Panthers GM wants to build around young nucleus

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 14, 2014 at 3:05 pm •  Published: April 14, 2014

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — This season had a familiar feel for the Florida Panthers, who again relied heavily on prospects and again missed the playoffs.

But general manager Dale Tallon is confident the Panthers can get better this offseason — and quickly.

The Panthers are expected to have about $30 million in cap space this summer, and Tallon said he's been given the go-ahead by new owner Vinnie Viola to spend money. It's a refreshing change for Tallon, who previously had been restricted financially.

The GM wants to add five veterans this summer, including two defensemen, to complement the team's young nucleus.

"I'm disappointed in the year," Tallon said. "I'm disappointed in a lot of things. I'm moving forward. We're going to fix it. We've got great support now from Vinnie Viola and we're going to move forward and add the pieces to help these kids get to the level that we need to get them to."

After finishing 29th in the overall standings this season, the Panthers are assured of having a top-three pick in the NHL draft for the fourth time in the past five years. The first three — defenseman Erik Gudbranson (in 2010), wing Jonathan Huberdeau (2011) and center Aleksander Barkov (2013) — all played significant roles this season.

The Panthers have been stockpiling prospects since Tallon became general manager in May 2010, and the GM wants his young team to grow together.

"That's the way to do it," Tallon said. "That's the way it's going to get done. But we also have to have people around them that are going to help them find their way. Expediting their play and putting them in the situations this year expanded their growth a little bit and got them some valuable experience. If we get the right people in July and August to come in there to help them ..."

Before Tallon gets to work on the roster, he'll have to figure out what to do with interim head coach Peter Horachek. After replacing Kevin Dineen in early November in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, Horachek compiled a 26-36-4 record.

Tallon commended Horachek for the job he did, but said Horachek's future would be discussed in early May.

The Panthers showed rapid improvement after Horachek took over, and an 18-11-4 stretch left them only eight points out of the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference after a 5-4 shootout victory at Detroit on Jan. 26.