Friday January 1st, 2016

Early morning on New Year’s Day might not seem like the best moment to announce a major signing. Half the hockey world is focused on today’s Winter Classic. The other half? Well, let’s just say they’re catching up on some much-needed rest.

But as far as the Florida Panthers are concerned, the timing couldn’t be better to announce a new three-year extension for general manager Dale Tallon.

The Panthers are no one’s pushovers anymore. They’re coming off a terrific December, one during which they went 11-3, the second-best record of any team during that month as well as a franchise mark. And so they start the new year atop the Atlantic Division.

Of course, one good month doesn’t amount to much, especially in a division as tightly packed as the Atlantic where a playoff berth is a long way from being guaranteed. But what’s happening now is a bonus. This team was constructed for the long haul. Its best is yet to come.

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Tallon deserves much of the credit for that success, both current and in the future. Building on lessons he learned during his four-year tenure as GM of the Chicago Blackhawks, where he drafted Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and built a strong supporting cast by acquiring Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, he has completely overhauled the Panthers. Only one player, defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, remains from the group he inherited from his predecessor, Randy Sexton, in 2010.

During his term, Tallon has invested heavily in the draft. High-end choices like Jonathan Huberdeau (third, 2011), Aleksander Barkov (second, 2013) and Aaron Ekblad, (first, 2014) have paid immediate dividends, assuming heavy minutes and delivering performances beyond their years. His other top picks, Mike Matheson (23rd, 2012) and Lawson Crouse (11th, 2015), show immense promise and could be in the lineup as soon as next season.

Tallon has also overseen the selection of several players he picked up later in the process, like Rocco Grimaldi (33rd, 2011), Vince Trocheck (64th, 2011), Ian McCoshen (31st, 2013), Jayce Hawryluk (32nd, 2014) and Denis Malgin (102nd, 2015) who either have or are close to making significant contributions.

He has also made some savvy moves on the trade market, adding veterans like Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo to provide stability and leadership.There was also his tough, but proper, call to buy out the contract of Ed Jovanovski when the captain clearly had nothing left to give after the 2013-14 season.

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There have been a few misses along the way, too. Dave Bolland, a good soldier for Tallon while he was in Chicago, has been a disastrous signing as a free agent. The oft-injured center has scored just seven goals since signing a five-year, $27.5 million deal back in 2014. Alex Kovalev washed out shortly after signing as a free agent back in 2013. And the jury’s still out on the 2015 deal that saw Tallon send Jimmy Hayes to the Bruins for Reilly Smith.

Tallon also needs a plan to replace Luongo. The veteran keeper been brilliant this season, but at 36 he’ll age out before the core of this team hits its peak.

That said, no one expected Tallon to be perfect. He just needed to have a vision and see it through. Based on what he’s accomplished so far, he’s done just that. This extension was an easy choice for the organization.

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