For those of us stuck in South Florida, all I can say is ugh.
I am so looking forward to going to Montreal next week.
Just got off the phone with Florida's acting general manager. Randy Sexton and I went over a number of things regarding the Florida Panthers, and as always, I though I would share with you.
First off, Randy wouldn't get into the search for a new GM nor his place in that search. He simply told me that he wants the full-time job and Bill Torrey is aware of this. As far as I'm concerned, I think Randy has a nice little advantage over all the people applying for this gig. First off, Randy knows the organization inside and out. But the main advantage is the fact that he's actually doing the job right now. No one else can say that.
Anywho, let's get started.
-- First off, Randy told me the budget for next year is very close to last year's budget (the Panthers were about $2 million shy of the cap ceiling). That's good news for the Panthers.
''We have a healthy budget for next year,'' he said. ''It's very close to last year. It offends me when I see things written and said about us and our ownership. Mr. Alan Cohen and our ownership group have stepped up by building us a beautiful new facility and have stepped up with our payroll. We all want to win here. There's no excuses. We are assembling a team to make the playoffs, guys have to do it.''
-- Florida also had Bryan McCabe's $2 million bonus (paid in Maple Leaf bucks) count against last year's cap.
-- Randy says he has spoken to Richard Zednik's agent and while there is an out clause in the Russian contract Zednik signed a few months ago, the agent doesn't think Zednik is going to opt out. Zednik appears pretty set on playing in Russia next year. So, good luck with that Z.
-- Negotiations with David Booth on a new contract are ongoing. Randy couldn't give me a timetable and it sounds like the two sides are apart on money. That, and perhaps years, have to be the main sticking point right? Booth wants to be here, the Panthers want him here. So it comes down to the money and the years. It should be worked out.
He wants to be here, if we can make that work, we will. Guys play their careers to be a UFA and we respect that.''
-- As far as Jay Bouwmeester goes, well, status quo. ''I've had some conversations with his agent,'' Sexton said. ''It's a work in progress.''
-- As far as the draft goes, Randy doesn't seem married to the 14th overall pick. He says he's approached some GMs about trading up, and he's been contacted about trading down. Randy said Florida will have a first round pick this year, it just may not be No. 14.
"There are ways to improve the team. We like what we hear, we will be prepared for every scenario. If nothing happens, we think we'll get a real good player at 14.''
-- As far as the recent development camp goes, Randy said it was the best collection of talent the Panthers have ever had. That is a good sign for this organization for sure. "It's exciting, I'm pumped to see the good number of kids, their skill level. All these kids are Florida Panthers. That's exciting.''
-- Randy had plenty of praise for breakout rookie Michael Frolik who not only attended the development camp, but ''was the hardest working kid out there. What a great example to the kids. He worked his tail off.''
-- Top goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom (who should be on the roster in 2010-11) wasn't able to participate on the ice during the camp because of knee surgery. But he still impressed.
''He has such presence and is a real leader. This kid is a pro. Someone said he was the pied piper of camp. Every time you saw him, he had five or six people with him. He's getting good development, playing a professional game.
''There will still have to be some adjustment to the North American game. It's not just the size of the rink, but the way the game is played. He'll have to get used to traffic in front of the net. The style of play will take some adjustment. We're not going to rush anyone. If they need seasoning, they'll get it.''
-- More later. Also have a big story coming out tomorrow on the new training facility at Incredible Ice. It is sweet, one of the best such facilities in the league. A real first-class deal for the Panthers. A showcase, really. We have pictures and stuff, will link to them when they are up.