Eastern Conference hinge players for 2015-16

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We know that Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon loves his former Chicago Blackhawks. It's been five years since that young group of Blackhawks partially gathered by Tallon sped up the rebuilding process to win their first Stanley Cup together. It seems that anytime he has a chance, Tallon grabs one of those players. Sadly for Panthers fans, neither Jonathan Toews nor Duncan Keith has shaken loose just yet.

So it wasn’t entirely surprising when Tallon, unprompted, started praising one of those former Blackhawks during a recent conversation.

“The other guy who has had a great summer,” Tallon said, shifting the conversation away from the talented Aleksander Barkov, “is Dave Bolland. He’s buying into fitness, strengthening, and he’s healthy. He’s 100 percent.”

That hasn’t often been the case for Bolland since he left the Blackhawks after winning his second Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2013. He played in just 23 games in one season with the Maple Leafs and 53 last season with Florida. Bolland is the Panthers' highest-paid forward, earning $5.5 million per season through 2018-19.

Yet he’s rarely one of the first players mentioned when making the case for the Panthers as a playoff team. They have two young centers, Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, who provide strength down the middle. Aaron Ekblad is one of the best young defensemen in the game and is Tallon’s Florida version of Keith. Roberto Luongo is the star in goal and Jaromir Jagr the star up front.

But if the Panthers get major contributions from Bolland this season? That could propel a borderline playoff team into the postseason.

He’s their hinge player. On Monday, we looked at the hinge players for every team in the Western Conference, with the only rule that goalies are ineligible.