Originally written on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 11/25/11

By Bill Whitehead

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and time to consider and be grateful for all we have, and Florida Panthers fans have plenty to relish. The Panthers (12-6-3, 27 pts.) are atop the Southeast Division and sit second in the Eastern Conference. The club has also feasted during its annual Thanksgiving homestand, winning its first three contests against Pittsburgh, New Jersey and the New York Rangers.

Upon reflection, here are just a few more things fans can be grateful for at Thanksgiving:

The organization — The old saying goes like this: “The fish rots from the head down.” But the Panthers aren’t rotting anymore; they’ve been resurrected and transformed into the high-priced, Catch-o’-the-Day. The sad state affairs for a few seasons — well, more than a few, perhaps closer to a decade — has been shelved for a new attitude around BankAtlantic Center. Heck, the place is hardly recognizable. Red-themed improvements can be found in the stands, on the boards and pretty much everywhere. Up next on the list is a new scoreboard. Most importantly, though, the brass brought in…

Dale Tallon — When Florida hired him, fans expected great moves by Tallon, and he hasn’t disappointed. The moves he made in St. Paul in June at the NHL Draft appear to be the club’s foundation, but the transactions he made around the trade deadline nine months ago left Florida in position to do what he did with Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky — all players he had in Chicago — and others. Tallon wears his emotions on his sleeve — slightly reserved but with a trace of a smile when Florida wins, evidently upset on the elevator ride down to the dressing room when the club loses (see the home shootout losses earlier this month). He also puts a premium on how players are performing currently, not what they did last season, and doesn’t play favorites. Just ask David Booth.

Kevin Dineen — Not enough can be said of the job done in such a short time by the 48-year-old Dineen. He had the tough task of not only being new to the NHL, but also having to assemble talented players quickly. He has also been patient and doesn’t make kneejerk reactions when times get tough, which was the case Monday when starting goalie Jose Theodore gave up three goals midway through the first period. A year ago, Pete DeBoer would’ve yanked Theodore, but Dineen stood by his No. 1 guy and Jose responded by holding the Devils scoreless the final 48 minutes. When the hunt was on for Florida’s next coach, a Buffalo hockey scribe told me Florida should’ve hired Dineen the previous time instead of DeBoer and that teams were failing by not hiring Dineen. Looks like that guy was right.

The top line — If you would have polled most NHL fans before the season, the first line of Kris Versteeg-Stephen Weiss-Tomas Fleischmann would’ve likely rated in the bottom third. But that shows how much faith you put in polls. Through 21 games, the trio has tallied 69 points. Versteeg (12 Gs, 14 As) is on pace for a staggering 102-point year — 47 goals, 55 assists — and is TSN analyst Marty Turco’s choice for the Hart Trophy. Fleischmann is the sniper of the bunch, and Weiss simply makes it all run. The line seemingly plays possessed, and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur had nothing but glowing praise for the group, especially Versteeg, after Florida’s 4-3 win Monday.

Those constitute much of the core of the Panthers, and the defensive corps and goaltending have been just as important. Intagibles also have made this first quarter of the season a success, including role-playing depth, AHL call-ups and players whose contributions don’t translate to the scoresheet.

And as is typical of the day after Thanksgiving, there is still King George-style eating to be done. I mean, who devours everything in the house on Thanksgiving and has to go out for food on Black Friday? The BAC, Florida’s fridge, will be rocking again tonight one final festive time. Fans can come in, see all the red they want and enjoy the last leftover of this Thanksgiving feast.

The Tampa Bay Lightning.

By Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL
Email: BillWhiteheadFL@hotmail.com

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