I spoke with Jacob Markstrom on Thursday and he seems to be a very engaging fellow.
His English is impeccable and he towers over everyone -- although while no one has ever said this to me, it looks like he could use a few extra pounds. Of course, Craig Anderson isn't very husky and it seems to work for him.
He also has an air of confidence surrounding him.
The kid is good and he knows it. Playing the past two seasons in the highest level of the Swedish Elite League -- and succeeding -- has fueled that outlook.
I will have a full story running on the 20-year-old Markstrom in the coming days (probably Monday or Tuesday), but here are some things I would like to share.
When asked about playing in Rochester:
“I want to play for the Florida Panthers. I want to play in the NHL. They want me to play as well as I can over here and get here as quick as possible. You don't become a better goalie by sitting on the bench. I want to play in games and I want to win games. That keeps pushing me to be a better goalie. If they tell me to go to Rochester, that's how it is. I'll go there and show them they were wrong.''
On learning the North American game:
“It's a whole new environment over here. I'm picking things up and becoming better and better. Rochester is a good team and the AHL is a good league. And I've played on the small rink before. But it's a whole different game in the AHL, NHL. But I want to play in the NHL and everyone in the Florida system does as well.''
Dmitry Kulikov on Markstrom: “He's so tall, he takes away the net and makes it very hard to score against him. I've faced him twice [in 2009] and he was pretty good. He beat us 5-0. He was a wall in the net. We couldn't do anything about it. I remember that. He's going to be a great goalie for us.''
Anyway, more later...
The Florida Panthers are bringing that look back for the 2010-11 season.
Here's a picture (courtesy of floridapanthers.com) showing what the tarps will look like.
As reported earlier this summer, the Panthers are 'downgrading' the capacity at The Billboard this season, covering up more than 2,000 upper deck seats with tarps.
According to the team, the "22-piece tarp system sponsored by Party City will cover the last six rows of seats located on the terrace level.''
When the team moved from Miami Arena in 1998, seating capacity went from 14,823 in Miami to 19,250.
They obviously don't need that much room.
“Our building is just too big,'' team president Michael Yormark said back in May. “It would be too big for a lot of teams in the league.''
The Panthers are not the first to do this, in fact, it seems to be a trend in Florida.
A few years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars covered up almost 10,000 seats to try and keep NFL television blackouts at a minimum.
The University of Miami reduced seating at Joe Robbie Stadium last season by covering sections in the upper deck and club level with UM branded tarps. The Marlins also limit seating at JRS, although for the 1997 and 2003 playoffs, all available seats were open.
The Tampa Bay Rays also have covered seats at the highest levels of Tropicana Field.
With the upper deck tarps, the Panthers will play in the third smallest arena in the league – just larger than Edmonton (opened in 1974) and Long Island (1972).
Both of those cities are in talks to get replacement arenas.
Maybe they should bring in the Marlins brass to get a deal done.
“I've never been satisfied with my previous season because I know I could have done a better job,'' he said.
“But it was still a pretty good year for me. I think I've done a decent job this season of working out, skated for two weeks in my hometown and have kept in shape.
“I know people are expecting things from me. When people expect things, you should respond. You don't want them to forget you.''
Florida's first round pick in 2009 (14th overall), Kulikov made the team out of training camp after getting out of his KHL contract.
Not only did he play in 68 games, but he scored three goals with 13 assists. Very rarely did the 19-year-old Russian look out of place.
With Kulikov, Jason Garrison, 2007 first-rounder Keaton Ellerby and Eric Gudbranson (picked third overall in 2010), the Panthers feel they have a nice young defensive core to build around.
Only the defensive rebuild won't start at the NHL level just yet. While Garrison and Kulikov will start the year with the Panthers, Ellerby is expected to be back in Rochester and Gudbranson will likely be returned to his junior team. If there are injuries out of camp, the Panthers could allow Gudbranson to start the year in Florida. They have nine games to send him back before the first year of his contract kicks in.
