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VanMurph's View: A New Era

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Murphy and Vanessa Burch
Murphy Burch is back for his second season of blogging. He will be sharing his views on the Panthers during the year, along with fellow fan blogger, Cliff Peeke (Peeke's Points).

Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.

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One of the best ways to put a bad experience behind you is to go out and do something huge as soon as possible. Don’t dwell on how miserable you feel; just move on and try to improve yourself and forget your problems. With the signing of Dale Tallon as the new Executive Vice-President and General Manager of the Florida Panthers, this franchise has done something HUGE, and hopefully the bad experience we’re trying to put behind us will soon be forgotten.

This hiring, if handled correctly, could be the most positive thing to happen to our organization since the acquisition of Pavel Bure. Bringing in a General Manager of Dale Tallon’s caliber could really be the turning point for the Florida Panthers. Any proof you need of that can currently be seen on the ice in the Western Conference Finals. The Chicago Blackhawks were an organization in complete disarray when Tallon was given the reins. In the span of 36 months he took them from basement dwellers to solid playoff contenders who have battled for the Western Conference Championship for the last two seasons. The team he assembled in the Windy City is now just five games shy of winning a Stanley Cup. I don’t think what this man could mean to the Panthers can be overstated. If he is given the tools necessary to do the job that needs to be done, he can arrive here and immediately begin to assemble a solid foundation on which we can build for years to come. One of the things Tallon said during his press conference that stood out to me was that he feels like we are in a better position than Chicago was when he took over. He said we have some good assets here and that he’s excited about some of the players we have in the system. He’s looking to build the club around good chemistry and character, and we have a tremendous opportunity starting with the draft on June 25th and 26th. He wants the organization stocked with depth at all positions to encourage competition for ice time. 

“We all know human nature is a big part of any business,” he said, “and when you realize there’s no one there to push you for a job, you’re going to take some nights off. And our goal is for the players up top to realize that they cannot become comfortable here. They need to be challenged. We need to have enough assets and young players in the minor leagues pushing them.”

When asked what he thought we needed the most, he said, “We need center ice. We need size and strength up the middle, and we also need some steady, solid defensemen to go with our offensive-minded young defensemen. You have to be strong up the middle.” And in case you think he’s only talking about building through the draft, he immediately added: “We’ll address those needs in this draft, and through trades and the free-agent market as well.”

During the press conference the question of the possibility that the budget for next season could be smaller than this season was posed, and Tallon’s answer was immediate and straightforward: “No. We’re committed to winning. We’re going to do what it takes to get us to the next level.” 

Now I don’t know about you, but that statement, in conjunction with the mere fact that Cliff and Stu have gone out and hired a top-notch GM, gives me real hope that we are about to see a change in the direction of this franchise. This is a big-time move for the Panthers. Cliff and Stu have begun to deliver on the promises they made back in November, and as a Panthers fan, I could not be any happier about it. They have brought in a blue-chip General Manager, and it appears that they are going to give him the increased budget with which to turn the ship around.  It’s been a long time, a very long time, and the people who show up each night to cheer for the Panthers deserve a winner. Dale Tallon could be just the guy to make that happen.

Tallon’s career has been one that exemplifies dedication and loyalty. After being drafted in the first round (second overall) by the Vancouver Canucks, Tallon played three seasons as a defenseman in British Columbia before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, where he played for five seasons. Following a short stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tallon returned to Chicago and spent the next 16 years as a TV and Radio analyst for the Blackhawks before joining their front office. His leadership and organizational skills eventually landed him in the position of General Manager, where as I mentioned, he assembled one of the powerhouse teams in the National Hockey League. Anyone who followed the events in Chicago over the course of the last year or so can easily see Tallon’s removal as General Manager was an exercise in politics. Their loss is certainly the Florida Panthers’ gain. We are lucky to have him, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this franchise.

The morning Tallon was introduced, the question of Randy Sexton’s future with the organization was posed. In response, each person who commented on Randy Sexton had nothing but positive things to say about him. Bill Torrey, in particular, made sure to mention that the numerous possibilities in the upcoming draft are due in part to Sexton’s moves. Because of the trades Randy was able to pull off, we now have three second round picks and two fourth round picks with which we can either build for the future or use as bargaining chips. Everyone was noncommittal when it came to answering the question of whether or not Sexton would be returning to the organization in any function, but his past achievements and his knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement as well as his ability to negotiate contracts and work within the salary cap could prove to be very useful to a team trying to make in immediate impact. Randy stepped into a quagmire last summer when he was thrust into the role of GM less than two weeks before the draft. As I stated back then, I think he did well enough to earn the opportunity to guide the Panthers through the remainder of the season.  But when someone of Tallon’s talent comes along, there are very few people who could weather the storm and remain at the helm, so it’s understandable that Sexton is being replaced. A final decision on his continued employment with the Panthers is expected within the next couple of weeks.

