying to put the best possible team out there. We're still looking. There's still some people out there that we like that might help us if it works in our favor. In August, we'll see what's available and what makes sense moving forward.

OLIVE: The last question is a simple one: how excited are you for the upcoming season?

TALLON: I'm excited about seeing our players and seeing how they respond. I like our team and I like where we're headed. I can't wait. I wish we were playing tomorrow. It's a good thing. I think we all feel the same way. Our whole organization is feeling the same way right now.

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