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28 posts from April 2010

April 05, 2010

Opening Day for Baseball, Closing Week for Cats ... Cory Stillman Hurt ... Great Pic from Disney

Openingday2The Panthers went through a long practice this morning in Coral Springs as Pete DeBoer kept them out there for about 80 minutes.

Byron Bitz (elbow) came out at the end and worked on some things. Gregory Campbell (broken foot) did not skate as far as I could tell.

Victor Oreskovich (lower body) was back and will play tomorrow against the Senators.

The big news today is that Cory Stillman injured his back Saturday against the Rangers and is out for the time being. According to GM Randy Sexton, Steve MacIntyre will come up as will rookie Evgeny Dadonov.

Looking forward to seeing Dadonov make his NHL debut tomorrow. Had a pretty solid training camp and is playing very well for the Amerks. Sexton said he definitely has earned a shot to come up and try and make a name for himself in whatever time he gets.

-- Tomas Vokoun to start tomorrow against the Sens.

-- Daniel Alfredsson plays in his 1,000th NHL game for the Sens tomorrow, and Bryan Murray tells Bruce Garrioch that he thinks Alfredsson has a few more good years left in the tank.

-- Today may have been the final practice of the season at Incredible Ice. The Panthers will work out at The Billboard on Wednesday as they take their team picture (that should be a keeper) and are expected to take Friday off. So that means they have just one practice day left and that will be in Sunrise.

Going to miss that drive along the Sawgrass.

-- Got this link from my sister Rachel today and it's pretty cool. If you are a fan of Disney World and the space shuttle, you going to dig this. Photographer Kent Phillips woke up early and got an amazing shot of Discovery soaring over Cinderella's Castle. Enjoy.

Check out the pic here.

Prospective New Owner of Texas Rangers has Ties to Panthers

Nolanryan Opening Day is upon us, so it's time to talk some baseball.

For those who care, I think the Marlins are going to be pretty good.

My Cleveland Indians -- once more -- will be out of it by the end of the month. But it probably won't take that long.

Back to the topic at hand.

The Texas Rangers should have a new ownership group within the next couple of weeks.

The names are fairly familiar.

Anyone who has ever picked up a sports page knows the name Nolan Ryan. He's going to be part of this new group headed by Chuck Greenberg.

Never heard of Chuck? That's OK, he's never heard of you either.

Word is, he's a pretty smart fellow who has had success in the minor league game.

And he has ties to the Panthers.

A lawyer, Greenberg helped facilitate Alan Cohen's purchase of the Panthers from Wayne Huiznega's Boca Resorts group back in 2000-2001.

Here's a little taste of what the website from the law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP (of which Greenberg is a partner in their Pittsburgh office) states:

  • Purchase of Florida Panthers Mr. Greenberg represented a group of South Florida business leaders, led by entrepreneur Alan Cohen, in its 2001 acquisition of the Florida Panthers NHL franchise. The group also Chuck acquired rights to the management and operation of the Panthers’ home arena, in Sunrise, Fla., and ownership of the Incredible Ice skating rink in nearby Coral Springs, Fla.
  • Purchase of Pittsburgh Penguins Mr. Greenberg represented the deal team led by Mario Lemieux that purchased the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL franchise out of bankruptcy in 1999. He negotiated or renegotiated all material contracts, including equity, television, radio, arena lease, financing agreements, advertising and sponsorship rights, and agreements with governmental agencies. He successfully raised equity and refinanced debt to finance the bankruptcy reorganization plan. He prepared the Business Plan and Preliminary Projections. He worked intimately with the NHL to win the league’s support for the Business Plan and Reorganization Plan.
  • General Representation of National Hockey League Franchises Mr. Greenberg has overseen corporate reorganizations; led senior management search teams; negotiated employment agreements for coaches and other front office executives; negotiated credit facilities; successfully renegotiated arena leases; testified before a Governor’s Sports Facilities Task Force (Pennsylvania); analyzed merits of a renovation program vs. a new arena; conceived and overseen a successful arena renovation program; and negotiated with public officials the public funding of renovations.

    There's much more on his official Pepper Hamilton LLP bio (link above) that you can read.

    Pepper And, Pepper Hamilton has been a sponsor of the Panthers in past years, with their logo on the dasher boards at The Billboard.

    The ads were most likely a payoff for work the firm did for the Panthers, although they may have agreed to continue business with the team and buy more ad space (although since they don't have an office anywhere near Florida that's probably doubtful.)

