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18 posts from June 2014

June 30, 2014

TIME TO SHOP: Florida Panthers buyout Jovo, head into free agency with plenty of cash


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
With his team for sale and under orders to not spend any money, last year's opening of the free agency market put Dale Tallon in the strange position of being a spectator.
The financial handcuffs have been taken off this time around.
When the NHL's free agent period opens Tuesday at noon, Tallon expects to be busy.
The Panthers, as far as free agents go, are back open for business. Whether Tallon can persuade top-end talent to sign up is another matter.
"We have addressed needs on our team and have a list of people we think can help us,'' Tallon said Saturday at the NHL draft. "Now it's a matter of selling them on the benefits of coming to Florida to help us turn the franchise around.
''We have great players, a goaltender [Roberto Luongo] and ownership willing to spend. It's a great place to live. We're using every tool possible to get guys to come to Fort Lauderdale.''
Although Tallon's work this week will be overshadowed by what his NBA neighbors in Miami do, Tallon will attempt to make a splash in signing a few defensemen as well as a few forwards.
Some needs could be filled through a trade or two, although Tallon is expected to get most of his new acquisitions via free agency.
Although this isn't the strongest free agent class in recent memory, there are players out there who could improve the Panthers' roster.
"We will be aggressive and have room to spend,'' Tallon said. "We have some needs and want to help our young guys develop. .-.-. help these young kids get through the potholes.''
Florida is a little over $30 million under the league-mandated cap of $69 million with new ownership telling Tallon he's authorized to be closer to the cap ceiling than the floor.
The Panthers are about $14 million shy of the cap floor ($51 million) but that will quickly change.
The signing of restricted free agents (noteably Dmitry Kulikov, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes and Erik Gudbranson) as well as top draft pick Aaron Ekblad should pull Florida closer to -- or even over -- the cap floor.
On Monday, captain Ed Jovanovski was officially bought out of the last season of his four-year contract.
Jovanovski's buyout -- for $2.75 million of the $4 million he was scheduled to make -- will not count against the cap as Florida used one of its two compliance (amnesty) buyouts it had at its disposal.
“We sincerely thank Ed for his seven years of service and dedication to the Florida Panthers and the South Florida community,” Tallon said in a statement issued by the team.
“This was not an easy decision.''
Although Jovanovski's money won't count against the cap, Florida does attribute $1.4 million from last year's buyout of Filip Kuba against it as well as $2.2 million of Kris Verteeg's retained salary from last year's trade with Chicago.
Florida has been rumored to be involved in a potential trade with Philadelphia which would bring former Tampa Bay star center Vinny Lecavalier back to the Sunshine State.
If that deal was to go through -- it's considered doubtful as Lecavalier's productivity has slipped and he's signed for three more years -- it wouldn't be until Wednesday.
Lecavalier, bought out by the Lightning last summer, is due a $2 million bonus on Tuesday and any team interested in the 2004 Stanley Cup champ wants the Flyers to pay that fee.
The Panthers could also have interest in some of the new additions to the free agency market. Like Jovanovski, a handful of other players were bought out and are able to sign with any team.
Those players include former Buffalo defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and Arizona center Mike Ribiero.
Florida could also resign fourth-line winger Jesse Winchester who scored a career-high nine goals last year.

June 29, 2014

END OF AN ERA: Florida Panthers to buy out Ed Jovanovski's final year

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- The Ed Jovanovski Era with the Florida Panthers is close to ending.
Jovanovski's long NHL career may be over as well.
On Sunday, the Panthers placed their captain on waivers with the intent to buy out the final year of the four-year deal he signed with Florida in 2011.
Jovanovski will get roughly $2.7 million of the $4 million owed to him by the Panthers as buy-out candidates get two-third their contract price per the collective bargaining agreement.
On Friday night, Jovanovski told the Miami Herald he wasn't sure what the Panthers were going to do before Monday's deadline.
The possibility of a buyout, however, was on his mind but still seemed to come as a surprise.
Jovanovski had hoped the Panthers, after he battled back from a serious and painful hip surgery, would allow him to end things on his own terms.
On Sunday, Jovanovski texted he wouldn't be making any public comment.
"This game has been really good to me and has given me everything I've ever needed in my life and my family's life,'' Jovanovski said at the end of last season.
The Panthers don't talk about players until they've cleared waivers. That's expected to come Monday at noon. When asked about Jovanovski on Friday, general manager Dale Tallon said there was no new update.
This was a very difficult decision for Tallon who is one of Jovanovski's biggest supporters.
"He's a leader and God bless him,'' Tallon said when Jovanovski returned in January. "What's he's doing is unbelievable. He's a tough SOB and I really like him. His teammates love him. If anyone would come back from this is Jovo. He's been terrific.''
The defenseman, whom Florida took with the top overall pick in 1994, spent seven of his 18 NHL seasons with the Panthers.
Florida traded him to Vancouver in 1999 as part of the Pavel Bure deal and he spent seven seasons with the Canucks before signing with the Coyotes as a free agent in 2006.
Jovanovski returned to the Panthers in 2011 as a free agent and played in 109 games over the past three years.
Last year, Jovanovski returned from major hip surgery and played in 37 games upon coming back in January.
Jovanovski, who turned 38 last week, became the first known professional athlete to return from hip resurfacing. After being limited to just six games in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Jovanovski had the very intrusive surgery and worked his way back to the lineup.
It was a slow, painful process.
"This has been a tough road, no question,'' Jovanovski said in April.
"When I came back and went through the rehab, there was that doubt of the chances of never playing again. .-.-. There were days in which I said 'what am I doing. It's an uphill battle.' There was no data on this, no one had done this before. When you look at the whole procedure, it's pretty wild what I have in my body to be doing what I'm doing. It's great being able to play the game I love.''
Jovanovski had been working out with the thought he would play next year and it's possible although unlikely another team gives him a chance to give it one more try.
If Jovanovski decides to retire, Florida could offer Jovanovski a position within the team something he said in April he would be receptive to. Being bought out by the Panthers, however, could change his feelings toward the team.
"I will do whatever takes off the ice to help a team win,'' he said. "It's something I love to do. I've been in this community so long, I'd love to see this franchise do well. I think the chips are falling in with the new owners. It's going to be an interesting summer. We'll see where that unfolds.''
Last season, Jovanovski said not being around the team during his injury was one of the worst things he's endured.
"It killed me,'' he said. "And it's one of those things I worry about when I am done. The dressing room is a great spot, having the opportunity to come in and shoot the breeze with the guys, hearing the young guys stories, going on the road and having the opportunity to be as a team. At the end of the day, do what you love to do.''

Here are some quotes from Jovanovski, Erik Gudbranson and Peter Horachek from last year.