Florida does have a fairly experienced blueline coming into camp despite trading away Dennis Seidenberg and Jordan Leopold at the deadline last year and Keith Ballard at the draft. Led by Bryan McCabe, Bryan Allen and Dennis Wideman, only Kulikov and Garrison have yet to play in 150 NHL games.
Kulikov turns 20 on Oct. 29.
"I don't think it's young to have a young D, especially when we have veterans like McCabe and Allen here,'' Kulikov said. "I think they're going to help us a lot. People are expecting things for us and we have a lot to prove, not only to the fans, but to our veterans and our coaches. I think we're going to do a pretty good job this year.''
Booth has been on the ice for the past few weeks and says he is feeling good.
“I'm doing my own two-a-days,'' he said on Thursday.
“It's coming along, but I can feel the rust coming off. Every day I feel a little quicker. But, no doubt, it's taking a while to get going. I've been going hard. Everything is going good.''
Booth says he has felt no ill effects from his two concussions suffered last season. The first concussion – on Oct. 24 in Philadelphia – cost him 45 games.
On March 25, Booth was knocked out again – this hit ending his season. Booth ended with eight goals and eight assists in 28 games after signing a six-year deal worth almost $26 million – making him the Panthers highest-paid forward.
``This is big. I have a lot to prove,'' Booth said earlier this month. ``Last year was like a year off in a sense. I have been working really hard this summer, trying to get back to where I was before. After the concussions, I couldn't do the things I wanted to do. I'm getting my strength back, my quickness. It's coming along. I can't wait to put things to use when camp opens in a couple of weeks.''
-- So what has Booth been up to this summer? Well, in May, he went to New Zealand and snagged a 14-point Red Stag with his bow and arrow from 40-plus yards out. Then, he and his brother went hunting antelope in Three Forks, Montana. His brother brought one down; Booth didn't.
But that's OK. Booth says he is flying back to South Florida on Sept. 11. That following Sunday, he and a friend are going out into the Everglades to take advantage of the Alligator permit that Booth purchased.
Booth says he would like to get himself a new pair of boots. Or a new belt. “If it's big enough,'' he said, “maybe both.''
The NHL released its national television schedule on Wednesday, and the Panthers are hard to find.
In fact, Versus -- the NHL's main U.S. broadcaster -- doesn't have a single Panthers game on its schedule.
By comparison, the Heat will be available nationally in 29 of its 82 regular season games.
Of course, the NBA has many more television spots available with three major carriers (TNT/ESPN/ABC) and many more television nights than the NHL does.The Panthers aren't alone on the Versus Blackout -- however they are the only American team to be blacklisted. Edmonton and Ottawa also aren't included in Versus' coverage, but then again, Comcast isn't an official sponsor of those teams either.
The Panthers will be part of some Canadian broadcasts throughout the season, but only when playing other Canadian teams.
The Panthers could, however, make an appearance on NBC; Panthers at Devils on Jan. 23 is one of three games scheduled for the Peacock that day.
And yes, I know, Comcast owns NBC as well.
Randy Moller says the Panthers will unveil their season TV schedule in the coming weeks with 72 games expected to be on FSN/Sun this year.
The biggest player on the ice was new goalie Jacob Markstrom. He's listed at 6-foot-3 but looks taller; he's probably 6-5. Dude can completely fill the net.
And, despite his size, he looks very agile. On a few shots -- one taken by captain Bryan McCabe -- Markstrom spun while dropping to the ground to get a chunk of the puck.
"You can tell he's going to be special,'' said goalie coach Robb Tallas. Markstrom has been staying with Tallas while he gets acclimated to life stateside and is digging the NHL Network.
"He asks great questions. Smart questions,'' Tallas said. "And he watches NHL Network all the time. He just watches those playoff replays, checking out what everyone does. He's soaking things up like a sponge.''
Tomas Vokoun, the Panthers starting goalie, has also been working out in Coral Springs. Vokoun also looked pretty sharp out there.
