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Big Doins in Pantherland

PanthersBusy day for your friendly neighborhood hockey writer for sure.

Coming to you live from Columbus, Ohio, home to the Ohio State Buckeyes and their self-proclaimed 'Best Damn Band in the Land.' Now I know I won't be dotting any I's today, but I do have some news.

First, spoke to Nathan Horton not too long ago and to say the dude is stoked about his new contract (six years, $24 mil) would be an understatement. Nathan was downright giddy when we spoke to him via speakerphone today, and seems to have really turned a corner as far as his maturity as a hockey player goes.

As I wrote earlier, I ran into Nathan not too long ago at a sandwich shop in Sunrise. He had just completed a workout and looks to be in fantastic shape. JM certainly has noticed the extra dedication Nathan has made.

"He's doing everything we've asked,'' JM said.

Says Nathan: "I'm really excited. This is where I want to be, this is where I want to play. It's great to get to be a part of this organization. I want to be here as long as I can.''

More, much more obviously, in tomorrow's Miami Herald.

-- JM says getting Stephen Weiss inked to a long-term deal is taking longer than he had hoped, and admitted they are just at the beginning stages. Didn't get the feeling that anyone is too worried about a deal getting done.

-- JM says he has had conversations with different teams -- most notably Nashville -- about potential trades for goaltending help. He did say, again, that they could just resign Ed Belfour and Alex Auld and be done with things if nothing comes. JM said he has no interest -- none -- in Ottawa backup and former Duck and Hurricane Martin Gerber. JM and the Panthers also have little interest in the recently bought out Alexei Yashin (who played for JM in Ottawa).

Obviously Jean-Sebastien Giguere is no longer an option since he resigned with the Ducks. His backup may be, however. The Anaheim braintrust is meeting right next to the Panthers inside their Columbus hotel.

-- The team's coaching staff is going to have a different look next year. JM confirmed Thursday that veteran assistant coach George Kingston will not return. JM says the two talked about it last season, and JM says the team wants to go in a different direction. JM has a ton of respect for George, and I don't think this move came hastily. Sure JM didn't want to have that conversation.

JM says he has a list of possible replacements, although he hasn't begun the interview process with anyone yet.

-- Video coach Pierre Groulx is moving up in the world, taking over as the team's new goaltending coach. Pierre is a good, young mind and is being rewarded not only for his hard work over the years, but for his loyalty to JM. The two worked together in Ottawa, and JM brought Pierre south. Seems to have worked out for him.

Former goalie coach Phil Myre remains in the organization, only he'll be concentrating on his duties as a pro scout. Myre had been splitting his responsibilities.

-- JM wouldn't confirm the futures of other folks inside the organization once their contracts expire, most notably Jack Birch (director of hockey operations) and Matt Loughran (director of hockey administration). JM said decisions on those positions will be made next week, although word is both are  moving on. It seems to be an amicable divorce. I will miss both guys. Good people.

-- The team also recently fired the guy/gal who had served as Stanley C. Panther for almost the past decade. I will not release his/her name because I know he didn't like people knowing the identity of the person behind the mask. It's a mascot thing.

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