    I don't recall whether Pepper Hamilton still has ads inside the arena, although I know they did as late as last year.

    The question here is: Does Greenberg hire any Panthers executives away from Sunrise once he officially takes over the Texas Rangers?

    Bac

    I don't know.

    Maybe, maybe not. The rumor mill is churning right now. We'll see what happens.

    Play ball.

    (And here's hoping the Indians win at least one this month.)


    Goalie Talk: Is Vokoun Out? If Panthers Really Want to Rebuild, Yes

    Vokoun3 The Panthers have one more week remaining in the 2009-10 season. Is this Tomas Vokoun's final week as a member of the Panthers?

    Very possibly.

    With Vokoun and backup Scott Clemmensen, the Panthers have a solid 1-2 combination. But Vokoun is only signed through next season and not expected back after that as he will command another hefty contract. Florida likes its depth in goal throughout the system, further making Vokoun expendable.

    The Panthers have a pair of solid goalies at their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., as Tyler Plante has taken over for Alexander Salak after he sagged following a hot start.

    General manager Randy Sexton confirmed Saturday that the team is negotiating with University of Denver goalie Marc Cheverie and could have him signed and in training camp to compete for a spot somewhere within the organization.

    Jacob Markstrom, who was the 31st overall pick in the 2008 draft, has spent the past three seasons playing professionally in Sweden and should be under contract sometime this summer and be at training camp when it opens in September.

    If the Panthers were to trade Vokoun – and his $5.7 million salary – they could likely bring in another veteran goalie to compete with Clemmensen and Markstrom in training camp. The Panthers would like Markstrom, 20, to start in the AHL next season to help him get used to the North American style of game as well as the travel and heavier workload. Plante, Cheverie and Markstrom were all drafted by the Panthers.

    “Our strategy of holding onto our draft picks and investing in scouting is paying off, especially at that position,'' said Sexton. “Goaltending is clearly a source of strength for us. We have maturity with Vokoun and Clemmensen and we have talented young goalies. They are big goalies. I'm a big believer in having big goalies.''

    On Saturday, with Clemmensen in net for the third time in the past four games, the Panthers were eliminated from the playoffs.

    Team management has said big time changes are coming to the Panthers before next season and Vokoun would draw big time interest from other teams during the offseason – although Vokoun would have to waive his no-trade clause, something he seemed agreeable to at the trading deadline when he was being shopped.

    Top end goaltenders like Vokoun don't make it to the free agent market very often, so to pick him up in a trade (and try and sign him to a long term deal) teams would likely be willing to give up quite a bit in return.

    Although Vokoun is a known commodity as far as the Panthers go, there is nothing close to a guarantee Florida's youngsters will turn into NHL starters much less a player of Vokoun's pedigree.

    Goalies traditionally take a long time to develop, with Florida goalie coach Robb Tallas pointing out that Team USA goalie Ryan Miller played in the AHL for three seasons before finally taking over in Buffalo. That said, the Panthers do like what they have in the system and the franchise has a history of good goaltending starting with picking up John Vanbiesbrouck in the 1993 expansion draft.

    “I'm not a big believer of forcing younger guys in,'' Tallas said. “There's a long maturing process. We want them to be comfortable so we develop them the right way. You see so many guys come up, have a great first season and then the second is a struggle. Then it's a struggle to find their game.''

    Clemmensen has been one of a few players to improve his stock in the final month of the season.

    “A coach's confidence in a player, especially a goaltender, is directly related to winning games,'' coach Pete DeBoer said on Saturday. “Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? Clemm has been part of the solution around here the past handful of times he's played. That's important.''

    Said Clemmensen: “After the break I wanted to make sure whatever chance I got, I would make the most of it. Even though it's late in the season, every game means so much to me.''

    -- The Panthers sent center Jeff Taffe and winger Mike Duco back to Rochester on Sunday. Winger Gregory Campbell is expected to return from his broken foot on Tuesday against Ottawa. Byron Bitz (elbow) and Victor Oreskovich (lower body) have also been out and could return.




    April 03, 2010

    Rangers Bounce Back, Bounce Panthers: Florida Officially Eliminated from Postseason Consideration

    CansecotribeRANGERS 4, PANTHERS 1

    Pete DeBoer knows with the Panthers being out of the playoff hunt, he should be looking to the future and letting some of his younger players get big minutes so they can be properly evaluated.