On the Masterton nomination:
"I appreciate that, it's definitely an honor. For me, anytime you are nominated for something, it's a great honor. This has been a tough road, no question. When I came back and went through the rehab, there was that doubt of the chances of never playing again. Having the passion to come back and get in there and do my work, 35 games or so into it and not missing many practices, it's definitely a treat to be here.''
Where there times during rehab in which you doubted the process?:
"For the most part I tried to remain as upbeat as I could. There were days in which I said 'what am I doing. It's an uphill battle.' There was no data on this, no one had done this before. When you look at the whole procedure, it's pretty wild what I have in my body to be doing what I'm doing. It's great being able to play the game I love.''
Where there family members who said 'what are you doing?'
"Not so much by my wife. A lot of that came from my mom and dad. There were 18. 19 years of grinding. When I got back from my surgery and they saw what I went through that first week ... It wasn't fun. It was miserable. As the days move on, your attitude is, well the sun comes up kind of thing. Everything is moving forward. With the rehab regimen these days, you're right back at it and you start feeling better. That's kind of what happened to me. You have to start somewhere.''
Where do you rank coming back on your list of accomplishments?
"It's got to be up there. We all enjoy the great seasons, the teams. But this one really hits home.''
You're not done yet, right?
"I think working out off the ice, then on the ice and getting into game action for me, it's going to be a really important summer to concentrate on an 82 game schedule. Really work at playing and having success. There is no other way to put it. I have to work hard. When you put your mind to it, anything is a possibility.''
Have you talked to Dale about your future?
"No. I have a year on my contract and I plan on fulfilling it.''
So if it's up to you, you'll be here for training camp?
Feel how you've shown the kids how it's done?
"It's not so much showing it. You don't wish anyone to go through what I went to. There are a lot of prevention things today like what [Huberdeau] went through like scoping. This was kind of a last resort kind of thing to first and foremost improve my quality of life, be able to play with my kids, bend over and put my socks on and tie my shoes. I was lost at one point. It was a daily struggle to do a lot of things. But if they can see anything, it's anything is possible. This game has been really good to me and has given me everything I've ever needed in my life and my family's life. The opportunity is through the roof for these guys financially and being able to do what they want to do.''
How much did you miss the game, being around the team?
"It killed me. And it's one of those things I worry about when I am done. The dressing room is a great spot, having the opportunity to come in and shoot the breeze with the guys, hearing the young guys stories, going on the road and having the opportunity to be as a team. At the end of the day, do what you love to do. We play a game. It's hard, a lot of the things that go unnoticed. The travel; yes we do fly on charters, but it's a grind getting in at 2, 3 in the morning and have to get ready in the morning. It tests you that much more. But it killed me not being around the guys and that's something that bothers me when it's all going to be over.''
Want to stick around the game?
"Yeah, that's something that is definitely a possibility. I love the game that much. I will do whatever takes off the ice to help a team win. It's something I love to do. I've been in this community so long, I'd love to see this franchise do well. I think the chips are falling in with the new owners. It's going to be an interesting summer. We'll see where that unfolds.''
"It was a serious injury to come back from as a hockey player and at his age as well, the passion he's shown and character he's shown to come back, it was for the love of the game. That's really impressive.
"Having him in the dressing room is a huge piece. It's noticeable when he's not here. That battle he's shown, the determination, is something we all need to learn from. Hockey isn't forever and to show that passion is an amazing thing to see. His return has been seamless. He basically took a year off and it's a tough thing to do and come back and play. It's quite the invasive surgery. It's a big deal. For him to come back is amazing to see. I don't think a lot of guys could have done what he's overcome. That's a true testament to what he's all about.
"He's here for the love of the game. That's a passionate man right there. That's something we should all learn from and everyone in this locker room should take note of it.''
"The perseverance of that is incredible. Where you are in your career and going through a surgery, as we've talked before, no one has ever returned from. I think it's the same surgery Bo Jackson had.
"Playing later in your career is tough, the day-to-day and the travel and the recovery. To come back and work hard enough and have the doctors clear him, give him credit for that.
"They are big kids at heart. He may be late 30s, but they love the game. That's what they love, they are their happiest on the ice. The young guys see that, see that fight through and injury and spend months and months of recovery time. He went through training camp and had the disappointment of the doctor saying it's not healed. He continued to push until he got back in. It's a great story.

June 28, 2014

PANTHERS DRAFT BUILD CONTINUES: Florida goes winger heavy on draft's second day


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- Jayce Hawryluk came to the second day of the NHL draft figuring he wouldn't wait long to hear his name called.
Florida general manager Dale Tallon, after all, told the winger from Manitoba he would be the Panthers' selection with the 32nd overall pick if he was still on the board.
Finnish winger Juho Lammikko, on the other hand, had no idea he would land Florida after not meeting with the Panthers in the days leading up to the draft.
Yet here both were, wearing matching red Florida jerseys with their draft year stitched on the back.
"They are a good young team with good players,'' Hawryluk said after Florida took him with the second pick of the second round at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday morning.
"It's a good organization and I'm happy to be there. They told me I was their guy at 32 and they kept their promise. That means a lot to me. Of course, anything could change. But they kept their word.''
Said Tallon: "He has speed, toughness and skill. There are a lot of things to like.''
Florida didn't have a third round pick before Tallon made his lone trade of the weekend in a deal with the Islanders. The Panthers gave up a third round pick in next year's draft -- one Florida is hosting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise -- for the 65th overall selection on Saturday.
With that pick, Florida went after a versatile winger in Lammikko. Tallon said he liked what he saw from Lammikko at the world under-18 tournament during the spring.
Lammikko played 20 games in the Finnish elite league last year but Tallon said he may play in North America next season.
"It was an awesome feeling when I heard my name called,'' said Lammikko, who is expected to join the rest of Florida's 2014 draft class at development camp starting July 7.
The Panthers came into the second and final day of the draft with four selections but ended with five after making the deal with the Islanders.
With their next two picks, Florida stayed on its forward route taking wingers Joe Wegworth and Miguel Fidler in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively.
Neither player is expected to be part of the Panthers any time soon.
Wegworth, who is part of the U.S. developmental team, plans to play in the USHL junior league for the Green Bay Gamblers next year. After that, he's committed to play at Notre Dame.
Fidler is a high school player from Edina, Minnesota, and also plans to play in the USHL as well next season. Then, it's off to Ohio State.
"I like to play a physical game, hit people. I want to bring that to the Panthers someday,'' Wegworth said.
With its final pick of the day, Florida went away from forwards and took Swedish goalie Hugo Fagerblom in the seventh round.
"We added size and players who are hard to play against,'' Tallon said.
D Aaron Ekblad, first overall pick
RW Jayce Hawryluk, second round (32nd)
C/W Juho Lammikko, third round (65th)
RW Joe Wegwerth, fourth round (92nd)
LW Miguel Fidler, fifth round (143rd)
G Hugo Fagerblom, seventh round (182nd)

PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Tallon ready to hit free agents next week ... John Madden returning as assistant

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- The Panthers were quiet at this draft after much speculation Dale Tallon would be as busy as any general manager in the building.
Florida's lone trade of the week was the minor third-round swap with the Islanders.
Tallon shopped the first overall pick but kept it and took
top-rated defenseman Aaron Ekblad on Friday night.
"The timing wasn't right for trades,'' Tallon said. "With being able to talk to free agents and the draft, you didn't have time to get to the meat of the matter. It made it a little difficult to get conversations about a deal.''
For Tallon, his focus turns away from the amateur players and toward pending free agents. Tallon said he's looking for a couple defensemen and forwards.
This year, teams were allowed to talk to free agents before the signing period begins at noon Tuesday.
-- Tallon said Florida has made qualifying offers to most of its restricted free agents including defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson.
Florida didn't offer Steven Anthony, Matthias Lindstrom, Anthony Luciani and Jonathan Hazen.
-- John Madden will return to the Panthers as an assistant coach next season under new head coach Gerard Gallant.
Madden, who won three Stanley Cups as a center with New Jersey and Chicago, was in his first year as a pro scout when he was asked to join Peter Horachek's staff when Kevin Dineen was fired in November.
Tallon said Brian Skrudland, who was also on Horachek's staff, could return as well.
Skrudland has a year left on his contract and could go back to being Florida's director of player development.
"We have a few names,'' Tallon said. "We'll get it all done.''

June 27, 2014

JOVO'S JOINT: 'Ekblad can come crash at my place'


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- Ed Jovanovski and Aaron Ekblad have a few things in common.
Not only were both the first overall selections in the NHL draft by the Florida Panthers, but both are also defensemen from the Windsor, Ontario, area.
On Friday, Jovanovski watched the draft and checked out clips of Ekblad. The Panthers captain came away impressed.
"I think he's going to be a stud in this league for a long time,'' said Jovanovski, Florida's top pick in 1994.
When Ekblad comes south in the coming days, he says he wants to reach out and talk to Jovanovski about hockey, the Panthers, South Florida, whatever.
Not only would Jovanovski welcome a meeting, but he offered a little more on Friday night.
"I have few extra bedrooms so if he wants to, he can crash here with me,'' Jovanovski said.
"Players have extended that kind of invitations before and he sounds like a nice kid. Any way I can help him I will.''