Dmitry Kulikov and Cory Stillman were the other veterans out there on Wednesday. Former Panthers winger Serge Payer is also out there working out. More players are expected by the end of the week and a bundle should be out there next week. If you want to head out there, knock yourself out. The players aren't using the Panthers locker room but are using the Panthers new ice sheet.
Peters spent last season with the Devils before his contract was bought out in July.
Peters is coming to the Panthers for one reason: Protection. Whether that's here or in Rochester will be decided later. In 229 NHL games, Peters has four goals, three assists -- and 650 penalty minutes.
Last year, Peters made the Devils after being invited to camp for a tryout. Here's what he told the Newark Star-Ledger regarding his role in the league.
"Do I think it's a dying breed? No, I don't," Peters said. "I don't think teams will carry 2-3 guys like they used to in the late 80s. But I think every team has to have one guy. I think there will always be fighting in hockey. Not only for the fans but so teammates can feel safe."
-- For breaking news (I've been running around all day and am just getting to post this) check out our Twitter feed. I can get to that much, much faster.
It's the opening round auditions for YOUR Florida Panthers Ice Dancers from this past weekend at the arena.
Thanks to Kuklas Korner for bringing it up.
You'll thank him too.
Looks like Andy Slater and Bill Murphy are enjoying their time as judges. Although there are some tough decisions to be made.Tough, tough decisions. Sometimes life is tough. Deal with it fellas. And ladies.
-- Speaking of dancers, don't forget the Panthers are hosting another summer cookout on Wednesday starting at 5:30. Dmitry Kulikov will be there, as will some of the dancers. Call the Panthers at 954-835-PUCK if you want to go.
Found a cool story regarding the Hartford Whalers and a reunion/fan fest held at then UConn football stadium this past weekend.
A bunch of former players were there and it sounds like it's going to become an annual deal.
To keep the spirit of the old Whalers going, The Hartford Courant has opened a stand-alone Whalers website. Has a ton of stories and pictures. It's worth a visit.
One of the stories on the site regards the uptick in Hartford merchandise. Sales are through the roof, and you seem to see it everywhere.That's Megan Fox, on the left, doing her part to keep folks interested in the Whalers.
One rep says there's little doubt the Whalers have moved into the top five in NHL sales. And that's with the team not having played as the Whalers since moving to Carolina in 1997.
I know I get a lot of comments when I wear my Whalers gear out and about. Not as many comments as Ms. Fox does, but whatever.
-- With cool logos in mind -- or not -- word on the street is the Panthers are likely going to keep the leaping Panther as their primary logo in 2011-12 while changing the team's colors from the H. Wayne picked blue-gold-red to the Tampa Bay Rays scheme we saw last year.The blue-on-blue color scheme (what do we call it? The JetBlues? The Sunrise Rays?) apparently will be the Panthers uniform look by that season.
The Panthers have been wanting to jump start their look -- read: merchandise sales -- for a long time now.
Some team officials have been wanting to change the current logo to the third jersey crest (at left) although owner Cliff Viner is opposed to it, with one staffer telling me he thinks it looks like it belongs to the FIU Panthers -- and doesn't look sharp enough to be a pro logo.
He has a great point.
While the third crest logo isn't going anywhere for now, word is the Panther with the breaking stick is the logo of the future. In some shape or form.
The third jersey -- if the stick breaking panther is indeed the primary logo -- could incorporate the head crest. If there is a third jersey. Probably won't for the first few years of the redesign.
I'm sure there are people hard at work on this as we speak. Here's hoping they fix the dopey FLA logo...
And leave the palm tree/hockey stick shoulder patch alone...
-- Back to the Whale: If you are jonesing to hear the old Brass Bonanaza, here's a great website for you. Many editions of the old Whalers fight song.
-- As of 4:21 p.m., I am two people short of hitting 2,000 Twitter followers. Spread the word. Would like to hit 2K by 4:30.