    The problem is he loves winning too much – and hates losing even more.

    “I got a good night sleep after that win in Boston,'' he said Saturday morning. “It was the first one in a long time. That's my motivation.''

    The thought here is DeBoer didn't sleep very well Saturday night, not after the Panthers gave up four goals in the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Rangers in Sunrise.

    The loss was Florida's eighth in 11 games and officially eliminated them from postseason contention for an NHL record tying ninth season and record setting 10th year.

    “It's obviously not something you look forward to at the start of the year, but you have to play consistent hockey to make the playoffs and we didn't do that,'' said captain Bryan McCabe.

    “We were up and down all year. You don't get into those slides where you lose five or six in a row – and we did that three or four time this year. We don't deserve it.''

    After a first period that had to have fans at home watching Butler basketball instead, the Panthers got things going in the second and took a 1-0 lead when Keith Ballard kept his scoring touch going by freezing Henrik Lundqvist before blasting a shot from the left circle. Ballard has three goals in four games and tied his career high (eight) in goals in a season.

    Scott Clemmensen, fresh off a 1-0 shutout win in Boston, was solid as he held the playoff hopeful Rangers at bay. But Clemmensen didn't get much help in the third period as the Blueshirts – with legend Mark Messier watching from the pressbox – tied it 18 seconds into the third on a shot from Marc Staal. The puck appeared to bounce off McCabe's stick.

    “That's exactly what they needed to get back into the game,'' said DeBoer. “Momentum shifted and we never got it back. But, again, we got one goal tonight and it came from a defenseman.''

    The Rangers added three more in the third, with two coming within a two minute span as Brandon Prust scored on a backhanded shovel shot from in front of the net at 9:37 for the lead. A few moments later, Stephen Weiss was robbed of the puck at center ice and the Rangers turned that into a Chris Drury goal at 11:06.

    And that was that – save for an empty net goal with a minute left.

    Florida dropped to 21-3-6 when leading after two periods as the Rangers won for the first time this season when trailing going into the third. New York is now 1-24-2 in such situations.

    “One goal isn't enough,'' said Ballard, who has both of Florida's goals in the past two games. “We put ourselves in this position.''

    ALLEN HURT

    Defenseman Bryan Allen injured his ribs during Thursday's win in Boston and although nothing is fractured, DeBoer says the pain is intense enough that Allen not only missed Saturday's game but is doubtful for the final week of games as well.

    “This is a guy who has a pretty high pain tolerance,'' said DeBoer. “If he's in pain, it's real pain.''

    With Allen out, the Panthers recalled Clay Wilson from Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Florida also sent back enforcer Steve MacIntyre and called up Mike Duco.

    Wilson had played in 14 NHL games with Columbus and Atlanta but made his Panthers debut on Saturday. Duco made his NHL debut with the Panthers on Dec. 2 and was sent back to Rochester after nine games. Wilson was a second-team All-AHL selection this season.

    “I didn't know much about Duco before training camp, but he's been impressive,'' said center Jeff Taffe, who played with both players in Rochester. “Clay is a very offensive defenseman who sees the ice very well and plays a ton of minutes in the AHL. It's nice for him to be rewarded. He's a point getter. I hope that transitions into the NHL.''

    -- Winger Rostislav Olesz was back after missing two games with a hand injury. DeBoer said Gregory Campbell (foot) is expected back Tuesday against Ottawa. Byron Bitz (elbow) skated on Saturday morning, but his return has not been determined. Victor Oreskovich (lower body) also missed Saturday's game.

    -- Bryan McCabe was named the team's defensive player of the month for March. Former goalie John Vanbiesbrouck presented McCabe with his award.

    -- With Wilson in the lineup, Florida played with three defensemen who have played a large chunk of the season in Rochester as well as 19-year-old rookie Dmitry Kulikov.


    Olli's Back, Still Helping Out (Now With Classic Video!)

    Olliposter Olli Jokinen must have felt like he went back in time. Not only was the Rangers center back at The Billboard for the first time since the end of the 2007-08 season, but he had to help do some selling as well.

    Since he was in the starting lineup, he got to participate in the nightly puck drop honoring whomever paid for that honor.

    Jokinen was always game about helping the Panthers in their many different corporate pitches when he was here, and he was good again Saturday.

    Jokinen came over for the drop, shaking hands and posing for the picture with one-time linemate Shawn Matthias (who actually played center and Jokinen moved to wing for four games back in 2008 when Matthias was a junior call-up).

