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Patchwork Panthers looking to keep ahead of Winnipeg Jets in division race

The Florida Panthers have some employees racking up plenty of overtime this holiday season.

"Our training staff is a little overworked right now," general manager Dale Tallon said Wednesday.

The surprising first-place Panthers are currently getting by without seven injured forwards, including front-line centre Stephen Weiss.

Tallon and his management staff are eager to shuttle in some help and held an internal conference call Tuesday to discuss a variety of options. One of them is 38-year-old centre John Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup winner who has been skating on his own all season.

He was signed by Tallon in Chicago a couple years back and won his most recent Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010. With some reports suggesting a deal was imminent between the sides, Tallon acknowledged having been in contact with Madden's agent.

"We have to weigh it out and see what our alternatives are," he said. "We've had history before and I like guys that are championship-calibre people that have had success. It's really good to help our young guys learn how to win."

There hasn't been much winning in south Florida, where the Panthers have missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons.

However, this year's team has authored quite a remarkable story after Tallon added 13 new players to the roster over the summer. Florida is 19-11-7 out of the gate, good for a six-point lead over Winnipeg in the Southeast Division.

Tallon is still getting used to the idea of having the Jets as a division rival.

"They're playing well, they're a good team," he said. "It's a good atmosphere to play in up there (at MTS Centre), a fun building. It is what it is.

"We've just got to survive and we've got to do the best we can."

The Panthers and Jets face one another five more times in the second half of the year and will likely be battling one another for a playoff spot.

In the meantime, Tallon will continue to look for ways to bolster his lineup. It promises to be a delicate balance since the GM has spent time stockpiling prospects and draft picks over the past year and doesn't want to alter his rebuilding plan.

"We've got to look and see how we can get through this," said Tallon. "The next few weeks are critical for us. We're always trying to get better but I don't want to jeopardize our future just to have short-term success.

"We've got great assets coming and we want to make sure that we have the right core that they can be added to."

In addition to missing Weiss with an upper-body ailment, the Panthers are without forwards Mikael Samuelsson, Scottie Upshall, Marcel Goc, Jack Skille, Sean Bergenheim and Marco Sturm.

The team has yet to play a game this season with a full compliment of players.

"We go hard, we play hard, we work hard every shift," said Tallon. "Guys pay the price and sometimes you get hurt. To have seven forwards hurts us because of our depth.

"We're not as deep as we need to be yet. We will be in the next year or two."

All things considered, Tallon is thrilled with how the first couple months of the season have gone under new coach Kevin Dineen.

"It's been terrific," he said. "It's not an easy thing to do—to put 13 new players together and have a team concept right off the bat like this. So there's a lot of credit to the coaching staff and the players for really buying and really putting the team ahead of themselves."


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