If the Panthers blueprint for the future includes tearing things down before they can be built back up, general manager Dale Tallon just drove a bulldozer loaded with nitroglycerin through his team’s roster.
The NHL's trade deadline passed Monday afternoon and the Panthers, as expected, made plenty of changes. After trading Bryan McCabe and Cory Stillman in the days leading into Monday's trade deadline, Florida did more than just redecorate as the deadline approached.
Gone: Dennis Wideman, Radek Dvorak, Chris Higgins and Bryan Allen.
Still here: Tomas Vokoun, Stephen Weiss, Marty Reasoner and David Booth.
“We stuck to our plan. These were very hard decisions to make,'' Tallon said soon after the deadline ended, his Blackberry still ringing. “We kept our core together and kept our eye on the ball as far as the future is considered. We added picks, prospects and got younger. We really solidified our future.''
Florida’s moves gives Tallon a ton of money next year as the team has just $18 million in committed salaries. If the salary cap remains close to this year's ceiling of $58 million, that means Florida will have $40 million to remake things – if Tallon is allowed to spend close to the cap.
“We have lots of money to spend,'' Tallon said, eyes twinkling at the thought. “We have a lot freed up for next year. .-.-. We're going to be very aggressive on the free agent market. It's going to be hot-and-heavy come July.''
All told, the moves Florida started making on Thursday saved this year's bottom line close to $4 million in owed salaries. Nicklas Bergfors, who will likely be inserted into Florida's top lines, will make just $225,000 the rest of the season. Bergfors, as well as some of the other prospects picked up, will have a chance to make next year's roster.
Tallon said the Panthers direction is clear: Build through the draft, develop the organization's prospects and add free agents to compliment things.
Florida's moves started Thursday when Stillman went back to Carolina for a fifth round pick and Ryan Carter. On Saturday, Bryan McCabe went to the Rangers for a third round pick and Tim Kennedy.
On Monday, the Panthers and Thrashers kicked off deadline day with Florida getting the 23-year-old Bergfors (whose 29 points makes him Florida's fourth-leading scorer) and a veteran minor leaguer for Dvorak – the Panthers' all-time leader in games played for the franchise.
“When you see Stillman and McCabe go, you think to yourself 'I'm the next guy','' said Dvorak, drafted by the Panthers in 1995 and one of the few remaining members of the 1996 Eastern Conference champions still playing.
“It's something you have to live with and you move on. Atlanta is trying to make it to the playoffs. It's the business of hockey. Nothing you can do about it.''
The Panthers then made the second trade of the morning, sending Wideman – Florida's second leading scorer – to the Capitals for a third round pick and a big center prospect who is developing in the Single-A ECHL.
“I enjoyed everything here, was excited about moving forward but this is the nature of the business,'' Wideman said. “They are rebuilding here and Dale has a plan. They're going really young. That's the way it works.''
Florida then made a pure money move by sending Allen to the Hurricanes for winger Sergei Samsonov. Allen is signed through next season for $2.9 million; Samsonov makes comparable money, although his contract expires and he isn't expected to be invited back.
The fourth and final trade of the day surfaced after the deadline passed. Higgins, who has 11 goals but broke his thumb last week, was shipped to Vancouver for another third round pick and another prospect.
Florida now has 10 selections in next year's draft – including eight in the top 90. Florida did give up a fifth round pick in the Dvorak deal, but got more back as the day went on. Tallon says he's not through stockpiling draft picks.
“The future is most important for us. Draft picks, getting younger and better and moving forward, doing what we did in the past,'' said Tallon, who built the defending Cup champion Blackhawks.
The Panthers may be looking toward their future, but the present doesn't look too appealing. Before making roster moves Monday afternoon, the Panthers had five defensemen and holes on their forward lines.
Weiss, who could replace McCabe as the team's captain as early as this week, strongly denied Monday's early reports that he would only waive his no-movement clause to Toronto. Weiss has seen many a trade day go like Monday's and can only look on in envy to teams headed to the playoffs making moves to strengthen their current roster.
The Panthers, eight points out of a playoff spot coming into Monday, will almost certainly miss the postseason for what will be an NHL record-setting 10th straight season. Florida hasn't been to the playoffs since 2000 and haven't won a playoff series since Dvorak's group went to the Stanley Cup Finals 15 years ago.
“It's a tough day seeing friends move away, but they get to play on a playoff team and hopefully do well,'' Weiss said. “We haven't given up, but it's a long shot and they're making moves to better the future. It was expected. We put ourselves in this position. We're close but we're not that close.''
TUESDAY: PANTHERS AT HURRICANES
When, Where: 7 p.m.; RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM 560
The series: Hurricanes lead 46-35-11
The game: The Panthers get to see some old friends as Bryan Allen and Cory Stillman – traded to Carolina in the past week – square off against their former teammates for the first time. The Panthers are recalling Keaton Ellerby to replace Allen on defense. Carolina, which holds the last playoff spot in the east, have won three of five against the Panthers this season.