September 20, 2008

Bo's Still Here

BodukeJay Bouwmeester spoke after Saturday's first day workout, saying a lot of the right things, but other things that may make the Panthers nervous.

Bouwmeester didn't pull many punches, saying he wasn't ready to commit to the Panthers long-term during the summer, mainly because he doesn't know how things are going to go down. He says "we're always starting from scratch. That's tough.''

Jay also says this is "not a hockey market by any means,'' before adding the team has a solid core of fans and it's a fun place to play when the team is winning. As far as the Panthers not making the playoffs, he takes some of the blame for that, and adds he can be part of the solution to fixing things here. Below is the transcript of Jay's talk with the South Florida -- and one member of the Toronto -- media.


-- No distraction: “It's not going to be. It's done. I have a year, and you can't do anything until January anyway. It's no distraction. When the time comes, we'll deal with it.''

-- Why one year?: “Over the summer I wasn't prepared to sign a longer term deal. There were a lot of changes and everything else. At that point, I didn't feel it was time. We'll see what happens. Nothing can happen until January. We'll go from there.''

-- Is money the issue?: “No, it's not. If you're just in it to sign a contract and get the money out of it, I think you're in it for the wrong reasons. It has to be a good situation, and if you're going to sign a long-term deal, you have to make sure its something good for you and your family. It has to be something that works. This past summer, with the changes and not knowing what's going on, well, I've been through that before. I wasn't prepared to do that.''

-- Importance of the Panthers becoming a winner: “I've been here five years and haven't played in a playoff game. It's not fun for anyone. Hey, I'm partly to blame for that. I know that. You go through all these changes, and your always starting from scratch. It's tough. Now, the last few years, we've finished better. And what we have here now is a lot better than we've had in the past. Again, it takes time. We have to see what happens.''

-- On Keith Ballard: “He's a good player. For sure, this defense is the best we've had since I've been here. There's some pretty solid players. And we have great goalies. Looking at things, we should be solved defensively. Hopefully we have some guys who have some breakout years and continue the offense and all that. We should be good defensively if everyone plays the way they can.''

-- Improving the D: “It's good. Teams with solid defense start there. You don't want to play in your own end all the time. It makes things a lot easier. It's good when you have good guys around you. It makes it a lot more fun. There's optimism this year that we're going to have a good team and make a good run at it. But you have to take it – this is the first day of training camp. Everyone feels that way. You have to wait and see what happens, get off to a good start and take it as it comes.''

-- Open to staying in Florida: “Well, yeah. If I wasn't, I would have signed something and that's the end of the discussion. I wasn't prepared to do so. That's not closing any doors.''

-- Going to a traditional hockey market: “Obviously there are differences no matter where you go. This isn't a hockey market by any means. But at the same time, we do have good fans and when we do well, people show up and this is a fun place to play. Most of that is our fault because we haven't been good for a little while. That's no excuse. It's all speculation.''

-- Pros and cons for all situations: “Of course. You go to some markets where it's just ridiculous. The guys from Toronto can tell you about that, how everything gets blown out of proportion. That's no fun. So, anywhere you go, there are pros and cons. It doesn't make a whole lot of difference.''

-- Simple as 'make the playoffs?' -- “I don't know. That would be a tough pill to swallow for sure if you don't make the playoffs then faced with, well, you have a tough decision to make. Hopefully that doesn't happen. We'll just have to see.''


September 19, 2008

Distraction? What Distraction?

Bo_2 To a man, the Panthers say Jay Bouwmeester and his contractual status with the Panthers will not be a problem nor a distraction this season.

When asked if his contract would be a distraction, DeBoer joked: "What contract situation.''

Added DeBoer:  "The way I look at it is this: He's a premier defenseman and we love him. We'd love to keep him here in Florida. From Jay's perspective, whether he's going to play in Florida long-term or go somewhere else, he's going to need a great year in order to set himself up for where he wants to go. The only thing I can control is I know I've got him for the season here and with that motivation, I think we'll have a great season from him.''

Both Bryan McCabe and Keith Ballard both said Jay's contract status is something that will not affect the team, and Ballard said the status of Bouwmeester had nothing to do with his decision to sign a six-year deal with the Cats last week.

"He's one of the best young D in the league,'' McCabe said. "Obviously one of the best skating defensemen in the league. He's got some wheels on him. I got to skate with him at the Olympics, got to room with him as well. He's a great kid. He's already an All-Star at 25. He's going to have a great career.

"[Contract] stuff doesn't concern us. That stuff will work itself out. Winning cures everything. If we can get off to a good start, make the playoffs, I'm sure Jay will make a decision that's best for him. But that stuff doesn't concern us in the locker room.''

