General Manager Dale Tallon has proclaimed repeatedly that he doesn't want to build a playoff team in Florida, he wants to build a Stanley Cup Champion. But what kind of roster makes this dream possible? In this series, I'll break down what types of players are needed to win a cup and what the Florida Panthers already have.
Anything can happen in the playoffs, but you simply can't make it in the playoffs when your tied for 3rd worst goals/game in the regular season. That's where the Florida Panthers found themselves, averaging only 2.33 goals per game, a number that seems high especially after a horrid post-deadline stumble to the end of the season. Fear not though, when Dale Tallon assumed the duties of General Manager of the Chicago Blackhawks he faced the same problem. In fact, most of the post-lockout Stanley Cup Champions faced similar offensive woes just three years prior to winning the Cup, but what can the Panthers learn from these other team's remarkable turnarounds? Answers after the jump.
Since the lockout, the 5 Stanley Cup Champions had something in common, each were in the top 8 G/G in the regular season, and each(excluding the always amazing Red Wings) were pretty bad 3 seasons before winning the Cup. This table shows the breakdown by scoring block that each champion had during the regular season, along with the Panthers this season:
|Team||Season||40+ scorers||30+ scorers||20+ scorers||10+ scorers||G/G rank|
While this table shows the scoring of these teams 3 years prior to winning the Stanley Cup:
|Team||Season||Rank||Wins||40+ scorers||30+ scorers||20+ scorers||10+ scorers||G/G|
So what offensive elements turned these teams into champions? Well, it doesn't take a 40 goal scorer like you might think, just look at Pittsburgh and Chicago. What it does take is a 30 goal scorer and a whole lot of scoring depth behind him. Every Stanley Cup Champion has had goal scorers spread throughout their roster, if the team doesn't have tons of 30 goal scorers, they've made it up in 10 goal scorers. Look at Chicago of a year ago; sure they had Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but without players like Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien the Blackhawks would have never survived. To win a Cup, you have to bring in guys who can score even if they aren't given prime ice-time. Your first line has to be good, but GMs cant overlook their 3rd and 4th lines. Lets look at what each team brought in during those 3 years to become champions.
Carolina: In 3 years, the points leader for the Carolina Hurricanes shot from Jeff O'Neill with 61 points to Eric Staal with 100 points. The amazing turn-around for the 'Canes included more than just Eric Staal, it took players like Justin Williams, Cory Stillman, Ray Whitney and Matt Cullen. All but Staal were brought in from other organizations, the kind of trades and free agency that Dale Tallon needs to build a successful team.
Anaheim: Anaheim completely overhauled their roster after the 03-04 season, and with several acquisitions and home runs at the draft, the Ducks were ready to win a championship. In two years Anaheim had new players like Teemu Selanne, Andy McDonald, Scott Niedermayer, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, in fact only 2 of the Ducks top 10 scorers had been on the team in 03-04.
Pittsburgh: Despite the 102 point season of Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 29th in the league and needed a change. With the drafting of Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal as well as bringing in Ryan Malone, Maxime Talbot and Petr Sykora, Pittsburgh turned the tables on the Detroit Red Wings to win the cup.
Chicago: No wonder the Chicago Blackhawks sent Dale Tallon a ring last season, he truly did build a winner. Besides drafting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Tallon brought up Dustin Byfuglien, acquired Andrew Ladd and a whole boatload of the other familiar names now engraved on the Cup.
Notice that these players aren't all superstars, many of them are just quality players that provide energy and create scoring chances (think Dadonov). When teams try to load their roster with offensive superstars, they end up handcuffing themselves in other areas. It's simply not sustainable in the regular season, if playoffs are a definite you can load up and fortify the roster, but until then champions need average players who can put the puck in the net without costing 3 million a season, something that the Panthers may have plenty of at this time.
These are the kinds of players needed to win a cup, but what forwards do the Panthers already have that fit this mold, and what free agents are available that can turn the team around? Tallon has said that no player is 'untouchable', but at this point he wouldn't be doing himself many favors by trading away players like David Booth, Stephen Weiss, Mike Santorelli among others. Weiss has the leadership necessary to become the Panthers next captain, Booth had a remarkable season last year and seems to be returning to form after his concussions, and Mike Santorelli was a huge surprise and deserves a contract. These three may not become the 40 goal scorer that we fans are waiting for, but on a good team with good linemates I see no reason they wont be 30 goal scorers. Up and coming Evgeny Dadonov may not be Chicago's Kris Versteeg but he has certainly shown upside. Promising prospects like Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden may pan out into the top players the Panthers need, but only in a few years. Don't expect Landeskog/Huberdeau to be Tallon's Kane/Toews, but we can certainly hope that becomes the case.
The free agent market isn't exactly teeming with superstars this year, but quality players like Ville Lieno, Brooks Liach and others could bring scoring to the Panthers. Dale Tallon has the money necessary to take a chance with any of these players, and I trust that he knows offense is the primary concern going into free agency. I wouldn't count on Tallon bringing in Brad Richards, but he does have a track record of bringing in hidden gems. Players like Marcel Goc, Jeff Halpern and Greg Mauldin could be cheap 3rd and 4th liners that can put up points, hopefully filling the discrepancy in production we saw in those lines last year.
Stanley Cup Champions need a lot more than one or two superstars to lead the team, they need 3 strong lines behind them to produce when the superstars aren't on the ice, or worse, injured. To prove this, note that Pittsburgh did not implode when both Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin went down, the team was built to absorb the shock and give Tampa Bay a scare in the playoffs. We fans all talk about how awesome adding a player like Brad Richards or Jeff Carter would be on the top line, but don't overlook the importance of the players who comprise the other lines. The 2010-11 Florida Panthers weren't able to absorb the shock when Stephen Weiss was out of the lineup late in the season, so that's proof enough that the Panthers need some changes on the back lines. If Dale Tallon cannot find the superstar in this year's draft or can't reel in Brad Richards, there is still a lot that can be done to bring a more exciting team to the ice in October.