Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 12/2/11

If the playoffs were to start today, only one Southeast Division team would make the cut. It’s no secret that wouldn't be Ovechkin’s Capitals, nor last year's Cinderella Tampa Bay Lightning. With 30 points and a 13-8-4 record, the Florida Panthers are establishing a legitimate identity, and doing so while every other club in the Southeast gazes at their collective navels contemplating “Who are we again?”

For rookie Head Coach Kevin Dineen and the Frankenteam Dale Tallon put together last July, it’s a golden opportunity to make their presence felt in the East. Talk about “right place, right time”. In fact, this season the franchise is off its best start dating way back to 1999.

So while Dineen’s counterparts around the division scramble to figure out which buttons to push and levers to pull, now would be an appropriate (and apparently necessary) time for us hockey fans to get a fix on this Florida Panthers team, a club we’ve been ignoring almost forever.

As a refresher of when the tide began to turn in Florida, you will no doubt recall General Manager Dale Tallon was brought to Sunrise in May 2010, with widely divergent opinions on his efforts in Chicago. Here are some FAQ's to get you through the rest of the tale.

What’s still the same for the Panthers from the Time Before Tallon? 
Not muchSpecifically just four regulars: Center piece veteran Stephen Weiss, back-up goalie Scott Clemmenson, depth forward Shawn Matthias, and the team’s 2009 first round pick, defenseman Dimitri Kulikov.

Mike Santorelli and Jason Garrison are relative newcomers who became Sunrise regulars last season as well.

What’s new this season?
Short answer: Everything. Or pretty close.

Kevin Dineen, head coach is in his first NHL season in this role after six seasons in Portland, the Sabres' AHL affiliate. Dineen recently became second only to Tampa Bay's Guy Boucher for coaching seniority in the Division, having been employed for over 6 months. In August, the former coach of the Atlanta Thrashers and NHL veteran, Craig Ramsay was brought in to assist him behind the bench. A couple others on the coaching staff came in Tallon’s first year.

Tallon’s bio describes him signing 10 UFA contracts in the first 2 days of the July 2011 (think about the logistics of that a moment). Add in some trades and prospects getting inked, and it’s no wonder you might have trouble getting a handle on the roster. Not like you were paying attention prior to this year anyway.

Brand spankin’ new:
Goalie Jose Theodore, Marco Sturm, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, Matt Bradley, Marcel Goc. We have a whole subset here of Tallon’s former Chicago Blackhawks: Tomas Kopecky, Jack Skille, Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell.

Previously seen in these parts, but back for a second tour:
Ed Jovanoski (selected 1st overall by the Panthers in 1994 and played 3 ½ seasons before being sent to the Canucks) and Mikael Samuelsson (37 games in 2003-04).

Last, but not least, young blueliner Erik Gudbranson (2010 1st round draft pick signed over the summer)

And who’s doing the work?
It’s a blend of old and new with the Fleischmann-Weiss-Versteeg line contributing 31 of the team's 68 goals this season (or 45.6%). The trio ranks first, second and third among Panthers players for points on the season and has failed to record at least one point in just 6 games this season.

Count Brian Campbell for most TOI/game average 26:43. Campbell leads the Cats defensive corps with 20 points, while newbie Jason Garrison has put up the most goals from the Blueline (8).

In goal, journeyman Jose Theodore has started the most games (19) and carries a 10-5-3 record, 2.28 GAA .924 Sv%. I'll spare you the obvious Tomas Vokoun snark.

Who is the AHL affiliate these days?
The Florida Panthers had a rocky relationship with the Rochester Amerks that finally dissolved last season. When Rochester became the Buffalo Sabres affiliate courtesy of Terry Pegula as part of a broad round of musical chairs between the NHL/AHL teams over the summer, Florida and San Antonio found each other as the last two available, almost joining by default. The injury toll in Florida has required a regular need for AHL call-ups - so much so that they have come to their fourth line the “San Antonio Express”.

Stats please
2010-11 Record 13-8-4; Home: 5-2-4 (meaning they’ve garnered points in 9 of 11 games in Sunrise); Away: 8-6-0

Travel demands from the NHL's southern-most outpost: The Panthers have the most miles (52, 751) to travel this season in the East and only 2nd in the league to the Los Angeles Kings.

At the moment their 5-on-5 GA/GF average is exactly 1.0 and 15th in the League. Both their special teams stats on the PP ad PK are also at a middling 15th in the NHL.

Attendance – this season the average is 15,697 (21st in the NHL) equivalent to 81.8% capacity. In 2009-10 (Before Tallon) that figure was 15,146 (78.7%) which was 25th .

Photo credit: Getty Images
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