Upon taking a break from writing football preview stories, I noticed a new story on floridapanthers.com regarding the Panthers chances for next season.
It's a story that doesn't break any news or anything, but it does bring up Florida's long postseason drought -- and suggests this might be the year the Panthers finally jump into the playoffs.
This comes just a few days after The Hockey News predicted the Cats would finish last in the Eastern Conference.
My take is this: I think the Panthers are going to be an interesting bunch, but if they make it to the postseason, Pete DeBoer is not only the coach of the year, but perhaps the decade. I just don't see this team scoring many goals and there are way too many question marks throughout the lineup.
The current lineup isn't very imposing, and that's even if it stays healthy. Once guys start getting hurt and DeBoer is forced to start mixing and matching, well, that's not going to be fun.
And does anyone really think the Panthers are better than they were last year? I think Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina are better than they were last year. The Southeast Division has really improved. That's not going to help the Panthers.
I think with Tomas Vokoun, the Panthers have a chance to be in every game. Maybe they steal a few here or there. I could actually see the Panthers finally get off to a good start and create a feel-good buzz. Maybe they sustain that, like some other surprising teams (Colorado, Phoenix) did last year. If the Panthers are in the playoff mix, it's going to be real hard for GM Dale Tallon to wheel off UFAs Vokoun, Bryan McCabe and Cory Stillman at the deadline.
But that's a whole lot of maybes.Anyway, training camp is about a month away (rookie camp opens in less than a month in Coral Springs) and players are starting to trickle back to our little corner of the world. I'll be heading to the rink a few times a week to see who I find. Check back here for reports.
-- Also, congrats to my old pal Steve X. who is moving from the Panthers to the Miami Hurricanes beat. We spent the past five seasons fighting, laughing and competing for stories. We traveled countless miles together covering this team and I must say it was a pretty good time. Hopefully when the Panthers make it to the playoffs, he'll come back and help out.
That said, I would like to officially welcome Harvey to the beat. He's helped Steve out the past few years and has even been on a few road trips with me. He's no rookie. I'm sure will have our share of fun as well -- but I will not drive from Washington D.C. to Atlanta ever again.
And for those who hoped I would join Steve down in the Gables, too bad. You're stuck with me.
In just over a month, the Panthers will take the ice in Coral Springs for the start of training camp. Forward David Booth would like to fast-forward to that September day.
``I can't wait to get back, we have a good group here,'' Booth said last week. ``We have a new team, but it's one I think can be in a position to win. This is an exciting time, exciting for everyone.''
The Panthers open training camp Sept. 18.
Booth's last season was trying -- two concussions cut it short. The first concussion cost him 45 games and a possible trip to the Olympics with Team USA. The second ended his season with three weeks remaining.
After his first concussion -- he was knocked cold at open ice by a hard-charging Mike Richards in Philadelphia on Oct. 24 -- Booth tried to force the issue and come back as quickly as possible. Booth suffered from headaches and double-vision and had to shut things down for a bit. Booth returned Jan. 31 and looked a little off.
``I knew it was going to take a while,'' he said. ``It was like having three months off, then trying to jump into it. I think it made me a stronger person.''
On March 25, Booth was knocked out again -- this time along the boards on a clean check by Montreal's Jaroslav Spacek -- just days after he recorded his first two-goal game of the season in Toronto. The Spacek hit ended his season. Booth, who became Florida's highest-paid forward after he signed a six-year deal with the team last summer, ended with just eight goals and eight assists in 28 games.
Booth said he is back to normal, his health the beneficiary of the typically long hockey offseason in South Florida. With no games to come back to, Booth has been able to take it easy and not rush things. On Monday, Booth began his offseason skating regimen in his native Michigan, with his focus on September and a chance to start again.
``This is big. I have a lot to prove,'' he said. ``Last year was like a year off in a sense. I have been working really hard this summer, trying to get back to where I was before. After the concussions, I couldn't do the things I wanted to do. I'm getting my strength back, my quickness. It's coming along.