    Anyway, since we're taking a stroll down memory lane, here's the opening video from the 2006-07 season. It's a classic. I wonder if those guys took some acting classes before this was filmed. It's that good!

    April 02, 2010

    An Olli Homecoming: Jokinen Returns to Sunrise

    JmandolliOn the night Olli Jokinen was traded from the Panthers to Phoenix, he was entertaining friends at his home in western Broward County.

    “This will always be home,'' he said on June 20, 2008.

    Apparently those weren't empty words. To Jokinen, South Florida has really become his home.

    He comes back Saturday.

    Jokinen, the former Panthers captain who played in Florida from 2000 until the draft night trade to the Coyotes, will play in his first game at BankAtlantic Center since the Panthers home finale of the 2007-08 season when the New York Rangers play Florida at 7 p.m.

    “This is going to be a special game,'' Jokinen said from Tampa on Thursday night. The Rangers played the Lightning on Friday.

    “It'll be nice to go back there. I have a lot of good memories in that building. But it will be weird. I don't know what to expect, but I think there will be some booing and cheering. I really did enjoy my time playing for the Panthers. There's a good group of hard core fans there and I got to know a lot of them. Hopefully there's a lot of people there.''

    At the end of the 2007-08 season, there were been plenty of whispers that Jokinen's time with the PanthOllicalgary2 ers had expired. A few days after that season ended, Jacques Martin was fired as coach but asked to stay on as the team's general manager.

    Martin and Jokinen had quietly feuded and there was talk that Jokinen had lost his voice in the locker room as some said his poor play in the final month of that season was an attempt to get Martin fired as Florida's bench boss. Jokinen had five goals and eight assists in the final 24 games.

    By summertime, once Martin reluctantly agreed to remain the team's GM, it was obvious Jokinen would be shipped out. Jokinen, knowing he was gone, even went so far as to formally request a trade.

    Only he never really left. Jokinen went to Arizona, was traded to Calgary last season and then traded again February 2 to the Rangers. All the while, he kept his home in Parkland, living there with his wife Katerina and their daughters Alexandra and Emma during the offseason.

    After the Olympics – one in which Jokinen helped Finland win Bronze -- Katerina packed up the house in Calgary and moved back to Broward, putting the kids back in their old schools.

    “They are all going to be at the game so everyone is real excited,'' Olli Jokinen said. “There was no point for them to stay in Calgary. South Florida is still home and it's nice the girls can go back where they have friends.''

    Jokinen says he doesn't know what reception he'll get from the local fans on Saturday. Many blamed him for Florida's postseason problems, and until he made the playoffs with Calgary last season, he was the league's record-holder with 799 games played before making the playoffs.

    Calgary flamed out of last year's playoffs but Jokinen could get another shot at the postseason as the Rangers are fighting to get into the mix. New York came into Friday's game four points out of the final spot with a week left. The Panthers still haven't made the playoffs.

    “It's always tough to see them struggle to get into the playoffs,'' said Jokinen. “There are new owners there, so we'll see what happens. I was in the west for a while so I didn't get to follow them too much, but I have been now. I guess they still have a small chance to make it. I hear there's a good coach there, and it's Olliphoenix2 Randy Sexton's team now. The owners say they have a plan, but it's tough on the players who have been there a long time.''

    Jokinen admits that he doesn't talk to many of his old teammates in Florida – even though there aren't many left. Of Florida's probable lineup for Saturday, only seven players – Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, Tomas Vokoun and Rostislav Olesz among them – remain from the 2007-08 season.

    “He was here for a while in Florida and there will always be fans of the Rangers there,'' said Horton, who was close with Jokinen but it's obvious that isn't the case anymore. “This is where he made his name and became a great hockey player here. Olli was the go-to player here for a long time so I'm sure he's excited.''

    -- Steve MacIntyre was sent back to Rochester on Friday. No word on Victor Oreskovich's status. He left Thursday's game early after getting smashed into the boards. Byron Bitz is out, but Gregory Campbell could be good enough to go if Oreskovich cannot. Campbell loves playing the Rangers.

    SATURDAY: RANGERS AT PANTHERS

    When, Where: 7 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

    TV/Radio: FSNF; WAXY 790

    The series: Rangers lead 35-27-6

    The game: The Panthers snapped their four game losing streak on Thursday as Scott Clemmensen blanked the Bruins 1-0. Clemmensen, who is expected to start Saturday, had back-to-back shutouts for the Devils last season. Clemmensen's shutouts came, coincidentally, against the Bruins – and Rangers.