EKBLAD TALKS: Panthers first pick meets the media

PHILADELPHIA -- Here is the complete transcript from Aaron Ekblad's inital news conference after being the first overall pick by the Florida Panthers on Friday. The transcripts are provided from the NHL through ASAP Sports.


June 27, 2014

Aaron Ekblad


Q. What's your reaction?
AARON EKBLAD: Honestly, it's pure relief. I have never been a part of such a suspenseful event in my entire life, and I think my parents can say the same. It's a very special moment and I'm very proud of everyone who's helped me get to this point.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: I am. I've said that from the very beginning that I believe in myself and I'm confident, and I think if you don't believe in yourself and you're not confident, you're putting yourself behind the 8‑ball right off the bat. I believe if I work hard this summer I can step into the NHL next year. Obviously I'm going to need a lot of help and it's going to be a learning curve, but I'm confident in myself.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: I did not know. I was freaking out there for a second when he stopped. It was breathtaking to say the least. It was breathtaking.

Q. Did you think he was going to call Sam's name?
AARON EKBLAD: I had no idea. Obviously I was hoping for the best, hoping for my name to be called. But you never want to hope for someone else. But it's a great experience, and I've got to thank the guys here that were drafted, as well, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Draisaitl, and I'm not sure if (inaudible) has gone yet, but they're all my great friends and I'm very proud of those guys, as well.

Q. A lot of young talent in Florida. Are you excited to be part of that pool?
AARON EKBLAD: Of course. It's pretty cool. They have a young corps and they won a Stanley Cup. This D corps in a couple years is going to be pretty good, and of course if I'm a part of that I hope to help out.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: Talking with him and‑‑ NHL combine, stuff like that? You know what, they were pretty relaxed. They didn't tip their hat or show any cards off the table. They were joking around with me a second ago and said they knew from the very beginning, but who knows. Obviously they want to look for the best possible option, and if they believe in me, then that's great.

Q. Did they make it clear that they want to win now and that's why they picked you?
AARON EKBLAD: I'm sure that's the case. I haven't had an extensive talk with them, but other than at the combine and stuff like that. But I feel like I can step in next year and make a difference.

Q. How about playing with guys like Gudbranson and Kulikov and mentioned some guys, Olsen and talk about that young corps of defenseman.
AARON EKBLAD: That's great. Obviously that's what I want to see. I want to jump into a young corps where I can help and be a leader within those guys and let them lead me and support me. I think it's a two‑way street that way, and I think that'll help me out a lot next year.

Q. The way this crowd was going tonight, were you afraid you were going to get booed?
AARON EKBLAD: For a second there my dad was like, don't worry about it, it's not you. But that's the way it is. That's hockey, and I think the Philadelphia fans are very proud of hockey's youth these days. Well, why wouldn't you be, right? You want the game to grow, and that's what we're all doing here.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: Yeah, it's pretty special actually that Ed Jovanovski is actually from my hometown and 20 years apart we were both picked first overall. That's a story in its own. I have yet to meet him, and hopefully I do soon and get to talking with him about next year and the Florida Panthers.

Q. Maybe he'll invite you out to dinner. He's got a nice spread.
AARON EKBLAD: I'm sure he does.

Q. Who was here for you tonight?
AARON EKBLAD: My entire family. I don't want to leave anyone out, but a lot of people, 25, 30 people. A couple of my best friends, aunts, uncles, grandfather. My grandma is back home watching right now, couldn't make it obviously. Of course I love her and everyone else that's helped me along the way.

Q. Who was your biggest influence in life?
AARON EKBLAD: I think from the very beginning my dad, he's the first one to put me in skates, and I think the best thing is he never pushed me to play the game. I had passion for it, and from the very beginning once a stick was in my hand and my boots were laced up, I was ready to go and ready to believe in myself and be confident, and of course there was times when I stepped off the tracks, but they're always there to put you back on and dust you off and get you ready to go.

Q. What does a day like today (inaudible)?
AARON EKBLAD: By far the longest day of my entire life. That's obvious. Like I said, I've never been through more of a suspenseful day. Like I said, they didn't tip their hat. They didn't show their cards whatsoever, and that's what made it all the more exciting, and the anxiety was building up there.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: The new coach? I have. I met him yesterday afternoon. Obviously I think he's going to have some great ideas to try and turn this team around and get them winning.

Q. Did you have any advance notice that you were going to be the pick before they announced you?
AARON EKBLAD: No, I didn't. I was sitting there just kind of scared and excited at the same time.

Q. How does the pressure from trying to go No.1, how does the pressure change, the nature of it, from trying to be drafted to now all the expectations that come with being drafted high?
AARON EKBLAD: Oh, it's never ending. There's always a burden of expectation that's always going to be there, but it's what you make of it, that pressure and all that is just motivation for me.

Q. How do you deal with it?
AARON EKBLAD: There's help everywhere, my parents, my brother, all my friends, great support group. I know guys that play in the NHL right now that I could turn to at any point and they'd be able to give me the best advice out there.

Q. Talk about the Barrie Colts.
AARON EKBLAD: The Barrie Colts are such a classy organization. I've been there for three years now. I was the captain of the team in my last year. My teammates over the last three years, I don't want to mention any names and leave anyone out, but they know who they are and they've really helped me. I wouldn't be where I was today if it wasn't for my rookie year, I've got to say Reid McNeill. He turned me into the player I am today because he forced me to talk and forced me to keep my stick on the puck and all that kind of stuff. He was just a really good mentor for me in my rookie year. I've got to name names. Norm Ezekiel, I lived with him my first year. Colin Behenna, Mark Scheifele, Tanner Pearson, guys that you'll see in the NHL now, Tanner Pearson just won a Stanley Cup. It's pretty amazing what these guys have done. Brendan Lemieux this year, Johnny Laser, my defense partner for the last couple of years. Some of these guys are my best friends, and it's so amazing to go through hockey and have that, Dale Hawerchuk as a coach, one of the best coaches around and one of the best players to ever play the game. So it's a classy organization, and I'm proud to be a part of them and be a part of the Florida Panthers, as well.

Q. Given your journey here, do you feel older than your years?
AARON EKBLAD: I have a lot of life experience you could say. I think there's still a lot more I need to learn and a lot more life experiences for me out there for sure.

Q. Did it help you being the No.1 pick in the OHL, as well?
AARON EKBLAD: Yeah, the youngest, the guy under the most scrutiny, it always seems to follow me around. Like I said, that kind of pressure is motivation for me.

Q. (Inaudible) being the first defenseman in eight years to go first in the NHL draft?
AARON EKBLAD: Like I said, that's the burden of expectation, but I chase it. I want that burden of expectation. I want that feel for motivation, and I want to succeed under that.

Q. What will the Panthers see from you? What's your specialty?
AARON EKBLAD: Strong, responsible defense. That's the position I play, and that's what I plan on doing when I get there. Of course I want to contribute offensively, as well.

Q. Did Dale say anything cool to you when you first talked, not like tonight, after the pick? Did he have any words of wisdom?
AARON EKBLAD: Honestly I'll probably remember it later on. I can't remember right now what exactly was going on. I was a little bit blurry‑eyed, but maybe I'll figure it out later.

Q. Obviously when you're going to be a top pick, do you start looking at some of the teams that you might end up going to?
AARON EKBLAD: Of course. You look through who they have on their back end, right or left shots, all that kind of stuff. Obviously I was watching to see if Florida would get a new coach, all that kind of stuff. It lasted a while. It's pretty fun to just follow that after the season. Of course during the season you want to focus on winning games with your club team.

Q. That said, did you follow any of the trade talk or any of that stuff?
AARON EKBLAD: I followed it quite a bit. I think my roommate, Brendan Lemieux in Barrie was all over that stuff. It's pretty funny.

