Originally written on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 11/4/14

As the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers (Blackhawks South) suit up tonight, we should take a closer look at a team that can no longer be ignored. GM Dale Tallon had been brought in from Chicago in 2010 to revamp the perennial loser Panthers, who’ve been one of the least successful teams in NHL history (aside from their trip to the Cup finals in 1996). So far this season, success is coming faster than many expected.

With a 6-4-1 record, the Tallon-configured Panthers have caught many off guard with their new lineup of proven veterans and young talent who have brought winning attitudes into Sunrise, Fla.

Players plucked from Chicago, Washington and Vancouver have been leading the way for the Panthers this year, with goaltender Jose Theodore finding a new lease on his career since his 30-7-7 campaign with the Capitals two years ago. Who could blame Tallon for searching out players from these successful franchises?

Stephen Weiss, now with more talent around him, has also thrived with 10 points in 11 games with 4 goals and 6 assists. Off-season additions Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann and Brian Campbell all have 10 or more points, as well. This team has been pesky to say the least, even putting up a good fight against the Capitals a few weeks back.

Before we get carried away, this team still needs time to get to know each other on and off the ice.

With Tallon at the helm, the locker room has been a revolving door as he completes a 100% overhaul of the lineup from what he had received less then two years ago. More than half of the current roster has been acquired in the past year. Not a single player other than Stephen Weiss (2001) was on the Panthers before 2007, after saying goodbye to recognizable names from years past such as David Booth, Jay Bouwmeester, Tomas Vokoun and Olli Jokinen.

Being in Florida allows Tallon to make significant changes without upsetting a desperate fan base. But, he is trying to change that perception. Rebuilding a brand name in any industry is difficult and mistakes are made along the way. Tallon has been known to overpay for veterans (see: Brian Campbell). But he has now allowed himself some flexibility in the coming years as he isn’t tied down to long term contracts (like recently departed David Booth) as he waits for his draft picks to mature. Mikael Samuelsson, Ed Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall and the ex-Blackhawks will hold down the fort until then.

While the current crop of veteran talent has been off to a good start, there is still room for significant improvement. Special teams play relies heavily on understanding the tendencies of your line mates and it shows on defense. Florida’s penalty kill, 75%, is only good for 25th in the league. The Panthers' five-on-five play hasn’t been great either, with a paltry goal for/against ratio of 0.78 which sits at 26th. These numbers will improve as this team continues to gel; 11 games simply isn’t a long enough body of work to rush to any judgments. On the other hand, Florida’s power play currently ranks 5th, a vast improvement over years past.

Any way you dice it, Florida is a squad that is clearly better than anything they put out on the ice in the past few years. It should lead to some surprises, but let's not be too surprised now that you are clued in to the transformation.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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