Said Jacques Martin: "Look around the league and you see a lot of players playing out the last year of their contract. I think we got Jay signed for a year, and we can't sign him until after January 1. So it's not a distraction. Jay is on board to give us a good season, and we're looking for him to play the best hockey he ever has.''


-- Ducks tell Mathieu Schneider not to bother coming to physicals. Smells like the Duckies have a deal in place.

-- Pierre LeBrun says the Sabres are on the rebound.

-- Speaking of Buffalo, former Sabre Matthew Barnaby is being hired by ESPN to replace Barry Melrose.

-- I don't think Larry Brooks is a big fan of Nikolai Zherdev, do you?

-- Rich Hammond says Patrick O'Sullivan has been asked by the Kings to not report until they can work out a new contract. OK then.

-- Puck Daddy takes a look at your New York Islanders.

-- Mike Russo on Jacques Lemaire returning to the Wild of Minnesota.

-- Some guy named George Richards looks at the start of Florida Panthers training camp somewhere down in Florida. 

Center of Attention -- With Tons of Quotes

NatehortonAs we speculated this summer, it appears Nathan Horton will be moving to center at least on a tryout basis on Saturday.

That means those Sunrise Express (should have been Sawgrass Express IMHO) T-shirts you all bought last season will be collector's items.

Peter DeBoer floated the idea of moving Horton back to his natural position this summer when I met up with him in Kitchener, and at media day on Friday, said he was willing to try a number of different things. Horton moving from right wing to the pivot is one of them.

"We're going to look at all kinds of different options to try and get the best out of our team,'' DeBoer said. "I'm not married to any combinations or guys set at any positions.

"I wanted to come into this training camp with a clean slate for all the players. I don't want anyone to be dragging any baggage from the past into this camp. I don't want to be tainted by 'this guy only plays here.' We want to make sure we're a tough team to play against every night. To me, that means four lines playing with energy and competing and chipping in points every night. If that means moving some guys around, well, we're going to do that.''

Said Horton: "I haven't played [center] since junior, but it's a lot more fun when you can move around and go anywhere on the ice. You can help out more, have more responsibility. I think it'll be fun, but who knows what will happen. We'll see tomorrow, I guess.''

When asked if he welcomed the move, Horton sounded like he was cool with it. "Anyone would be,'' he said. "It's more responsibility and it gets you into the game a little more. You can go different places than you can at the wing.''

Added DeBoer: "I've had conversations with Nathan about it. He was a dominant centerman in junior, went head-to-head with [Eric] Staal night in and night out in junior. He usually came out on top. I've had that conversation with him. All the guys have the attitude that they're going to do what they have to do to find some success here as a team.''

Said JM: "You need a big center, and he fits the bill.''

Added Stephen Weiss: "He's such a good player, he can play anywhere you need him to. He's played center before, so it might take him a few games to get used to it, but he'll be fine.''

Said David Booth: "He's a great player and can play anywhere. Just a great athlete. Things change during the course of a year and you never know what's going to happen. We have a lot of good players, players who can play anywhere.''

Other notes from Friday's meet and greet:


-- On playing well from the start : "The starts here the past couple of years have been a concern. We all know how important it is to get off to a good start and get headed in the right direction.''

-- On his vision: "My concern is making us the hardest working team in the league. We want to play the right way, be a tough team to play against. If we play that way, success is going to come.''

-- On meeting his new players: "I think I have a feel for all the guys. I haven't had a chance to sit down and meet with everyone, but we're going on the road for quite a while here so I can sit with everyone through that span. The feedback is excitement. These guys are excited to be back. Anytime you miss the playoffs it's a long summer. As much as hockey players enjoy their summer, four or five months is too long. I think everyone would be happy with just two or three.

"They're excited about our direction, excited about the new players in the room. And so are we.''

-- Bringing in his style: "Players want honest and they want straightforwardness. They'll see early what I expect, what we want. They're going to get to buy into that early. There won't be an issue.''

-- Expectations: "We have a captive audience here. There isn't one guy who has been here in this organization who has played in the playoffs in seven years. .-.-. These guys want to be playing playoff hockey, want the direction that's going to take them to success at that time of year. We have to lay that foundation in training camp.''

-- On the new captain: "It's a topic of conversation, although it hasn't been that big a topic with the coaching staff that people out there may believe. We have so many other things to focus on right now. I now there is leadership in that room, I know there's depth of leadership in that room. If anything, there's going to be a group of guys not wearing a letter that probably could be.