Q. Were guys tweeting you tonight before the draft?
AARON EKBLAD: Yeah, my phone was blowing up all night. I don't remember any of the specific trade rumors. I actually didn't have time to read all the tweets. I just wanted to scroll through them and see how many there were.

Q. Pretty impressive reaction you got in the trade market?
AARON EKBLAD: What do you mean, for people to trade up?

Q. All the teams that allegedly wanted to trade up for you?
AARON EKBLAD: That's cool. I didn't follow it all that closely, but they didn't.

Q. Just looking at the Panthers, what were some of the things you saw in the team as far as where you might fit in.
AARON EKBLAD: Obviously they have‑‑ well, right now they have three right‑handed shots, four lefts. I want to play on that team as a right‑handed shot and I want to play the power play and all that kind of stuff. Of course I'm going to be a young guy and they may have guys there already. I'm willing to step into a role and play a team game. I take pride in being a good teammate and all that kind of stuff. I'm there to learn at first. I'm going to be learning from some great players, some young guys who have just stepped in, some older players who have had storied careers. It's going to be a learning curve for me, and I want to keep that as short as possible so I can start making an impact.

Q. Talk about the fan reaction tonight when you got drafted No.1.
AARON EKBLAD: The fans of Philly?

Q. Yeah.
AARON EKBLAD: Honestly, like I said, I'm blurry‑eyed and I can't remember what happened. Were they excited or what? That's awesome. It's a great experience for me, a great opportunity, and I'm really looking forward to next year.

Q. When we spoke to you before the world juniors you told me you didn't expect to make that team and you told me you had a lot to learn this season. I guess between now and then, what do you feel has been your biggest improvement in your game?
AARON EKBLAD: Yeah, actually before the season even started I said I'd have to have a pretty unbelievable start to play for the world junior team. I thought that was a myth in its own to even be considered for that. So that's a pretty good accomplishment for sure. I worked a lot on my skating. Once you get into a routine of working on, whether it was my shot or my skating after practice, before practice every day, it turns into just something that becomes easy to you.

Q. What are your thoughts on living in Florida?
AARON EKBLAD: I love warm weather for sure. I think you can see the tan on me a little bit. But no, I think there's a lot of things you can get distracted from down there other than hockey, and I want to focus on hockey. That's what I'm there for, and during the season that will be my goal.

Q. What about golf?
AARON EKBLAD: I'm actually not much of a golfer at all, so that's a plus for them.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: Of course. There's certain things I want to do with my career. I actually keep those to myself.

Q. (Inaudible).
AARON EKBLAD: I've never really been a vocal guy. I have a lot to learn if I want to play in the NHL next year, and even if I am there, I'm still going to have a lot to learn from, like I said, some very special people.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

EKBLAD'S NO. 1: Panthers keep pick, take defenseman with first selection of NHL draft


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- Only twice in their history have the Florida Panthers used the top pick in the NHL draft.
Both times they selected a strapping defenseman from the Windsor, Ontario, area.
Taking Ed Jovanovski 20 years ago worked out pretty well for the Panthers. They hope Aaron Ekblad does as well.
Ekblad became the latest member of the Panthers on Friday as Florida made the 6-4 blueliner the first selection in the 2014 draft at Wells Fargo Center.
"It's exciting. Florida has a young core and wants to win a Stanley Cup,'' said Ekblad, 18.
"This team is going to be pretty good in a couple of years and I want to be part of it. I just want to help out.''
Said Jovanovski: "I think he's going to be a stud in this league for a long time.''
After weeks of speculation that general manager Dale Tallon would trade the first pick, Florida didn't get the deal it wanted and stood pat.
Tallon confirmed rumors Florida had offers from Vancouver and Philadelphia. In the end, Tallon didn't get what he felt was enough to bypass Ekblad.
Tallon said he decided at noon on Friday that Florida would keep the pick and informed Philadelphia -- which had made "substantial" offers as Tallon said -- of his decision.
"We laid out all the pros and cons, what was best for the franchise and by noon we decided to say no to the offers,'' Tallon said.
"Based on what we had, the kind of kid this is, he fits into what we're doing. We have another 6-4 kid with character. We're building this block by block. We're building through the draft. He's a man, a big, strong physical kid.''
Said new coach Gerard Gallant: "We knew the kid wanted to come to Florida, wanted to be the first pick. The kid knew he was coming when he walked out of our meeting. .-.-. Dale entertained all options. But I think he was always going to use it. He wanted that kid.''
Tallon made the announcement in front of what had been a raucous, typical Philadelphia crowd. Tallon calmed down the masses by opening his statement by complimenting the city. In turn, Ekblad was cheered by the large crowd. His father prepared him for the worst, however.
"He said not to worry about it, it not about you,'' Ekblad said. "Hey that's part of it, that's hockey. Philadelphia fans are very proud.''
Ekblad had been paying attention to the trade rumors via social media leading up to the draft, saying his phone was "blowing up."
Tallon kept the suspense going by staggering his announcement, only leaking that the Panthers were "proud to select from the Ontario Hockey League," before pausing for effect.
With other top prospects Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl -- who would go second and third respectively -- coming from the Western Hockey League, Tallon's stall narrowed down things considerably.
"It was breathtaking to say the least,'' Ekblad joked. "I was hoping for the best, hoping for my name to be called. It was a great experience.''
On the ice, Ekblad is expected to compete for a roster spot when training camp opens in September. Ekblad, who said he's never been to South Florida, should introduce himself to the locals at Florida's development camp in July.
Ekblad, the first defenseman to be the first overall pick since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006, feels he's ready to play in the NHL right now.
"I believe in myself and I'm confident,'' Ekblad said. "If you don't believe in yourself, you're behind the 8-ball right off the bat. I'm going to work hard this summer and be ready to play in the NHL next year.''
Tallon said the expectation is Ekblad will be on the team next year although when Florida took Erik Gudbranson third in 2010, Tallon and the Panthers sent him back to junior for an additional year.
On Friday, Gudbranson -- as well as Jonathan Huberdeau -- welcomed Ekblad to Florida via Twitter.
"He's 18 going on 30,'' Tallon said. "Bobby Orr is a great friend and represents him. That helped as well.''
Allowed to enter the OHL draft early as a after being granted the rare 'exceptional player' status by Hockey Canada, Ekblad seems confident enough to make the transition to the next level. Ekblad is one of four to receive that designation and the only defenseman.
But will he return to the Barrie Colts next year or stay in Florida?
"He'll have a wonderful opportunity with us,'' Tallon said.

