MIAMI -- It wasn't planned this way.
The Florida Panthers didn't wait for the NBA and NFL to be in simultaneous lockouts to steal the South Florida sports spotlight with an historic player haul.
The Panthers didn't assume their "Seeing Red" billboards would be getting the most attention down here, where hockey never seems to be in season even when it's in season, because two of the other pro sports were in hiatus and the third was in a complete freefall.
No, this relatively simple plan concocted by general manager Dale Tallon started last season, when he executed a Wayne Huizenga-like fire sale at the trade deadline. He knew all along it would be followed quickly by a Pat Riley-like spending spree and instant rebuild.
It just so happened that once it was finally executed -- once the Panthers completed a one-week flurry of signings and trades that nabbed the team 11 new players and showed proof of an actual plan in place -- the Panthers didn't have to share the spotlight with anyone.
There were no Heat free agent discussions. There were no Dolphins minicamps. There were barely any Marlins victories to speak of.
So here are the Panthers, looking like winners, even if it's only in July. The thought alone should be comforting and even exciting to a fan base that has experienced an NHL record playoff drought of a full decade.
It's hardly deserving of an all-out party at BankAtlantic Center, with Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann and Jose Theodore walking out on a stage surrounded by pyrotechnics.
In fact, it's hard to tell exactly what all this activity will truly translate into. The opinions tend to range wildly from the Panthers are suddenly good enough and deep enough to not only make the playoffs but also to win a postseason round or two, to the Panthers merely overpaid a handful of decent players to reach the salary-cap floor.
And let's face it, down here, where only the hardest of hard-core Panthers fans can say with conviction what Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky or a 35-year-old Ed Jovanovski can actually provide the Panthers, it's all just a guessing game until these summer transactions start turning into winter points and the Panthers are actually in the playoff race and not lagging behind it.
But if there's anywhere to start when it comes to building faith, it's with Tallon.
He essentially has done this before. Even if he was demoted to advisor when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in the 2009-2010 season, it was Tallon who, as the general manager, tore down the Hawks before building them to championship level.
And now the fun part of his rebuilding scheme is under way in South Florida. A Panthers team that was so bad at times under coach Peter DeBoer that it barely resembled an NHL roster is now respectable.
Tallon brought in champions in Campbell, who turned down more money to sign with Tallon in Chicago and waived his limited no-trade clause to rejoin him in Sunrise, Kris Versteeg and Kopecky. He brought back Jovanovski, who many believe still has at least a couple of good years left in him and can mentor the younger Panthers defensemen. He took a risk on Fleischmann, who missed the second half of last season with blood clots in his lungs, trusting doctors who said the talented left wing is healthy enough to play. It's the type of risk that should provide the offensively challenged Panthers with much-needed balance to what already was a fairly decent defensive club.
And even if it means the Panthers had to overpay to do it, even if it means Tallon had to take on some already large contracts to make it happen, it's the only way this team is ever going to recover in time to avoid becoming the next Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets).
It takes bold moves like these, especially in a town where the Panthers have to scream just to get noticed, for this franchise to regain relevancy.
It took Tallon, who wasn't afraid to tear this whole thing down and build it back up rather than simply place Band-Aids on gaping holes the way previous regimes did.
Not only did Tallon have the guts to do that, but he has the nerve to talk big.
He wants to drink from the Stanley Cup again. He wants his name engraved on the Cup again. And he wants that to happen with a Florida franchise that has been entrenched in misery since 2000.
So he made moves the Panthers have never done before. He's winning July, which the rest of the league readily acknowledges. It's Riley-like in more ways than one.
And, by complete coincidence, Tallon happens to be happily stepping onto a South Florida sports stage without any clutter.
That just happens to be the bonus to what appears to be a pretty smart plan.