``I can't wait to put things to use when camp opens in a couple of weeks.''
The Eagles are Panthers Newest Sponsors: Training Camp at Hotel California? Desperado for Wins? Welcome to Tequila Sunrise?
If I did, I probably wouldn't have much time to do anything else -- sleep included.
But this newest one is pretty original. Even by Team Yormark standards.
With the Panthers holding training camp in South Florida this year, one knew it would have a presenting sponsor. That was a given.
I don't think anyone saw that sponsor being the classic rock group the Eagles, however.
According to a release the team just sent out, the Eagles -- who brought us Hotel California, Lyin' Eyes, Desperado, Life in the Fast Lane, Tequila Sunrise and many more hits -- will be sponsoring Florida's training camp that starts Sept. 18 in Coral Springs.
The Eagles are playing The Billboard on Oct. 8 -- just two nights before the Panthers open their season in Edmonton.
No word on whether Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh or Timothy Schmit will suit up and shoot a few pucks at Tomas Vokoun or not.
One thing we can be assured: Frey will NOT be asked to perform his solo hit The Heat is On.
Unless he visits a basketball game in Miami, that is.
-- Back to hockey talk: The Panthers still haven't gotten back to me regarding Alexander Salak but various outlets have reported that the Rochester goalie will be playing in Sweden next year.
Which is probably fine with the Panthers. The Panthers have too many goalies right now, and Salak can go to Sweden, get some time in, then come on back if that's the plan. The Panthers retain his North American rights.
Why would the Panthers care about when the Heat play?
Of the markets who share NBA and NHL teams only five (counting Golden State/San Jose but not Orlando/Tampa) do not share arenas. The Panthers, obviously, are one of those five.
Which means the NBA team can play on the same night the NHL team does across town.
Some of the NHL teams own their market (San Jose, Detroit, Minnesota). Others struggle against the NBAers (Florida, Phoenix).
The Panthers know they are going to be playing in the shadow of the Heaters more than ever this season. But at least the schedule isn't as bad as it has been in past years. And the Panthers have taken a good attitude toward the Heat's powerful additions and seem to be rolling with the punches. No other way to go on this one.
When a Category 5 is coming your way, you board up the house and hope for the best. No way to fight back. You are going to lose.
According to my math (which is admittedly shaky), the Panthers and Heat go head-to-head 36 times this season. Luckily for the Panthers, only 10 of those games are home games for both teams.
Of the first eight head-to-heads this season, only one involve home games for both (Penguins @ Sunrise, Pacers @ Heat on Nov. 22). That's one the Panthers can handle thanks to Sidney Crosby and the fanatical Pittsburgh fans and all.
There are two home head-to-heads in the following nine conflicts and the Heat is going to win at least one of those battles.
On Nov. 26, the Rangers come to Sunrise as the Sixers visit Miami. Winner: South Florida. Two packed arenas at the same time is good for everyone.
On Dec. 15, however, the Cleveland Cavaliers visit downtown Miami with Carolina coming to Sunrise. Huge edge to the Heaters on this one.
The biggest conflicts come later in the season. The Panthers have a seven game homestand from March 6-19 with a couple big-time opponents (Chicago, Washington) coming to town. The Heat are also home from March 6-16. There are two conflicts: Bulls/Capitals (different afternoon start times, however) on March 6; Lakers/Senators on March 10.
Other big home-and-home conflicts include Rangers/Nets on Feb. 27.
There are also other key dates that conflict that will affect the Panthers home attendance or television ratings.
For instance, the first Heat game featuring Dwyane/LeBron/Bosh comes on Oct. 26 when Miami opens in Boston. The Panthers are in Toronto that night. On Nov. 24, the Heat visit divisional rival Orlando as Nathan Horton makes his return to Sunrise with the Boston Bruins.