"As far as the 'C' and 'As' go, we haven't had that conversation in any detail. I really wanted to come into camp with an open mind and let the chips sort themselves out. Usually those things become pretty clear pretty quickly. If they don't, well, I'm not in any rush. This is important decision for this franchise and we want to make sure we get the right guy.''

-- Younger players fitting in: "That's up to them. I've never been a coach who cut or kept players because of their age or experience. We want to win every night and if I feel Frolik or Matthias or any of the young guys can step in and help us win on night one of the season, they'll be in the lineup night one. If I don't think they can, they won't be.

"I'm not going to make those decisions based on age or experience. It's because I've found in the past that there are young guys who are ahead of the curve and can step right in. Some guys you think could, really couldn't. We'll see how it shakes out.''


-- On setting the right tempo: "It all starts tomorrow. Everyone is going come in and work hard. I think that's the main thing, getting it right from the start. Whatever happens in practice carries over into the games. We've talked about [digging a hole] a lot. We definitely need a good start. It's not easy when you fall behind from the beginning. It's a long season, but those wins count just as much as the ones at the end of the season.''

-- On not having Olli around: "Obviously he was my friend. He was a team leader and it'll be different. But the guys we brought in have leadership, guys like Stillman and McCabe and the list goes on. It''s exciting for me, I think it'll be exciting for everyone.''

-- Doing more: "I need to do more. The big thing is not taking nights off, and that comes from working. Practice means a lot and I'm going to do my best there. That should carry over. The nights we take off are the points we need at the end.''

-- Did leadership need to change?: "I think something needed to change. We have great guys here who are older guys and leaders. We have a good mix. We're all getting along, have been skating together for  a month. It's been fun, and tomorrow is where it all starts.''

-- Fresh start with Pete: "I'm excited to play for him, and I think if you talk to a lot of guys, they are too. He knows a lot about the game and he'll be good for the Panthers and for everyone's career. He knows a lot and has a lot to teach.''


-- On cleaning house: "No matter where you're at, you're going to have ups and downs. I think we improved the character of our club so we can deal with situations, deal with times of frustrations and adversity better than we have in the past.''

-- On goals: "We have a nucleus of players who can take us to the playoffs. .-.-. Our goaltending is strong enough to make us a playoff team. Our defense now, I really believe it's good enough to make us a playoff team. Up front, we're still very young, but I think we have people who will produce. When I look at our roster, I see seven guys who could be 20 goal scorers if they stay healthy. We could get more production from the backend. It's going to take a lot of work, but we have better depth than we've had before and we still may need to add some dimension.''

-- Training camp: "We're going to have some great battles between the young kids. Matthias, Frolik, Repik for instance. Then you have another wave of guys like Stewart, Sprukts, Meyer, Glass. those could be players who earn a spot on our team. We have more compition within the team.'' 

-- On lines: "The good thing is, that's not my decision anymore.''

-- Expectations: "Don't single out Nathan. We're expecting more from a lot of people. People like Stephen Weiss, Rostislav Olesz, David Booth, Brett McLean. We signed Cory Stillman, Richard Zednik. There's probably seven individuals who could score 20 goals or more. I think it's time for those players to take a step forward.

-- Zednik moving forward: "Richard handled it very well. He had a lot of time to recover, and I think he's anxious to come back and start competing. When he got hurt, he was at the best -- with us, anyway. Hopefully he can regain that form quickly and help us win hockey games.''

-- How tough to make Panthers: "As a player, there's injuries and there are trades. If someone steps up and shows he deserves to play at this level, I'm sure we'll find the room.''

-- Jassen Cullimore coming back: "If you remember last year, we had eight defensemen at training camp, and by November, we had to reach out and sign Jassen. Sometime you don't have enough defensemen. We like Jassen, felt he performed well for us last year. Who knows what can happen in training camp. He's going to get a chance to prove to the new coach where he fits in. Hopefully after camp we have a contract for him.''


-- On returning from injury: "It's tough when you can't shoot the puck, that's one of your bread-and-butter things. There are other aspects you can work on, and I hope to contribute offensively. That's why they brought me out here. I'm going to put the puck in the net this year.''

-- Getting started: "I'm really excited, I get a fresh start here. New coach, lot of new teammates. I'm looking forward to helping out this club.''


-- On skating with his new teammates the past few weeks: "It's good to get guys in here early, that way you can feel comfortable together before camp starts. I think it's important to start building some chemistry. Look at Cory Stillman. We've been together a few weeks already. I haven't played in a game with him, but I feel like I know him a little bit. There's a comfort level there.

"When we're all sucking wind and bent over in the first practice, it'll help to know one another. It helps you learn one another.''


