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How much did Dale Tallon improve the Florida Panthers?

The 2010-11 Florida Panthers finished with 72 points and their off-season was dominated by stories of the team going bankrupt, moving and also failing to have enough salary on the books to meet the NHL’s salary floor. That’s not the story in 2011-12, however – with the Washington Capitals inexplicably weak, the Panthers are on pace for over 90 points and have spent a significant amount of time in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference as Southeast division leaders.

Dale Tallon retained only seven regular skaters from last year's roster; did he improve this team by 20+ points with his makeover? Let's look at the top-line numbers:

2011-12 2.44 2.66 47.9 50.3
2010-11 2.33 2.71 46.2 49.0

Florida improved their goal differential by about 13.5 goals per 82 games, or roughly two wins. Their Fenwick% in close games has also tracked their goal differential, so it's not as though they've been unlucky in making their shots. The difference is Florida's record in OT and 1- and 2-goal games:

11-12 11-12 10-11 10-11
SO 4 7 4 7
OT 1 5 6 5
1-goal 9 5 9 18
2-goal 10 3 1 9

Despite not making much of a dent in their goal differential, Florida has gone from 10-27 in 1- and 2-goal games in regulation to 19-8. Their OT performance has regressed, but even with average luck, they're looking at almost 80 points in close games this year compared to 52 last year. Four of those points we can credit to the team's actual improvement; the other 24 are just better luck in close games. (Team records in close games are not a persistent talent. We've been through this many times!)

So Dale Tallon spent an extra $7M this season; if things break his way, Florida will get 13.5 goals for that money, which is right around the league average rate of $3.1M per marginal win. Preseason VUKOTA projections had him at about $4.1M per win from his offseason moves (with 83 points overall vs reader projections of 89 points), so things have actually turned out better than expected. But not 24 points better – that's just good fortune inexplicably shining on Florida.

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