Panthers poised to surprise in 2013-14

Updated: October 4, 2013, 2:40 PM ET
By Craig Custance

With each veteran Dale Tallon invited to camp and then signed, the notion that this unique strategy could lead to an interesting season in South Florida started to grow. It was a game plan by the Panthers' general manager that grew out of necessity, aided by the unique circumstance created by the salary cap falling for the first time in its NHL history.

The whims of the salary cap seem to impact the Panthers as much as any team. In 2011, it was the salary cap floor that forced Tallon to go on a spending spree that ultimately propelled the Panthers into a surprising playoff berth in which they nearly knocked out the eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils.

This year, it was the opposite. Instead of shopping on Rodeo Drive, Tallon mined the thrift store. For the price of one season of Ed Jovanovski, he got both Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney, plus $2.3 million in change. For the price of one season of Tomas Kopecky, he got Scott Gomez and Brad Boyes, plus $1.1 million remaining to spend. It was almost like some sort of discounted buy one, get one free sale.

His best move of all? Getting a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie for a bonus-filled contract that could be worth $3.75 million in Tim Thomas.

"It was kind of a necessity. We had to," Tallon said of his offseason strategy when we chatted Wednesday. "We were hopeful. We had a plan in place. Wait until August and September and see what was there."

Once the new ownership was in place, with Vinnie Viola's purchase of the team, Tallon was able to complete the transactions.

But watching the Panthers in their debut against the Stars on Thursday night, it's apparent that the bargain shopping Tallon pulled off is only part of the story. Really, a small part. The Panthers may very well end up being one of the surprise stories of the season, but it won't be simply because of the collection of veterans signed at the end of the summer like the how playoff trip in 2011-12 depended heavily on the veterans Tallon signed.

This will be a different story. If the Panthers succeed, it will be a mix of a Thomas comeback plus the emergence of the young talent Florida has been collecting.