June 26, 2014

DRAFT DAY DEAL?: Panthers expected to be busy come Friday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- Dale Tallon and the Panthers are sitting in a pretty sweet spot.
When the NHL's annual draft opens Friday night, Tallon will either be headed to the podium with the first overall pick or he would have already traded it for some immediate help.
Tallon figures the Panthers will be in a better position whichever way he goes.
"It's going to be a tough decision,'' said Tallon, who said he has received two "concrete" offers for the first pick.
"We've had some offers that are intriguing. One really intriguing one. We'll have a sleepless [Friday] night as we as a staff are going to sit on it, ponder it. If we take the pick, we're excited about that as well.''
For the fourth time in 20 drafts, Florida holds the top pick after finishing 29th out of 30 teams and winning the ping-pong aided draft lottery.
"I like having the first pick but I don't ever want it again,'' Tallon sneered. "But it's nice to have it this year so we can have some fun with it and shop it around. We'll see what people are willing to pay for it.''
Only one time -- when the Panthers took current captain Ed Jovanovski first in 1994 -- has Florida actually kept the top selection for itself.
In 2002, the Panthers traded away the first overall pick to Columbus with the Blue Jackets taking Rick Nash first and Florida sliding to third to grab Jay Bouwmeester.
The following year, GM Rick Dudley again traded the top selection -- this time to Pittsburgh. The Penguins went with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Florida took Nathan Horton.
Tallon could make this a third straight top-pick trade-away for the Panthers on Friday.
A number of teams are thought to be serious contenders to move all the way up -- although Tallon says Florida could simply sit pat.
"Seventy percent we keep the pick,'' he said.
The Panthers need help throughout the organization although they've stockpiled talent over the past few seasons.
That's why Florida figures this year's draft pick could be expendable.
The Panthers are looking for established forwards and defensemen while getting a first round pick in return. Tallon said earlier in the week that he didn't want to drop out of the top 10.
"[The offers] are over an above what we thought we would get,'' Tallon said, although he wouldn't devolve names nor teams. "We have another offer close to it. We'll see what happens in the next 24 hours.''
Aaron Ekblad, projected to be a top-end defenseman for years to come, is thought to be Florida's choice if it holds onto the top selection.
The Panthers, after all, bypassed defenseman Seth Jones last year when it took center Aleksander Barkov with the second overall pick.
"If you get the opportunity here, you have to prove yourself,'' Ekblad said. "Obviously you're not in control of this situation at all. I have no idea what's going to happen or where I'm going to go. The cards of my life are up in the air right now.''
If the Panthers hold pat, Tallon said the decision on whose name he will call out on the big stage has already been made -- and has been for some time.
"I know who I'm taking but you don't,'' Tallon joked to the large media contingent covering his impromptu news conference. "It's not clear cut, but we know who we're taking.''
Thursday was one last chance for the top prospects to try and impress their prospective employers.
Tallon, who met with a number of prospects at the NHL combine in Toronto earlier this month, said he likes what he's seen.
Although this draft is called weaker than in the past, Tallon says he sees strength in its numbers.
"I disagree,'' he said. "It's a very good draft.''
With everyone knowing Tallon is receptive to a deal, it didn't seem like the top candidates to go No. 1 were buying Panthers gear just yet.
Ekblad is considered the favorite to go first with forwards Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Leon Draisaitl to go soon afterward.
Yet no one knows what's going to happen, especially if Trader Tallon strikes again at the draft. On Thursday, Tallon said he "loved this time of year.''
"Everyone is weighing the possibilities,'' Reinhart said. "They're all trying to get to know us and you want to talk to everyone. It's pretty unpredictable right now. I'm trying not to think about it honestly. I'm just trying to stay as relaxed as I can.''

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Net; WQAM-560
Note: Friday will consist of the first 30 picks through the end of the first round. The draft will be completed Saturday at 10 a.m. (Rounds 2-7).

June 23, 2014

GETTING TO WORK: Gerard Gallant takes reins of Florida Panthers


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Gerard Gallant knows he has plenty of work to do with the Florida Panthers and is wasting little time.
Introduced as the newest coach of the Panthers on Monday morning, Gallant planned on driving to the team's training facility in the afternoon to start breaking down film of his new charges.
"It's going to be a good run,'' said Gallant, who said he was offered the job last Wednesday night and later signed a three-year deal.
"I'm really looking forward to it. I can't wait to start the season.''
An assistant coach in Montreal the past two seasons, Gallant flew to South Florida a few days after the Canadiens were knocked out of the playoffs by the Rangers.
"You always hear a negative from someone here or there,'' general manager Dale Tallon said, "and I never heard a negative word about Gerard Gallant in any capacity.
"He's honest, has terrific character and is a hard worker and is sincere. He also wants to have fun. He's a pleasure to be around. We hit it right off and it wasn't a great time for him. The Canadiens had just been beat out. He could have been a miserable SOB but he wasn't. That's his nature. We have a lot of players who need this kind of coach.''
Gallant, who coached Panthers' winger Jonathan Huberdeau in Canadian junior hockey, sold Tallon on his work ethic, his teaching methods and ability to help turn teams around.
When Gallant joined the Canadiens, they were coming off a horrible season in which Montreal finished 27th in the league.
With Gallant assisting Michel Therrien behind the bench, Montreal bounced back and made the playoffs the past two seasons.
With a lot of young talented players and Tallon heading out to acquire some veterans either through trades or free agency, Gallant said he sees similarities between the two situations.
"You look at their roster and you look at their core players and I  think this is a great opportunity," Gallant said.
"The league is so close, the teams are so close together, you can turn things around in a hurry. That's what I see with the Florida team."
Tallon said that Gallant is the right fit for a Panthers team trying to find their way. As head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2004-06 as well as junior hockey in Canada, Gallant has experience coaching both veterans and younger players.
"It was very important to get the right guy with the team we have in place,'' Tallon said. "He can teach the young kids and demand respect from the veteran players. It's a perfect scenario; they can all grow together.''
Ownership was said to have preferred Dan Bylsma, who coached the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in his first year and was in the playoffs all six years in Pittsburgh, at the start of the process but Gallant won them over.
After his initial meeting with Tallon in South Florida, Gallant interviewed with owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu as well as CEO Rory Babich in New York.
"We're not in the business of doing something because of the financials,'' Tallon said when asked if Bylsma's monetary demands priced him out of the job. "That just didn't work. We're in the business of getting the best fit for our organization and making the best team possible for the long haul. That's how we made the decision.''
Said Babich: "In our first meeting with coach, we were completely taken with him. We looked at where we're at and believe we're on the cusp of doing something special here in South Florida.''
Gallant knew the competition for the job was steep. Gallant doesn't have the coaching resume of Bylsma or other candidates such as Marc Crawford (won the Cup in 1996 with Colorado) and Tom Renney (nine seasons as a head coach).
With that in mind, Gallant sold the Panthers on himself.
A former winger who spent 11 seasons in the league with Detroit and Tampa Bay, Gallant said he worked hard to get the Florida job. This, he said, is where he wanted to be.
Having former Detroit teammate Steve Yzerman, a Hall of Famer who is now GM of the Lightning, as a reference didn't hurt.
"People ask about Dale trying to impress me. I came here saying I wanted this job,'' Gallant said. "I didn't interview for anything else. I worked hard for this job. I wasn't a big free agent guy, just an assistant trying to become an NHL head coach again. When he called me with the news, I was very excited. I'm looking forward to the challenge.''
With Gallant hired, Tallon can now focus on improving the Florida roster. Tallon plans to fly to Philadelphia on Tuesday to continue preparing for the upcoming draft.
Florida holds the top pick after winning the draft lottery although Tallon is entertaining offers for it. Tallon said on Monday that he's spoken to a dozen teams regarding the top selection but he's holding out for now.
Tallon is thought to be asking for immediate help but also wants to remain in the top third of the first round. That leaves nine teams as potential trading partners.
The draft starts Friday at 7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
"I've had one concrete offer,'' Tallon said. "It was a fair offer. But I may as well wait until the end and see what happens. It'll probably be Thursday night or Friday morning. It's exciting.''

June 22, 2014


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The NHL released its full schedule for the 2014-15 season on Sunday with the Panthers once again playing each team in the league at least twice.
The Panthers will open at Tampa Bay on Oct. 9 with the home opener against New Jersey two days later. Florida will end the regular season against the Devils on April 11. The Panthers finish the regular season with a five-game homestand.
Florida will play the bulk of its schedule (30 of the 82 games) within the Atlantic Division. Twenty-four of Florida's games will be against the east's Metropolitan Division and the other 28 come against the Western Conference.
The Panthers will play four games each (two home, two away) against Tampa Bay, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and Detroit. Florida will play Montreal (three home, two away) and Buffalo (two home, three away) five times this season.
Twenty four of Florida's games will come on consecutive days with nine of those back-to-back sets coming on the road; three sets will be at home.
Florida's longest homestand of the season is seven games against Chicago, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Dallas, the Islanders and Winnipeg from Feb. 26-March 12. The Panthers' longest road trip kicks off 2015 with six games at Buffalo, Washington, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg from Jan. 2-13.
The Panthers will not play from Jan. 20-26 because of the All-Star break. This season's All-Star weekend will be held in Columbus.
Other highlights:
-- The Panthers will be home for the holidays as usual, hosting Minnesota, Carolina and Ottawa around Thanksgiving.
Florida will also host a four-game homestand in late December against Pittsburgh, Toronto, Montreal and the Rangers. Florida will play the Canadiens and Rangers on consecutive nights on Dec. 30-31.
The New Year's Eve game will be the Rangers only visit to Sunrise. Florida plays at New York twice (Feb. 2, March 15).
-- The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings make their only visit to Sunrise on Feb. 5. Florida visits Los Angeles on Nov. 18.
-- Goalie Roberto Luongo will play in Vancouver for the first time since being traded back to the Panthers on Jan. 8. The Canucks visit Florida on Jan. 19.
-- New coach Gerard Gallant returns to Montreal -- he spent the past two seasons as a Canadiens assistant -- on Feb. 19.
-- Florida will also play six preseason games with two (Dallas on Sept. 24, Tampa Bay on Oct. 2) at home.
The Panthers travel to Nashville for a double-header on Sept. 27 and also visit Dallas (Sept. 29) and Tampa Bay (Oct. 4).
The Panthers will officially introduce Gallant at a news conference Monday at 11 a.m.
The conference, in which general manager Dale Tallon and CEO Rory Babich are expected to attend, will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Florida.

