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Panthers Forced to Pay Compensation for Dadonov?

July 27th, 2009 Comments off

As I reported last Friday, Evgeni Dadonov’s KHL club Traktor Chelyabinsk will be seeking compensation from the Panthers if the proposed deal to sign the winger goes through. The latest to come out from Russia is that the club indeed consider that the player has signed with them and are seeking help from the KHL to defend their contractual rights.

The coach, Andrei Nazaros, said on the Russian site Sovsport.ru that Chelyabinsk will want compensation money from the Florida Panthers; so they can sign a new player in Dadonov’s place. He say’s that they don’t want anything extravagant or too hefty – just a modest $500.000 dollars…

“Traktor spends 12 years developing its students like Dadonov and bringing them to the first team,” Nazarov also said. “And then some cunning guys from North America simply steal our players.”

The man obviously has a point, especially if Dadonov indeed has a valid contract with the Russian team. How the Panthers organization responds to this latest development remains to be seen, as of yet no word has come out of the organization in response.

If Evgeni is signed, he’ll be plying his trade with the Rochester Americans this coming season.

Dadonov’s Proposed Panthers Deal Contested by KHL Club

July 24th, 2009 Comments off

The pending signing of the Russian right wing talent Evgeni Dadonov (Panthers 3rd Round, #71 overall, select in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft) has been mooted for quite some time now. However, no official word has come to indicate it’s a done deal – from the Panthers camp that is. Dadonov’s Russian KHL club, Traktor Chelyabinsk, on the other side – have gone public with their complaints about the Cats snapping up their precious talent. Does the name Jiri Hudler pop up in anyone’s mind at this stage?

Well, it seems possible that this is a similar situation anyway. The Russian club claims that Dadonov signed a two-year deal with them in the spring, whilst Evgeni’s camp apparently denies this. The coach of the Chelyabinsk club, Andrei Nazarov, has stated that the KHL side won’t let go of the talented forward without a fight.

The route they’ll take is the opposite one of the Detroit Red Wings in the Hudler case; the club is planning to speak to the KHL to formally oppose the transfer – as NHL has already done in the other case. They also claim that they’ll produce the contract, which Evgeni allegedly signed in the spring, and put their case before a court of law – here in Florida – to argue their case.

Whether they indeed have a case or not – I suppose we’ll all find out soon enough…?  

It’s a tricky situation and frankly very hard to tell where the truth lies. This could turn out to be an affair that drags on for a while and likely new pieces of information will become available along the way, but for now, nothing is for certain – and we’ll have to keep an eye out for future developments…

New Cats had other options – Glass to Vancouver

July 22nd, 2009 Comments off

LW Tanner Glass signed today with the Vancouver Canucks, together with two other players. Glass played a few games with the Florida Panthers over the last two seasons, but saw most action with the farm affiliate in Rochester.

Indeed, the 25-year old spent most the 2008-09 season with the Rochester Americans of the AHL, playing 44 games and recording four goals, nine assists and 100 penalty minutes. The six-foot, 196-pound Regina, Saskatchewan native played three games with the Panthers, collecting seven penalty minutes. He was originally drafted by the Florida Panthers with their 265th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Although the details are not clear, it is likely to be a two-way contract for the power-forward. Whilst inter-rim GM Randy Sexton earlier said to be interested in re-signing Glass, it is possible the signings of several free agent forwards already, may have crowded him out of a place with the organization. Hopefully the gritty winger will be given a chance with the Canucks, seeing as he’s a very likeable fella that we wish all the best in his future endeavors.

Another former Panther, 33-year old D Rhett Warrener, is currently out of work and has so far not been offered any new deal with an NHL team. He spent last season with the Calgary Flames and played in only 31 games for the Alberta club.

The lack of interest has surprised Rhett: "You’re kind of out there floating around. There’s nothing concrete about anything. Spinning your tires a little bit, I guess you could say".

If he does not find a new club this off-season, he may be ready to end his career, although his priority is still to find a new team in the NHL: "Because I’m a dumb athlete I don’t know if I’d ever rule out playing," he said to the Calgary Herald. "I imagine if someone came and offered me a contract, I’d have to consider it."

 

Elsewhere, it seems that a couple of the free agent signings by the Panthers were not made without plenty of competition from other teams…

Defenseman Jordan Leopold, who the Panthers gained the rights to negotiate with at the draft from Calgary – but was unable to sign before free agency opened, had at least one other option that is likely to have been hard to turn down for him. The former Minnesota University blueliner had an offer on the table from the Minnesota Wild, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. It was a serious attempt to get the player to join the organization, but in the end Leopold opted instead to join the Cats on a one-year deal.

