Dale Tallon's first season as general manager of the Florida Panthers isn't likely to end with the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2000, but maybe Tallon's thorough housecleaning on Monday will be the first step toward getting the Panthers back to the postseason in the near future.
Tallon parted ways with four veterans on trade deadline day -- defensemen Dennis Wideman and Bryan Allen and forwards Chris Higgins and Radek Dvorak. In return, the Panthers received forward Sergei Samsonov and Patrick Rissmiller, whose contracts expire after this season, 23-year-old Niclas Bergfors, prospects Evan Oberg and Jake Hauswirth and a pair of third-round draft picks.
The Panthers got younger and shaved a lot of payroll Monday without trading core players David Booth, Marty Reasoner and Stephen Weiss.
"The decision was made to keep our core together and keep our eye on the ball as far as the future is concerned," Tallon said. "We added a great number of picks and got younger and really solidified our future. The future is most important for us."
Tallon was realistic about the team's chances of making the playoffs this year, saying the Panthers would need to win about 15 of their remaining 20 games to qualify.
But he was more excited when the talk turned to the summer, when the Panthers would have more cap room and a plethora of picks to use at the 2011 Entry Draft in Minneapolis.
"It's going to be a great summer," Tallon said. "We got lots of money to spend freed up for next year. We got a lot of picks -- four thirds, two seconds and a first. Ten picks. We had 13 last year and I'm looking forward to getting a couple more at the draft. That's how you build a foundation. That's how you build a franchise in a hurry. All our kids this year are having phenomenal years.
We look forward to having another successful draft, then being very aggressive in the free-agent mark this summer, so it's going to be very hot and heavy in July."
The Panthers used their three first-round picks in 2010 to select defenseman Erik Gudbranson, center Nick Bjugstad and left wing Quinton Howden. Gudbranson has 10 goals and 17 assists in 35 games for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, Bjugstad has 5 goals in 25 games as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, and Howden has 38 goals and 30 assists in 50 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL.
Building through the draft is how Tallon eventually created a Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks. Tallon selected Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Niklas Hjalmarsson, but he also supplemented that talent with free agents Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell and John Madden.
Who will be unrestricted free agents this summer? Some of the bigger names are Brad Richards, Ilya Bryzgalov and Andrei Markov. If the Panthers spend to the cap limit next season, Tallon will have about $40 million to use on free agents.
The only major impending free agent Tallon didn't unload was goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who carries a cap hit of about $6 million, which made it hard for a deal to get done Monday.
"I think the combination of the salary and there seems to be a lot of young goaltenders who have come up and taken the forefront of a lot of teams," Tallon said. "We did have an offer late in the day, but we didn't feel it was an offer worth doing."
Tallon, however, left the door open for the possibility of Vokoun returning next season.
"We're going to look at everything that makes us a better team. Tomas has intimated to me that he'd love to stay in Florida and so we'll seriously look at it. But we're not going to discuss any contracts till the season over with anybody," he said.
Tallon's biggest deal of the day was sending Wideman to the Capitals for Hauswirth and a third-round pick. It was also the most surprising deal, even for Tallon.
"It came out of nowhere," Tallon said. "It came to us today out of the blue. It frees up a lot of money for us to be aggressive summer."
Rumors usually aren't worth their weight in peanuts, but there was a lot of talk about Weiss, Booth and Reasoner being moved out of South Florida. In the end, Tallon felt those players were too valuable to let go.
"What we preached about at the beginning of the year, the people who earned it would stay," Tallon said. "We kept a good solid core of guys and we're now going to add some good young players to go with it and make some more moves in the offseason.
"We have a lot of assets now that we can move to really help our team develop quickly."
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