-- On the new Panthers: "I think we do need a fresh start around here. We haven't made the playoffs in eight years, and that's something we need to do down here. If we do it, we can get the fan base going. And we can do it. We can make a charge for the Stanley Cup. We have to keep talking about the Stanley Cup. That has to be a goal. That's why you play the game, to win. We have to talk about that every day.''

-- Quick start: "Come March and April, you find yourself looking back at games lost saying 'we had a two-goal lead.' We have to do that starting Oct. 10. We have to get going right now. We've seen how hard the guys have worked in the offseason, we just have to be ready to go from the start. We have to finish off teams, and when we're down, we have to fight to the finish.''

-- More on the new look: "I think we have a good team. The changes we made were good. There's definitely going to be a good vibe in the locker room, and everyone is on the same page right now. No one is better than anyone else. You have to prove yourself in training camp.''

-- Chemistry on the Sunrise Express: "It takes time to develop. That was fun. But those guys are great players and they're going to find success with whomever they play. They make the other players better. If we can get two or three lines going every night, producing -- even four lines -- that will help our team.''

May 02, 2008

World Championships -- Updated with Team USA Info

DwyanewadeAnyone out there interested in these? Being held in Canada this summer, the worlds were expected to drum up much more interest in North America than in years past.

But is there any interest?

The Panthers have six players -- well, seven if you count Branislav Mezei -- representing five different countries in these games. They kicked off today with Team Canada (with Jay Bouwmeester) dropping Slovenia 5-1.

I plan on talking here about the games because I do have a slight interest in these games. Figure it will grow when they get closer to crowning a champion. Thoughts?

-- The U.S. entry (with Craig Anderson in goal and David Booth flying up the left wing) played Latvia on Friday night, sporting retro jerseys from 1960 design ( I dig 'em). Boston's Tim Thomas got the start over Anderson as the USAers trounced Latvia 4-0.

Dustin Brown, Patrick 'Miami' Kane, Zach Parise and Patrick O'Sullivan all scored for the Americans (not the Amer-I-Can'ts) on Friday night.

April 24, 2008

News of the Day

MichelinmanSpent part of the morning at the BAC meeting with JM the GM. OK?

Got a little bit of news out of our meeting, some of which has been reported. But, I'm giving it to you anyways.

Sue me.

-- On the coaching search: No rush. None. JM was talking about August today. Says there are candidates who are still in the playoffs (thinking the Rangers' Perry Pearn) and says he'll put his list of qualifications together next week. Adds Mike Kitchen and Guy Charron have indicated they are interested in the job and will get their chance. Other than that, not much.

-- On his contract status: Nothing yet, although he says they are close to getting the deal done. He didn't seem all to worried about it.

-- On Michael Frolik: Nothing new to report here either. JM says the Panthers have made another offer and they are working toward a deal. Clock is ticking on this one. If Frolik isn't signed by June 1, he can re-enter the draft. Florida needs this deal to get done.

-- On Wade Belak: Had shoulder surgery ("something similar to Noah Welch") and will spend the summer rehabbing. That said, Martin wants Belak back and says a deal is in the works. Rostislav Olesz is also a deal the Panthers think will get done sooner than later.

-- On Steve Montador: I get the feeling we may have seen the last of Monty in a Florida sweater. Dude is going to get paid this year after having a career year, and I don't know that the Panthers are going to want to pony up the cash. JM says they want Monty back, but added that Monty probably is going to want to test the free agent waters. And, the Panthers "have a budget to think about.''

-- On Jay Bouwmeester: Nothing new to report here either. JM says the two sides have begun speaking.

-- On the Rochester Americans: The mess continues to grow. JM says the league is meeting with the team on May 5-6 "because they have some issues they have to deal with.'' JM says the Panthers are going to need a new deal with the Americans since the Panthers are going to be the lone parent team and will stock the team with players and coaches.

"We still feel strongly that it's a great market, a great fit for us,'' Martin said. "At the same time, we need the ownership issues resolved by the league. We'll work with the league on that. He needs to rectify his issues with the league and the city.''

Martin said both he and Randy Sexton will probably handle the Rochester hirings and signings, adding that the assistant GM usually handles the AHL operations but the Panthers haven't hammered that out yet.

A rumor floating out of Rochester was that the Panthers were interested in buying the Americans outright. False. The Panthers lost a bundle when they owned the San Antonio Rampage and don't want to go that route again.

-- Martin says all three of his assistants are under contracts, and "whoever becomes the head coach, those will be issues we'll have to work out.'' Martin wouldn't say whether any of the three would be back next year, but that would be up to the new coach. "We have things we need to consider,'' he said.