So, why did Jordan reject Wild for the Panthers?

Because apparently Florida have offered him a greater role in their team for this upcoming season, than Minnesota were willing to do, and so Leopold chose greater ice-time above the overtures from the Wild.

Canadian center Jamie Johnson meanwhile, had already signed for another team – when the Panthers made their interest in him known. Having spent last season with TPS Åbo, of Finland, he then signed a deal with Swedish second tier side Leksand. He was signed as their new star centerman, but when the Cats made their interest known he was able to leave months before even playing a game for his new side. This because in his contract with Leksand he had the option of signing with an NHL club before the 15th of July.

The 27-year old subsequently triggered his get-out clause and signed a one-year deal with the Panthers; although it remains unlikely he’ll be seeing too much action in Florida. More than likely he’s been signed to play with the Rochester Americans affiliate – in the AHL instead…

Panthers have Dollars, but not Tanguay, Murphs a Devil

July 17th, 2009 Comments off

Despite rumors to the opposite effect, circulating the Internet yesterday, star winger Alex Tanguay has not signed with the Panthers. It doesn’t mean he won’t, but like I reported here a few days ago; Alex will likely take his time to review several offers from a plethora of interested teams and then make an informed decision.

After declining numbers in recent years, mainly due to injury woes, he will need to jump start his career with his next team. That makes his decision an important one, not just for his future career, but also, it could mean he’d be willing to spurn some dollar signs in return for a perfect fit.

Whether or not the Florida Panthers could provide that remains uncertain. Certainly they are one of the interested parties, and inter-rim GM Randy Sexton also states that the club indeed have money to spend on a good player/addition to the squad (such as Tanguay, we would presume): “We’ve got dollars,” Sexton said on the Panthers website. “We don’t have unlimited dollars. I don’t think anyone does these days…There’s dollars available if we need them.”

He further goes on to say: “We’re having ongoing discussions with agents and players. We’re being selective to find the right fit to fill the right need at the right price. We the like the chemistry of our team and have to be sensitive to that. I think there’s going to be a fairly good-sized pool of people still around. We also want to provide a spot for some of our younger players.”

One can gather from this statement that the Cats indeed aren’t finished in the marketplace, and there are several good signings to be made (check out this list from the NHL website to see which ones are yet to find a new home), but it is likely the Panthers may only make one/two at most/ additions to the projected roster. The other signings are likely to be aimed at the Rochester Americans; who need an overhaul after last season’s dreadful performance in the AHL.

 

Meanwhile, one Eastern Conference team that was active today was the New Jersey Devils. They snapped up former Panther Cory Murphy on a 2-year, two-way contract. The details have not been released, but his salary will obviously depend on whether he can make the Devils team or if he’ll spend the season in the AHL. Murphy is a skillful and quick, yet small blueliner that can contribute on the power-play. He was picked up by the Tampa Bay Lightning on re-entry waivers last season, as the Panthers had plenty of depth in defense and didn’t need his services.

I always felt it was a bad deal for the Cats to lose him to the Bolts on re-entry waivers (hence being stuck with half his wages) and a slap in the face for the Amerks – who could have needed his experience on that level. However, it was a chance for Murph to re-ignite his career in the NHL. And now the Devils, who are well known to pick up fringe players and then mold them in to stars, have reached out toward him and wish him the best in Jersey.

Hopefully the Panthers won’t be left to rue this move in the future. We’ll see I guess….

A Minor Move and Release of Season Schedule

July 15th, 2009 3 comments

The Florida Panthers today announced the signing of another depth centerman. 27-year old Jamie Johnson was signed to a one year deal. He comes previously from a stint in Finland with TPS Turku of the Finnish Elite League. Last year he played 42 games for the team and notched up 8 goals and 20 assists. Prior to his Finnish adventure, Jamie played in the AHL with the Albany River Rats, pacing the team with 59 points in 79 games played.

While this is a move to provide depth at center, it is likely that the 27-year old will see action in Rochester rather than in Sunrise. Sounds like a solid move for the AHL affiliate, but Panthers fans were not waiting for this piece of news. Rather, the news everyone wants to know/dreads to hear, is if the club have been successful in luring veteran winger Alex Tanguay to South Florida or not.

 

Meanwhile, the 2009/10 NHL schedule has been released. As was known for a while the first two games will be played in Helsinki, Finland, against the Chicago Blackhawks on October 2-3. The regular season then begins on October the 9th with a visit to Southeastern Division rivals Carolina in Raleigh. The following night the Cats will entertain the New Jersey Devils at the Bank Atlantic Center; which should be an interesting game!