Another line of questioning was centered on Coach DeBoer, and what Tallon thinks of him. It was obvious that he holds the coach in high regard. 

“When I was a scout, I spent a lot of time in Kitchener watching the Kitchener Rangers play. I like [Pete’s] attitude, I like his professionalism. I like the way he coached his Junior team, he coached it like it was a pro team, and his players responded. I love what he said after the season here. I like a guy who takes responsibility for his actions and is accountable. I think he and I are going to have a great relationship, I think it’s going to be a great team.”

It sounds to me like Coach DeBoer is going to be around for awhile. I’ve been a big supporter of his since he was announced as the new head coach, and I think it’ll be very interesting to see what he’s able to produce with an NHL-caliber lineup.  

For Panthers fans, this season was marked by frustration and disappointment. The list of reasons is long, so there really isn’t a need to go into it. The bottom line is that the post-season is well underway and we find ourselves in the all-too-familiar position of having to press our noses against the window and watch from the outside. After finishing 2008-2009 with 93 points and missing the playoffs on a technicality, the possibility of regression never occurred to me. I, like many of you, was very hopeful that our woes were coming to an end, and that we’d be sitting in our seats at the BankAtlantic Center experiencing playoff hockey rather than the watching it in our living rooms. For our organization to remain relevant, that is going to have to change soon.  Tallon mentioned that he wanted to make Florida a “destination that people want to come to, that free-agents want to come to.”

He said, “We developed that [in Chicago], and we’ll develop that here too.” Listening to this made me excited about the future of our hockey team. But I think the only way to develop that here is to create a winning culture. If you can create an atmosphere where losing and floundering in the bottom half of the standings is not tolerated, this WILL become a destination to which free-agents will want to come. Playing hockey in South Florida in the dead of winter beats doing the same in Edmonton and a host of other traditional hockey markets, but there are a lot of distractions to overcome. Tallon touched on this when asked about changing the culture of losing that seems to have enveloped this franchise over the course of the last decade.

“In Chicago we weeded out those people who didn’t want to pay the price. If you don’t want to pay the price, if you don’t want to be involved here, then you’re not going to be here. I’m going to make that known right off the bat. No nonsense. There is going to be a professional approach to everything, and we want players who want to be here and who are committed to doing whatever it takes to win. That’s how you change the culture.”

From a fan’s perspective, there are a couple of things I hope get looked at in the coming days by the new General Manager:

Special Teams play - The power play needs immediate attention. For the last two seasons we have lost game after game due to a lack of an ability to convert our chances when up by a man (or two). As I stated in an earlier blog entry, I don’t know if it’s a coaching problem, a personnel problem, or a systems problem, but it simply must be addressed before the start of training camp. We cannot hope to make the playoffs with one of the worst power plays in the NHL; especially when combined with one of the lowest-percentage penalty kills in the league. With both special teams coaches’ contracts expiring, I sincerely hope close scrutiny is given to the importance of the PP and PK.    

Our home record against certain teams -  Probably the most difficult thing for me to swallow this past season was the losses at home against teams like the Canadiens, Rangers, Bruins, Flyers and others with a heavy following in south Florida. If the Panthers want to hold on to the fans they have, they simply MUST begin winning those games. For the dedicated followers of this team to sit through a loss against these teams with some of the most obnoxious fans in the entire National Hockey League is gut-wrenching. The only thing worse than being literally surrounded by the opposing teams’ fans and having to deal with their insufferable behavior, is having your team stink up the joint. Jumping on these teams early and taking their fans out of the equation will do wonders for our fans’ confidence and we could actually try to make the atmosphere inside the BankAtlantic Center feel like a home game for the Panthers for a change. When we played Montreal on December 31st last season, it was infuriating to walk into Pantherland and see hundreds of Canadiens items that had been put out in place of Panthers merchandise, and then have 12,000+ Habs fans boo the Panthers as they took the ice. But even more frustrating was actually having to take that abuse because the Panthers played poorly and lost the game. In a perfect world the Cats would’ve come out swinging for the fences and given their fans a means by which to shut those clowns up. Those losses are very uncomfortable for our fans. It’s difficult to convey the importance of winning certain games for your fans, but it needs to be addressed.

Best of luck to Dale Tallon as he takes the helm of the Florida Panthers. I want him to know that he carries the hopes and aspirations of thousands of dedicated fans, many of whom have never seen a live playoff game. I’d also like to wish Randy Sexton luck as he begins a new era in his career. Whether it be in Sunrise or in another NHL city, I sincerely hope he lands on his feet and has the opportunity to put his talents to work. Thank You, Randy, for stepping up and leading this franchise when it needed you most.

Thank you to everyone who sent emails and messages on facebook after the Matt Redmond blog entry. I enjoyed corresponding with each of you.   If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, I can be reached at:  

Thanks for stopping by the blog.

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