As the Florida Panthers 2011-2012 season came to an end, it was clear that the team’s biggest weakness was its offensive production. At the conclusion of the regular season, Florida was 27th overall in goals per game. The Panthers struggled throughout the season to get consistent goal production and the lack of scoring held them back from being a true threat to win the Stanley Cup.
Though the Panthers had plenty of cap room, General Manager Dale Tallon chose not to chase any of the big name free agents in the offseason. Tallon and the Panthers were not in the running for Zach Parise and don’t appear likely to add Alexander Semin or trade for Rick Nash. In fact, Florida has done relatively little during free agency, electing to shore up the defense by adding Filip Kuba after losing Jason Garrison to the Vancouver Canucks and providing some more grit to the lineup with the signing of George Parros.
It could easily be argued that the loss of Jason Garrison and Mikael Samuelsson to free agency means the Florida Panthers are not as good of a team as they were last year. They lost two key contributors and still didn’t address their biggest team weakness.
So, the question remains:
Where is the offense going to come from?
If the Panthers GM is to be believed, it’s already in the organization, so there is no need to overpay a free agent to come to Florida.
“We’re looking to get centermen, top offensive players and there aren’t many around. The ones that are, are expensive” Tallon stated. “I said to these kids…that this is our future, this is our franchise.”
The Panthers GM made that statement while speaking to a group of future Panthers at Florida’s development camp in Coral Springs. One player that Tallon believes will make an immediate impact next year is Jonathan Huberdeau. The third overall pick in the 2011 draft is basically a lock to make the Panthers next year. Tallon noted that Huberdeau likely won’t be the only rookie to have an impact for Florida this year.
“Two or three of our kids will be in the lineup — Huberdeau can score” Tallon told reporters.
Huberdeau has been compared favorably to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews, a player that produced 54 points in an injury shortened rookie season. Fellow Blackhawk and Dale Tallon draftee Patrick Kane was able to score 72 points in his rookie campaign. If Huberdeau is able to provide that type of offensive punch in his first NHL season, then Tallon will have made the right decision not to overspend in free agency.
Another player that Tallon was speaking of who might make the big club this year is Quinton Howden. The 6’3″ forward could add some much needed size to a relatively small group of Panthers’ forwards. Howden is a power forward who could eventually become a force in the NHL, although the Panthers are hoping that he might simply be able to center a third or fourth line this year as he adjusts to the speed of the NHL game.
There’s no doubt that Tallon is taking a gamble by not addressing the offensive need through free agency. No one is ever sure how a rookie will respond to his first season in the NHL. The addition of the young players to the Panthers roster may lead to the team taking a step back from last year’s success. If the Panthers regress this upcoming season, they could lose a lot of the momentum and good will they had built in the South Florida community during last season’s playoff run and Southeast Division Championship.
With that said, Tallon has to make room for the kids in the organization sooner or later. It’s clear that the Panthers GM firmly believes in his draftees, just as he did in Chicago.
The Panthers can only hope that they provide a much needed spark to the offense.
Otherwise, Tallon just might regret his decision not to chase a big time free agent.
Charlie Crespo is a Florida Panthers Correspondent for TheHockeyWriters.com. His work has also been featured at SB Nation Tampa Bay, where he is the Assistant Editor, and at TheRumpus.net. In addition to his writing, Charlie is currently working on an MA in English Literature at Florida International University.