    April 01, 2010

    Panthers Go Bear Hunting: Clemmensen Snags Bruins 1-0

    BruinsPANTHERS 1, BRUINS 0

    BOSTON – Pete DeBoer says bluntly that he is still trying to win games and he is going with the goaltender who gives him the best chance to accomplish that goal.

    “I'm not putting a rotation in, trying to protect anyone, play guys for their stats,'' DeBoer said.

    Based on that, and Thursday night's performance against the Bruins, expect backup Scott Clemmensen to find more playing time as the season comes to a close.

    Clemmensen was peppered with shots on Thursday but stood strong, the former Boston College goalie getting his first shutout as a member of the Panthers as he stopped 36 shots in Florida's 1-0 victory at the Garden.

    “I was hoping to get my first shutout before April, but hey, better late than never,'' said Clemmensen, who led the BC Eagles to the 2001 national title. “They came at us pretty good but we killed some penalties. I got lucky on a few saves out there. I know they are a little snake bitten and that worked to my advantage.''

    The win snapped Florida's four game losing streak and kept the Panthers from being eliminated from postseason contention for at least another day. Florida's win also put a dent in Boston's playoff run as the Bruins were one of three teams tied for the final spot going into Thursday's game.

    The New York Rangers, Florida's opponent on Saturday who play in Tampa on Friday, are four back of the slumping Bruins. The Panthers may not be in the playoff race, but they could have a say on who stays in it.

    “We are going to come across situations like this and we really don't have a whole lot else to play for right now,'' said Keith Ballard, whose goal 7:15 into the first period stood as the game winner. Ballard's Minnesota Gophers won the national title the year after Clemmensen left BC.

    “Maybe we can upset some teams. It's nice. This was a big game for them. We're going to see some team's better games in these final weeks.''

    The Panthers and Bruins have played plenty of close games – especially this season. Thursday was the fourth and final game between the two – each game being decided by one goal. The Panthers won both games in Boston by 1-0 scores. Tomas Vokoun got the shutout the last time here in November. Former Florida backup Craig Anderson also won a 1-0 game in Boston on March 4, 2008.

    “Like Buffalo, we played a good first period then ran out of gas,'' DeBoer said. “But we got the goaltending we needed with the lineup we've got to win. .-.-. For a team not really playing for a playoff spot, a lot of guys were sacrificing and putting their bodies on the line for a win. That's nice to see at this time of year. It shows some character.''

    After the Panthers were blown out 6-2 in Buffalo on Wednesday night, few could have guessed Thursday's effort would be so much better. The Panthers played a strong first period – like in Boston – only they went to the break with the lead and not facing a deficit. In the second, the Bruins dominated play as they kept the Panthers pinned deep in their zone for much of the period.

    The Bruins outshot the Cats 36-20.

    “You could see their desperation,'' said DeBoer. “They are in the heat of the battle for a playoff spot.''

    TRIO STILL OUT

    Winger Byron Bitz has missed the past three games with an injured elbow and DeBoer says his injury is substantial. Bitz could miss the rest of the season with the injury.

    The Panthers acquired Bitz in a trade with the Bruins last month in exchange for defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. Bitz played in two games after the trade but injured his groin and missed four games. Bitz returned and played in five games before getting hurt against Ottawa.

    -- DeBoer said injured winger Gregory Campbell has been skating on his broken foot in South Florida and could be back in the lineup in the final week of the season. Campbell is expected to miss Saturday's game against the Rangers. “He has a broken bone in his foot and that's pretty painful,'' DeBoer said. “But he's a tough kid and it could get better quick.''

    Campbell has been out since taking a puck off the skate March 20 against Buffalo.

    -- Victor Oreskovich got hit hard in the first period and limped to the bench area before returning to the game. Oreskovich would eventually leave the game for good after playing just 2:14 on four shifts.

    -- Rostislav Olesz missed his second straight game with a hand injury.

    -- Thursday's game was Florida's last of the season outside the Sunshine State. The Panthers play four of their final five at home – with the lone road game on April 10 in Tampa.

    -- Florida's home game on April 6 against Ottawa will start at 7 p.m. To accommodate Senators television. The Panthers usually start weekday home games at 7:30.


    For Those Scoring at Home

    A regulation loss to the Bruins tonight makes it official; a win, and we have to wait another day or so.