Thu. 10/9/14 Florida Tampa Bay 7:30 PM
Sat. 10/11/14 New Jersey Florida 7:00 PM
Mon. 10/13/14 Ottawa Florida 7:30 PM
Fri. 10/17/14 Florida Buffalo 7:00 PM
Sat. 10/18/14 Florida Washington 7:00 PM
Tue. 10/21/14 Florida Colorado 9:00 PM
Sat. 10/25/14 Florida Arizona 9:00 PM
Thu. 10/30/14 Arizona Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 11/1/14 Philadelphia Florida 7:00 PM
Tue. 11/4/14 Florida Boston 7:00 PM
Thu. 11/6/14 Florida Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Sat. 11/8/14 Calgary Florida 3:00 PM
Tue. 11/11/14 San Jose Florida 7:30 PM
Fri. 11/14/14 N.Y. Islanders Florida 7:30 PM
Sun. 11/16/14 Florida Anaheim 8:00 PM
Tue. 11/18/14 Florida Los Angeles 10:30 PM
Thu. 11/20/14 Florida San Jose 10:30 PM
Sat. 11/22/14 Florida Nashville 8:00 PM
Mon. 11/24/14 Minnesota Florida 7:30 PM
Wed. 11/26/14 Carolina Florida 7:30 PM
Fri. 11/28/14 Ottawa Florida 7:30 PM
Mon. 12/1/14 Florida Columbus 7:00 PM
Tue. 12/2/14 Florida Detroit 7:30 PM
Thu. 12/4/14 Columbus Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 12/6/14 Buffalo Florida 7:00 PM
Mon. 12/8/14 Florida St. Louis 8:00 PM
Fri. 12/12/14 Florida Detroit 7:30 PM
Sat. 12/13/14 Florida Buffalo 7:00 PM
Tue. 12/16/14 Washington Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 12/18/14 Florida Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Sat. 12/20/14 Florida Pittsburgh 7:00 PM
Mon. 12/22/14 Pittsburgh Florida 7:30 PM
Sun. 12/28/14 Toronto Florida 5:00 PM
Tue. 12/30/14 Montreal Florida 7:30 PM
Wed. 12/31/14 N.Y. Rangers Florida 6:00 PM
Fri. 1/2/15 Florida Buffalo 7:00 PM
Sun. 1/4/15 Florida Washington 3:00 PM
Thu. 1/8/15 Florida Vancouver 10:00 PM
Fri. 1/9/15 Florida Calgary 9:00 PM
Sun. 1/11/15 Florida Edmonton 7:00 PM
Tue. 1/13/15 Florida Winnipeg 8:00 PM
Thu. 1/15/15 Colorado Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 1/17/15 Edmonton Florida 7:00 PM
Mon. 1/19/15 Vancouver Florida 7:30 PM
Tue. 1/27/15 Detroit Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 1/29/15 Columbus Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 1/31/15 Florida New Jersey 7:00 PM
Mon. 2/2/15 Florida N.Y. Rangers 7:00 PM
Tue. 2/3/15 Florida N.Y. Islanders 7:00 PM
Thu. 2/5/15 Los Angeles Florida 7:30 PM
Sun. 2/8/15 Nashville Florida 3:00 PM
Tue. 2/10/15 Anaheim Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 2/12/15 Florida Minnesota 8:00 PM
Fri. 2/13/15 Florida Dallas 8:30 PM
Sun. 2/15/15 St. Louis Florida 5:00 PM
Tue. 2/17/15 Florida Toronto 7:30 PM
Thu. 2/19/15 Florida Montreal 7:30 PM
Sat. 2/21/15 Florida Ottawa 7:00 PM
Sun. 2/22/15 Florida Pittsburgh 6:00 PM
Tue. 2/24/15 Florida Chicago 8:30 PM
Thu. 2/26/15 Chicago Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 2/28/15 Buffalo Florida 3:00 PM
Sun. 3/1/15 Tampa Bay Florida 5:00 PM
Tue. 3/3/15 Toronto Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 3/5/15 Dallas Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 3/7/15 N.Y. Islanders Florida 7:00 PM
Thu. 3/12/15 Winnipeg Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 3/14/15 Florida Carolina 7:00 PM
Sun. 3/15/15 Florida N.Y. Rangers 5:00 PM
Tue. 3/17/15 Montreal Florida 7:30 PM
Thu. 3/19/15 Detroit Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 3/21/15 Boston Florida 7:00 PM
Tue. 3/24/15 Florida Tampa Bay 7:30 PM
Thu. 3/26/15 Florida Toronto 7:30 PM
Sat. 3/28/15 Florida Montreal 7:00 PM
Sun. 3/29/15 Florida Ottawa 5:00 PM
Tue. 3/31/15 Florida Boston 7:00 PM
Thu. 4/2/15 Carolina Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 4/4/15 Tampa Bay Florida 7:00 PM
Sun. 4/5/15 Montreal Florida 5:00 PM
Thu. 4/9/15 Boston Florida 7:30 PM
Sat. 4/11/15 New Jersey Florida 7:00 PM

June 21, 2014

GALLANT IS THE GUY: Panthers name Gerard Gallant as 13th coach in franchise history

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers finally have a new head coach. After a lengthy search, Montreal Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant was given the job on Saturday.

The team will formally introduce Gallant as the 13th coach in franchise history at a press conference Monday morning at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

Gallant, 50, was coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2004-06. The Jackets, not far removed from their expansion years, went 56-76-6 with four ties during his tenure.

The Panthers have been searching for a coach ever since letting interim coach Peter Horachek go in April. General manager Dale Tallon said he was looking for a coach with vast NHL coaching experience and interviewed more than a dozen candidates.

Gallant and former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma were the finalists for the job with the contract details apparently worked out Friday in New York.

Bylsma, who was fired by the Penguins earlier this month, still has two years left on his contract with Pittsburgh at a reported $2.3 million per season. Gallant is believed to have been given a three-year deal.

"This was a very extensive search,'' Tallon said on Saturday afternoon.

"It was a very informative and very successful search. We're all very excited about this. He has a reputation for integrity and his passion for the game is beyond reproach. Ownership feels the same way I do.''

Although Gallant doesn't have extensive head coaching experience in the NHL, he played 11 seasons with Detroit and Tampa Bay before becoming a junior coach in 1995.

Since turning to coaching, Gallant has been a head coach in Columbus and at the Canadian junior level -- which is the hockey equivalent of coaching college football in the U.S.

Gallant has also been an NHL assistant for seven years with the Blue Jackets, Islanders and Canadiens.

In his three years of coaching the Saint John, New Brunswick, Ice Dogs of the Quebec junior league, Gallant's top player was current Florida winger Jonathan Huberdeau.

Under Gallant's watch, the Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup with Huberdeau in 2011. Huberdeau became the third-overall pick of the Panthers a few weeks later. Gallant was the Canadian Hockey League's coach of the year in two of his three seasons with the Sea Dogs.

