The Florida Panthers haven’t finished higher than fifth in their division in any of the past three seasons, so it’s hard to say the work of Dale Tallon has been bulletproof since he took over as GM in the summer of 2010. That said, Tallon has Florida pointed in the right direction this season, as the club is poised to make the playoffs for just the fourth time since 1996—which also happens to be the last year the Cats won a post-season series.
While drafting Aaron Ekblad No. 1 overall in 2014 accounts for part of their rosy outlook, the rest of it boils down to seven shrewd moves Tallon made that don’t get enough love.
When the Chicago Blackhawks—Tallon’s former employer—were looking to shed Brian Campbell’s large contract, the buy-low Panthers provided a nice landing spot. Since the start of the 2011–12 season, only three defencemen—Ryan Suter, Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo—have logged more total ice time than Campbell.
With flashy Jonathan Drouin and projected franchise blueliner Seth Jones on the board, Tallon drafted sturdy centre Aleksander Barkov second overall. That choice would be a lot easier to make today than it was in the moment.
The Vancouver Canucks’ long search to find Roberto Luongo a new home ended when Tallon repatriated him to South Florida. Bobby Lou has been a stabilizing force since returning to the Panthers and is posting his best numbers in years this season.
When Tallon picked former Montreal Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant to be his new coach, he was getting a guy who had had great success working with Jonathan Huberdeau at the major-junior level. Gallant has done a nice job behind the Cats bench, and Huberdeau—who looked lost before his old coach took over in his sophomore year—rebounded with 54 points in 2014–15 and appears to be taking his game to another level as a first-line contributor this season.
Backup goalie Al Montoya was on the scrap heap when Tallon signed him as an unrestricted free agent. More than halfway though this season, his save percentage is nearly .930.
A couple of months after acquiring Jaromir Jagr in a trade, Tallon signed the Czech legend to a one-year contract extension. That might sound like a no-brainer, but inking anyone to play on your team during the season he turns 44 is never a complete layup. Jagr has repaid Tallon’s faith by being among the team’s leading scorers all year.
Acquiring Reilly Smith from the Bruins meant coughing up a decent player in Jimmy Hayes, but Smith has provided a nice second-line presence and could wind up topping 25 goals after registering just 13 last season.
This story originally appeared as part of the How-To package in the March issue of Sportsnet magazine.