Why the Panthers are a better team after the deadline

Eight games and two and a half weeks after the NHL trading deadline, no one can ignore the fact that the Florida Panthers are well on the way to a complete rebuild, not the ‘bandage the stump’ kind of reconfiguration we’ve seen before. Probably the most exciting day of the year for all fans has passed and GMs have done all they can do to help out their team in the short run, or in our case, the long run. All GMs made deals on February 28th to improve their roster for the playoffs or for next season and only time will tell if they made the right decisions. Florida boss Dale Tallon made it clear his team was selling even before the deadline, but unlike some managers with an itchy trade finger, Tallon was able to jettison the deadweight instead of scuttle the ship in the harbor. Although the deals made prior to and on deadline day have had little effect in the standings, there are multiple signs illustrating that Florida is a better team afterwards.

As the biggest seller prior to March 1st, it was probably reasonable to assume that Tallon had traded his Panthers back into the bronze age, and while many still believe this to be true, I beg to differ. The roster is undoubtedly younger and certainly faster after the trading of multiple veterans, and despite the fact that several important offensive pieces were traded our goals per game average has returned back to form lately. Cap space has been greatly expanded, and the ‘toughness’ of the team has arguably been increased since February 28th. The loss of veteran leadership and scoring prowess has decreased our points per game average, as expected, but the theme of one goal games and high effort level has continued (prior to Thursday's demolition of the Leafs) despite the roster shake up. If you looked at everything except the roster, you would likely conclude that not much is different now that before the deadline.

Offensively, the trades of Michael Frolik, Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak and Chris Higgins could have completely dismantled the struggling offense we had watched up to the trade deadline, and upon penciling in the new additions one couldn’t help but cringe. Surprisingly, the new Panthers have formed some chemistry and continue to compliment one-another each game. After trading half the defense (Bryan McCabe, Dennis Wideman and Bryan Allen) away, remaining blueliners Mike Weaver, Jason Garrison, Dmitry Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby have stepped up to the plate and have flourished with their new responsibilities. On the goaltending front, no news was good news as it became apparent that Tomas Vokoun wasn’t garnering much attention on deadline day. On paper we should be playing much, much worse than before, but the Panthers continue to keep it close in every loss and occasionally beat a team much better then themselves.

Injuries are playing a factor in our post deadline play; we have yet to see Evgeni Dadonov and Shawn Matthias play in the new line up (not to mention Rostislav Olesz), and haven’t seen much of Jack Skille and newly acquired defenseman Alexander Sulzer. Once healthy, we might be looking at a different team. The major moves and injuries have given Michal Repik the ice time he has desperately needed, allowed for players to audition themselves on the big club and the AHL caliber pickups from the deadline have served to appease Rochester (for now). The non-trades of Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Tomas Vokoun showed the restraint on Dale Tallon’s part to keep the scaffolding of the Panthers intact.

The returns for many of the team’s UFAs may have left us wondering how well Tallon could negotiate, but we must remember that in four months those same players could have left us for nothing. Instead of waiting for July 1st to step away from players and let the team start developing chemistry for the first half of the 2011-12 season, Tallon has given the new additions the remainder of this season and much of the summer to integrate into the system. We can only hope that this extra time will allow for the smooth transition from the summer to training camp to the first game.

Are we a better team after the deadline? It all depends on your point of view. To some fans the loss of offense and inexperienced blue line spells disaster for the rest of this season and the next. To others we are a team that made a lot of changes that haven’t translated into better performance. I rejoice from the fact that our team characterized by Rochester call ups and new additions has been playing at the same tempo as the team prior to the deadline, I think this is a very positive since these players will mature into exactly what we need. The deals of the deadline might not have exceeded everyone’s expectations but the active role Dale Tallon played in this year’s deadline certainly demonstrated his eye towards the future, something all of us should appreciate.