After this past season, Huberdeau -- the NHL's rookie of the year in 2012 -- said Gallant was one of the most influential coaches in his career. Huberdeau reiterated that on Saturday.

"It's good to be reunited with him and I think things are going to be good with him here,'' said Huberdeau, who plans to attend Monday's news conference.

"I'm excited for this. He's a guy who is intense and into the game. He keeps you up throughout the game. I think the guys are going to react to him. He wants what is best for the players.''

Said Tallon: "He's had success with young players and we're going to be a young team with a nice group of veterans to go with them. I think he's equipped to handle both.''

Gallant is very close to former Panthers coach Doug MacLean as both hail from Summerside, Prince Edward Island in Canada.

"I taught him in high school,'' MacLean said with a laugh. "I've known him since he was 10.''

Gallant's first NHL job came when he was hired in Columbus by MacLean -- then the team's president and general manager -- in 2000 to be an assistant under Dave King for the Blue Jackets' inaugural season. When King was fired in 2003, MacLean took over coaching duties.

In 2004, MacLean replaced himself by promoting Gallant midway through the season. After a 5-9-1 start to the 2006-07 season, ownership ordered MacLean to fire Gallant. MacLean was let go at the end of that season as well. Gallant spent the next two seasons as an assistant with the Islanders.

"He's a terrific guy and a great coach,'' said MacLean, who coached the Panthers to their greatest postseason success in his first season with the team in 1995-96. MacLean is now a television and radio analyst in Canada.

"I put him in as a head coach in Columbus and he did a good job. We were an expansion team. But he's smart. Columbus didn't work but he went back at it. He did an amazing job with Saint John and was integral to Montreal's success. I think the world of him."

-- The Panthers will open the 2014-15 season at Tampa Bay on Oct. 9 with the home opener two days later against New Jersey. The entire NHL schedule will be released Sunday.


1993-95: Roger Neilson

1995-97: Doug MacLean*

1997-98: Bryan Murray

1998-2000: Terry Murray*

2000-01: Duane Sutter*

2001-03: Mike Keenan*

2003-04: Rick Dudley*

2004: John Torchetti

2005-08: Jacques Martin

2008-11: Pete DeBoer

2011-13: Kevin Dineen*

2013-14: Peter Horachek

2014-?: Gerard Gallant

(*) -- Indicates was replaced midseason. Dudley, as Panthers GM, replaced himself with Torchetti.


June 20, 2014

PRESEASON WITH THE CATS: Panthers release exhibition schedule

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers will play six exhibition games this preseason with two in Sunrise, two in Nashville and one each in Tampa and Dallas.

Florida opens things on Sept. 24 when Dallas comes to town. The Panthers then visit Nashville for a Music City doubleheader on Sept. 27 with a visit to Dallas two days later.

The Panthers return home on Oct. 2 to play host to the Lightning, then return the favor across the Everglades with a game in Tampa on Oct. 4.

So, no trips to Estero or San Antonio this preseason.


Wed., Sept. 24 vs. Dallas Stars BB&T Center 7:30 p.m.


Sat., Sept. 27 @ Nashville Predators Bridgestone Arena 4 p.m.


Sat., Sept 27 @ Nashville Predators Bridgestone Arena 8 p.m.


Mon., Sept. 29 @ Dallas Stars American Airlines Center 8:30 p.m.


Thur., Oct. 2 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning BB&T Center 7:30 p.m.


Sat., Oct. 4 @ Tampa Bay Lightning Tampa Bay Times Forum 7 p.m.

June 19, 2014


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Dan Bylsma is one of two finalists for the Florida Panthers vacant coaching spot alongside Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant.

Although Bylsma, 43, is well known to hockey fans, here is a short bio on the former Penguins coach.

On June 6, Blysma was fired after six seasons with the Penguins -- a tenure that included a Stanley Cup during his first season in 2009.

The postseason disappointments that followed, which included a second-round series loss to the Rangers last month, led to Bylsma falling out of favor in Pittsburgh.

The coach of Team USA at Sochi, Bylsma led the Penguins to the playoffs in each season he was with the team.

Byslma joined the Penguins during the 2008-09 season when the team was struggling after reaching the Stanley Cup Finals the summer before.

Pittsburgh went 18-3-4 under Bylsma after going 27-25-5 under Michel Therrien -- now the coach of the Canadiens.

In 2009, the Penguins beat Philadelphia, Washington and Carolina in the Eastern Conference playoffs before beating Detroit in a rematch of the 2008 Finals lost by Therrien's team. The Stanley Cup was the third won by the Penguins and the first since 1992.

The Penguins, despite having two of the game's top players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have failed to reach the Finals since.

In the past five years, the Penguins have been eliminated from the playoffs by a lower-seeded team.

In 2011 and '12, Pittsburgh was a fourth seed and lost to the fifth-seeded Flyers and Lightning in the opening round. In 2010, the Pens were knocked out in the second round by the eighth-seeded Canadiens. In 2013, the top-seeded Pens lost to Boston in the east finals.

This year, Pittsburgh -- which won the new Metropolitan Division -- beat rival Philadelphia in the opening round before taking a 3-1 series lead on the Rangers. New York roared back to win the next three games and eventually went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

That's not to say Bylsma didn't enjoy great success in Pittsburgh aside from the 2009 Stanley Cup. He left Pittsburgh as the winningest coach in Penguins history.

Days after the Game 7 loss to the Rangers, general manager Ray Shero was fired but Bylsma kept his job for a little bit longer.

The Penguins said it would be up to the new general manager whether or not Bylsma would be retained. It appeared Jim Rutherford (who informed Bylsma that he was fired hours before publically being introduced as the new GM) had little to do with a decision made by ownership to fire Bylsma with two years left on his contract.

Florida GM Dale Tallon contacted Bylsma two days after he was fired and held his first interview with him not long afterward.

A native of Grand Haven, Michigan, Bylsma spent four years at Bowling Green University before turning pro. He made his NHL debut as a winger with the Los Angeles Kings in 1995 and spent parts of nine seasons with Los Angeles and Anaheim in a pro career that spanned 12 seasons.

Bylsma began his coaching career in 2004 with AHL Cincinnati and was an NHL assistant with the Islanders in 2005-06. Bylsma moved back to the AHL as an assistant in 2006 and was in his first year as head coach of the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins when he was tabbed to replace Therrien on Feb. 15, 2009.

Four months later, the Penguins were hoisting the Stanley Cup and Bylsma was the toast of Pittsburgh.

In 2010-11, the Penguins were wracked with injuries yet the team stayed in playoff contention despite being without Crosby and Malkin for extended periods of time. Bylsma's makeshift lineup earned a fourth-seed in the playoffs and he was named the NHL's coach of the year.

The Pens were in 78 playoff games under Bylsma and went 43-35.

In contrast, the Panthers have appeared in a total of 38 playoff games (16-22) during their 19 seasons. Florida, which has been to the playoffs four times and only once since 2000, has made it out of the first round one time in 1996.



TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers are apparently close to hiring a new coach and one man deep in the running is Montreal Canadiens assisant Gerard Gallant.

Here's a closer look at Gallant:

Gallant, 50, was coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2004-06. The Jackets, not far removed from their expansion years, went 56-76-6 with four ties during his tenure.

The Panthers have been searching for a coach ever since letting interim coach Peter Horachek go in April.

General manager Dale Tallon has said he is looking for a coach with vast NHL coaching experience.

Gallant, former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma and former Colorado and Los Angeles coach Marc Crawford are the finalists to become the 13th coach in franchise history although word is the job is now between Gallant and Bylsma.

Although Gallant doesn't have extensive head coaching experience in the NHL, he played 11 seasons with Detroit and Tampa Bay before becoming a junior coach in 1995.

Since turning to coaching, Gallant has been a head coach in Columbus and at the Canadian junior level. Gallant has also been an NHL assistant for seven years with the Blue Jackets, Islanders and Canadiens.