Other big conflicts: Heat @ Dallas/Panthers @ Tampa Bay (11/27); Heat @ Cleveland/Panthers @ Kings (12/2); Heat @ Knicks/Buffalo @ Panthers (12/17); Heat @ Raptors/Flyers @ Panthers (2/16); Heat @ Cavs/Panthers @ Jackets (3/29).
Again, this schedule works out OK for the Panthers. It certainly could have been much, much worse.
And it's not a compliment.
The Hockey News has both teams picked to finish last in their respective conferences.
THN (LINK HERE) says this about the Panthers:
"With GM Dale Tallon at the helm it's a new era in Florida.
have seen Nathan Horton and Keith Ballard moved for younger pieces and
the team also had three picks in the first round of the draft.
"Of course, while this means the team is headed in the right direction, it also means it'll be a long, losing season with probably many more moves in store.''
You don't have to listen to the naysayers, especially since TSN was way off on the Cats last year, picking Florida to finish 12th in the east.
We all know Florida ended up 14th.
-- Truthfully, where do you pick the Panthers to finish this year? I am leaning toward somewhere around where TSN sees it. Feel free to leave your predictions below (and I do realize that it's only August 9).
The guests of honor: Dmitry Kulikov, goalie coach Robb Tallas and assistant GM Mike Santos.
Get there early to grab a hot dog or a burger. And if you haven't bought season tickets yet, odds are someone will be there to help you out.
Here are the specifics: Wednesday, Aug. 18; 5:30 p.m. at The Billboard.
Call 954-835-PUCK to RSVP for this VIP event. And do it ASAP. OK?
Just a few days after sending popular forward Graham Mink away, the Panthers got the Rochester Americans some offensive help by trading for center Mike Santorelli. The Panthers sent a fifth round pick to Nashville for Santorelli.
Santorelli spent part of the past two seasons with the Preds, scoring two goals with an assist in 32 career games.
Santorelli has thrived at the AHL level, leading the Milwaukee Admirals with 26 goals and 33 assists last season. He had 27 goals with 43 assists in 2008-09.
Assistant GM Mike Santos has worked closely with the Cyclones the past few years when he was with the Predators. The Cyclones have won two of the past three Kelly Cups (the ECHL championship) including last year.
The Panthers, one might recall, were affiliated with the old Cyclones of the IHL back in the franchise's early years.
The Panthers joined forces with the IHL Cyclones in May of 1993 -- six months before the Cats played their first game.
And according to Wikipedia, this current Cincinnati franchise was, for one year, known as the Miami Matadors.
It's the Circle of Life kids.
The Panthers added more depth to
their blueline on Tuesday, signing defenseman Mike Weaver to a two-year deal.
Weaver, 32, has played in 339 NHL games in his eight-year career. Weaver spent the past two seasons in St. Louis, scoring a goal with 16 assists in 135 games with the Blues.
Weaver has four goals and 38 assists
in his career and is expected to help Florida on its penalty kill.
Florida now has seven NHL defensemen (including second-year player Dmitry Kulikov) on its roster, meaning – barring a rash of injuries – it’s more than likely that 2010 first round pick Erik Gudbranson will spend this coming season with his junior team and not play for the Panthers.
Florida took Gudbranson with the third overall pick in June.
Weaver spent four seasons at Michigan State and won the AHL’s championship with Chicago in 2002. Weaver has also played for Atlanta (2001-04), Los Angeles (2005-07) and Vancouver (2007-08).
The Panthers also made moves regarding Rochester.
In a surprising move, popular forward Graham Mink -- who scored 20 goals for the Amerks last season -- was shipped to the Blues in exchange for defenseman T.J. Fast. Florida also signed defenseman Joe Callahan to a two-way deal.
The response to the Panthers moving Mink hasn't been a popular one in Rochester. Mink was a fan favorite -- the Panthers seemed to like him as well after he had a strong training camp last year -- and Fast doesn't exactly seem to be a star in the making as he spent much of the past two years in the ECHL.