Despite being 13 points out of a potential playoff berth with just 24 games remaining after the Olympic break, Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon is not raising any white flags.
But he is throwing down the gauntlet to his players, especially to several underachieving veterans.
"It's the experienced guys that frustrate us," Tallon said via phone Friday morning. "Look at their numbers. The bottom line is numbers don't lie.
"We need players that are self-motivated, self-disciplined, that are leaders. That's what we want, and that's what we need to address and change."
Tallon didn't name names, but it's clear that he's disappointed in veteran forwards such as Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky and Shawn Matthias, who are all mired in season-long slumps.
However, they're all signed through next season and will be difficult to move.
Tallon and interim coach Peter Horachek are frustrated by the team's inconsistent performances from one game to the next.
"The inconsistencies is what really frustrates me," Tallon said. "We look so good so many nights and then we look out of it. We know we can do it. Guys have to perform on a consistent basis. We got to fix that."
Although Tallon won't commit to being a buyer or seller after the Olympic roster freeze ends on Feb. 23 and up to the March 5 trade deadline, he vowed to continue building toward the future.
"We're not going to blow this team up," Tallon said. "We got some great pieces and we got some pieces we have to change and make better as we move forward to March 5, the draft and free agency. All these moves will benefit us and make us a Stanley Cup team for many years to come."
Playoff contenders will certainly be looking to pick off some of the Panthers veterans with expiring contracts, particularly veteran goalie Tim Thomas, who's 15-18-3 with a 2.80 goals-against-average.
"We spoke in the last week and he wants to be here," Tallon said. "The feeling is mutual. I like his competitiveness and his overall performance, very good, so we'll see."
Thomas, winger Brad Boyes, the team's leading goal scorer with 15, and defenseman Tom Gilbert (25 points) were all signed after coming to training camp on a professional tryout basis. All have been bright spots in a dark season.
"We've had preliminary talks with all of them and we have an interest in signing them," Tallon said. "They had something to prove and as a result they did it."
Despite being 22-29-7 with six teams to climb over for a wild-card berth, Tallon's message to his players at practice on Thursday will have nothing to do with arranging early tee-times.
"Play your butts off!" Tallon said. "We got 24 games to go. This is really going to tell what guys are made of. I'm expecting our players to be ready to play hard. We're still not out of it mathematically and they should play every shift of every game like it's their most important shift of their lives."
Tallon, who said the highlight of the season has been the play of his rookie centers Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, who have 24 and 23 points respectively.
However, Barkov had to leave Finland's 6-1 victory over Norway on Friday early in the third period with a lower-body injury, according to NHL.com. Neither the Panthers nor Finland's coach Erkka Westerlund knew the severity of the injury to Barkov, who missed four games recently with a knee injury.
Horachek still interim coach
The Panthers are 19-20-3 since Horachek took the reins from Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8, but Tallon won't consider removing the interim tag until the season is complete.
"I like what Peter has done, so we'll talk to Peter this week and continue to have discussions, and we'll sit down at the end of the season," Tallon said. ...
Tallon said he has targeted free agents to pursue in an effort to bolster the 28th-ranked offense and 27th-ranked defense.
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