x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dale Tallon has clawed back the Panthers' fortunes

The general manager turned the Florida team upside-down last summer which helped end the NHL's longest play-off drought.

Winnipeg Jets Tobais Enstrom (C) and Florida Panthers Stephen Weiss (R) fight for the puck during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Florida April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Rhona Wise (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY) *** Local Caption *** RWW10_NHL_0404_11.JPG
Winnipeg Jets Tobais Enstrom (C) and Florida Panthers Stephen Weiss (R) fight for the puck during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Florida April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Rhona Wise (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY) *** Local Caption *** RWW10_NHL_0404_11.JPG

The NHL's longest play-off drought is over. The Florida Panthers did not exactly storm the gates - winning just once in their final 10 games - but they are back in the post-season after 12 long years.

It has been a long time coming for the franchise that shocked the NHL when they advanced to the Stanley Cup final back in 1996 as a third-year team. Florida fell to Joe Sakic's mighty Colorado Avalanche that year, but that unexpected run to the final remains the Panthers' high point as a franchise.

They made it back to the post-season in 1997, losing in five games in the first round against the Rangers.

But at least they won a game; in 2000, the last time Florida qualified for the spring fling, they were unceremoniously swept by the New Jersey Devils.

Thus began a dozen years of play-off frustration, a legacy of failure that led Dale Tallon, the new general manager, to turn the team upside-down last summer and completely remake the roster. Tallon brought in 10 free agents and pulled off a couple of trades, too.

Stephen Weiss, the longtime Panthers centre remains, but Florida are full of new faces.

Give credit to Tallon - the chemistry experiment worked. The Panthers were an upper-echelon team in the East all season, with the stumble to the finish line their only real blemish.

The next challenge is to win a play-off game for the first time in 15 years. But at least they are in the game.