In his three years of coaching the Saint John, New Brunswick, Ice Dogs of the Quebec junior league, Gallant's top player was current Florida winger Jonathan Huberdeau.

Under Gallant's watch, the Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup with Huberdeau in 2011. Huberdeau became the third-overall pick of the Panthers a few weeks later. Gallant was the Canadian Hockey League's coach of the year in two of his three seasons with the Sea Dogs.

After this past season, Huberdeau -- the NHL's rookie of the year in 2012 -- said Gallant was one of the most influential coaches in his career.

"He really helped me a lot,'' Huberdeau said in April. "He played in the NHL and had a passion to win. He was great with the young guys, always gave them a chance. I think that's important for a coach. He related very well with all of us.''

Gallant is very close to former Panthers coach Doug MacLean as both hail from Summerside, Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Gallant's first NHL job came when he was hired in Columbus by MacLean -- then the team's president and general manager -- in 2000 to be an assistant under Dave King for the Blue Jackets' inaugural season.

When King was fired in 2003, MacLean took over coaching duties. In 2004, MacLean replaced himself by promoting Gallant midway through the season.

After a 5-9-1 start to the 2006-07 season, ownership ordered MacLean to fire Gallant. MacLean was let go at the end of that season as well. Gallant spent the next two seasons as an assistant with the Islanders before moving on to the Sea Dogs. Gallant has spent the past two seasons with the Canadiens and has been a big part of Montreal's recent success.




June 16, 2014

COACHING SEARCH CONTINUES: Dale Tallon Says Panthers to Have New Coach Before Draft

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers are closing in on hiring a new coach with the team talking to as many as five candidates.

Although general manager Dale Tallon wouldn't divulge names on Monday afternoon, a source within the organization said former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, former Vancouver and Colorado coach Marc Crawford and former Columbus coach Gerard Gallant are being seriously considered for the job.

Detroit Red Wing assistants Tom Renney and Bill Peters are also in the conversation.

"They are all different guys and they are all interesting coaches,'' Tallon said. "We'll find the right fit. We met with all of them in New York last week and now we're narrowing things down.

"It's going really good. They all want to come here because of what we have. We have a good young core of players and are committed to winning. They want to be a part of it.''

Tallon said he hoped to finalize the process sometime this week although he wouldn't rule out not making a hire until next week.

The Panthers, Tallon said, will definitely have a new coach in place before next week's NHL draft -- a selection process in which Florida holds the top overall pick.

Tallon is said to be shopping the first selection, adding Monday that "there have been a few nibbles, but nothing serious.''

Trade talk will likely heat up in the days leading up the draft. This year's draft will be held at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia next Friday and Saturday.

"This is an exciting time for us,'' Tallon said.

When interim coach Peter Horachek wasn't retained in April, Tallon said the Panthers wanted a coach who had extensive NHL coaching experience.

Three of the five fit that bill with Bylsma, Crawford and Renney combining to coach over 2100 regular season NHL games 185 postseason games.

Bylsma and Crawford have each led teams to Stanley Cup championships. Crawford's 1996 Avalanche team won title by finishing off a sweep of the Panthers at Miami Arena.

Crawford, 53, spent 14 seasons as an NHL coach with Quebec/Colorado, Colorado, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Dallas. Crawford hasn't coached in the league since being fired by the Stars in 2011 and has spent his time since working as a television analyst and coaching in Switzerland.

Bylsma, 43, whose Penguins won the Cup in 2009, was fired after six successful seasons in Pittsburgh earlier this month. Bylsma left Pittsburgh as the winningest coach in franchise history.

Renney, 59, has spent parts of nine seasons as an NHL head coach with Vancouver, the Rangers and Edmonton. Renney has been an assistant with the Red Wings since leaving the Oilers in 2012.

Peters and Gallant both have loose ties to the Panthers as Peters was hired by Tallon while he was the GM in Chicago to coach the Blackhawks' AHL team in Rockford, Illinois.

Gallant, who coached the Blue Jackets from 2003-06, coached Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau during his Canadian junior years and is currently an assistant in Montreal.

-- The buyout period began Monday morning with teams having to place the player they want to buy out on waivers first.

Florida didn't put any players on waivers on Monday although Tallon wouldn't rule out making such a move later on. Florida has until June 30 to make such a decision.

"We're still debating that,'' Tallon said.

The Panthers bought out the final year of defenseman Filip Kuba's contract last summer.


June 11, 2014

SEARCH CONTINUES: Panthers Closing in on New Coach

The Panthers have narrowed their coaching candidates to five with general manager Dale Tallon as well as owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu meeting with those candidates this week in New York.

Tallon told TSN's Darren Dreger at the GM meetings today that former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma "interviewed strong" on Tuesday.

I was told the team had a good interview with veteran coach Tom Renney on Wednesday as well.

Tallon confirmed five of the finalists for the job although Renney wasn't among them. It sounds like the former Rangers coach is still in play for the job, however.

The other candidates for the job are: Bylsma, former Blue Jackets head coach and current Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant (who coached Jonathan Huberdeau in juniors), former Sharks and Leafs coach Ron Wilson, former Avs coach Marc Crawford and Red Wings assistant Bill Peters.

Expect this interview process to be wrapped up quickly with the new coach hired as soon as this weekend. A announcement is expected to be made some time next week, although, it could come sooner.



June 06, 2014

DALE TALLON TALKS: Panthers Will Talk to Bylsma ... Draft Pick in Play

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Between interviewing players, coaches and potential executives, this has been quite a busy time for Dale Tallon.

Not only do the Panthers have the first pick in the upcoming draft, but Florida has a vacant positions at head coach and assistant general manager.

Tallon said on Friday night that he would have a new coach in place by the draft "at the latest" although he expects to have one hired before that.

Tallon said he has spoken to 12 candidates for the job, but said he had not spoken with former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma as of yet. Bylsma was let loose by the Penguins on Friday morning.

"I do believe we will talk,'' Tallon said, "and see what his interest level is.''

Tallon added that he and Bylsma got to know each other while working for Team USA. "He's a fine gentleman,'' Tallon said. "I like him.''

As far as Florida's top pick in the draft, Tallon said he's fielded plenty of calls but no deal is imminent. With the draft three weeks away, Tallon has plenty of time to talk to teams interested in it.

"We have lots of time to find out what the value of this pick is,'' Tallon said. "We're in a great position. If we keep the pick, we're going to get a great player back in return. If we deal it, we'll get some assets coming back.''

Tallon also said that former Florida center John Madden -- who won the Stanley Cup three times with New Jersey and Chicago -- would be back next season as an assistant to the new coach. Madden started last season as a scout but joined Peter Horachek behind the bench when Kevin Dineen was fired in November.

Brian Skrudland could also return as an assistant, but that would be up to the new coach. Skrudland is under contract through the upcoming season so it's possible that he could return to working in player development although he said he would be interested in returning as an assistant coach.

Florida goalie coach Robb Tallas has an expiring contract on June 30 but Tallon said "we would like to have him back.''


June 02, 2014

PANTHERS TRIM STAFF: Mass Layoffs in Sunrise on Monday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers laid off approximately 30 employees today with most of the damage coming within the team's sales department.

I was told at least one Vice President was fired as well as a long-time employee within the team's public relations staff. Other positions from throughout the organization were closed. I've been told many won't be replaced, at least not anytime soon.

According to someone who spoke with me this afternoon, the team called a meeting in a conference room at the arena and told those employees there they were being let go.

The message: The team is losing money and needs to save some.

"After a careful review of our business, earlier today we undertook a reorganization that resulted in certain positions being eliminated,'' CEO Rory Babich wrote in a statement.

"As we continue to develop a long-term, sustainable business model, these changes will enable us to operate efficiently and effectively while continuing to focus on bringing the best in sports and entertainment to BB&T Center and providing best in class service for our sports and entertainment fans."