BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com
As Dale Tallon enters his third summer running the Panthers, he will help lead the franchise through its third draft under his watch as well as its third foray into free agency with Tallon behind the wheel.
And it appears Tallon will continue to head Florida's hockey operations as general manager for a few more years – at the very least.
The Panthers announced Wednesday that Tallon had signed a multi-year contract extension with the team. Terms were not announced, although it is believed Tallon signed another three-year pact with the team.
Tallon signed on for three seasons in 2010. His current contract would have expired following next season.
“I'm elated, over the moon for this,'' said Tallon said. “I couldn't see myself working for anyone else. .-.-. I want to be here forever. I'm still a young man. I'm fit, willing and able. I like it here, I like Florida, I like Cliff Viner and I like working with this organization.
"We have a long way to go, but I'm excited about our future. I don't want to be any other place. This is a thrill. I'm proud as hell to be a Florida Panther.''
The Panthers were a franchise in flux when Tallon was signed in May 2010 to take over for Randy Sexton.
Tallon has brought some stability to the Florida front office as he became the eighth general manager since 2000 to head the Panthers when he left the Chicago Blackhawks to take the reins in Sunrise.
Tallon served as the GM in Chicago from 2005 until being demoted in 2009 after a number of restricted free agent contracts weren't submitted to the league in time. Although many felt Tallon was a scapegoat, Tallon was replaced as GM and given a role as a senior advisor.
The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup not long after Tallon left for the Panthers and he was honored with not only a championship ring, but by having his name engraved on the Cup.
Tallon obviously hopes to create the same sort of championship magic in South Florida. The Panthers finished 14th in the Eastern Conference the year before Tallon arrived then were dead last in his initial campaign.
In Tallon's second season, however, Florida snapped an NHL-record 10-season postseason drought by winning the first division title in franchise history.
The Panthers took the eventual Eastern Conference champion Devils to seven games, the series decided by a single goal in double overtime. Florida's quick rise through the standings has given Tallon confidence things are definitely trending in the right direction.
“We gave [New Jersey] our best shot, were a goal away from moving on,'' Tallon said. “You don't know what would have happened in the next round. We don't deal in hypotheticals. The first round is the toughest round. We are happy but not satisfied. .-.-.
"This tells the league the Florida Panthers are in business. We're for real. We have a great franchise moving forward.''
Tallon has a number of issues to deal with, and said he has made contract offers to restricted free agent Kris Versteeg (coincidentally one of the players with the contract issue in Chicago) and backup goalie Scott Clemmensen.
Signing free agent defenseman Jason Garrison is also a priority, Tallon said, with an offer coming this week.
Tallon added that Florida would also like to talk to Mikael Samuelsson about returning as well.
“We're trying to take care of our guys, get Kris and Garrison signed,'' Tallon said. “We want to take care of the guys we have.''
Tallon is also gearing up for the draft in two weeks as the Panthers try to add to their stockpile of quality prospects.
Florida doesn't have a top three pick as it had in the past two drafts, but Tallon is confident the Panthers will get some good players. Florida's prospect system is considered by experts as the best in the league.
“This is a very proud day for me and for Dale,'' owner Cliff Viner said.
“It's a proud day for the whole organization. I think it was very important for us to give the contract extension to Dale for one very crucial reason: It's important for us to show our confidence in Dale so he have the certainty to execute his plan and our plan for long-term success. I think that's at the core for what's happening.''