The season will be concluded on April the 9th with Tampa Bay Lightning coming for a visit. That is, unless the Panthers manage to brake both the odds and habit – by qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Florida fans will be able to get a look at more teams from the Western Conference this year, seeing as they will now play each team in the league at least once. Colorado and Nashville will be the "select" two teams that the Cats will both meet twice from the west.

“This year’s schedule sets up fairly well for our team,” Panthers Assistant General Manager Randy Sexton said when commenting upon the news. “After returning from Europe, we have the opportunity to get some rest as we play just four games over a 16-day period in October.  Additionally, we play five of our final eight games at the BankAtlantic Center, which could prove to be crucial in terms of playoff positioning,” Sexton also said.

However, playing teams in the playoff race at home during that last stretch may not be too much of an advantage. After all, the Panthers had a similar schedule this previous season and still managed to fumble and stumble over the finishing line – beaten barely by the woeful Habs.

 

For upbeat comments from Michael Yormak and a pitch of what the Panthers are offering pricewise, visit the Panthers official website, here you can also find the complete schedule.

Panthers sign another AHL’r

July 10th, 2009 Comments off

The Florida Panthers have signed RW Graham Mink to a 2-year contract. The winger played for Washington’s farm team Hershey last year and was part of the team there that won the Calder Cup. The Trophy was his second as a member of the AHL’s Bears. Panthers inter-rim GM Randy Sexton said about Mink:

“We are very pleased to welcome Graham to the Florida Panthers. Graham, [...] has experienced tremendous success on the AHL level and also understands what it takes to compete on the National Hockey League level.”

The 30-year old AHL veteran played in 68 games for Hershey last year, scoring 32 goals and accumulating a total of 59 points. In the Calder Cup playoffs he played in 22 games and scored 7 goals and contributed 8 assists. While mink is very experienced on the AHL level he has only played 7 games in NHL with the Capitals.

The Stowe, Vermont native, may very well have a shot at playing on the Panthers fourth line this coming season, but most likely this deal has made with an eye on helping the Rochester Americans achieve some success in the increasingly competitive AHL. After a disastrous previous season, the first with the Cats as the sole NHL affiliate, the Amerks are now getting some solid AHL veterans to boost its cause this coming campaign.

The lure is likely to be a shot at making a Panthers roster that is remarkably open to a competitive challenge from seasoned AHL’s at the moment. Many will probably feel that head coach Pete DeBoer will give everyone a fair chance of making the roster out of training camp.

While this is good; it is important to have a successful farm team, it is also a bit concerning to see that the Cats’ roster perhaps lacks some proven NHL quality through the lines….

Busy summer for the Cats

July 1st, 2009 Comments off

Having had a holiday from hockey I now feel ready to dig in to and continue this hockey blog about the Florida Panthers. It’s been a busy time for the Cats and the Assistant General Manager Randy Sexton. After Jacques Martin skipped the ship, to take up the Head Coaching job with the Habs, Sexton has been left with a real tangled mess to try to sort out. So let’s sum up and take a look at what moves he has done so far:

 

May 29th: Panthers sign G Alexander Sálak

Before Jacques signed off with the Panthers he made a move for, and signed, goalie prospect Alexander Sálak from TPS Turku of the Finnish League. The 22-year old goalie was signed to an entry level contract. The previously undrafted prospect played 53 games last season for TPS, posting a 2.40 GAA and .923 save percentage.

 

June: Panthers Development Camp in Toronto

One of Randy Sexton’s first priorities, when stepping in to Martin’s shoes, was to talk to the agents of restricted and unrestricted free agents Bouwmeester and Booth. While those attempts may have stolen most of the pundits’ attention, Randy also took time to visit the Panthers’ Development Camp – held in Toronto, Canada. He was quoted as expressing himself as very impressed with a trio of youngsters: Michal Repik, Keaton Ellerby and Michael Frolik. Whilst Frolik has already burst through the NHL scene, Sexton’s comments could also be seen as foreboding the imminent breakthrough of Repik and Ellerby on the big scene as well. Later Sexton also mentioned that D Jason Garrison could be ready to push for a place in the Panthers’ squad.

 

June 19th: Steven Reinprecht signed to 3-year deal

Randy Sexton’s first major move was for pending UFA Steven Reinprecht of the Phoenix Coyotes. The Panthers gave away the rights to Stefan Meyer, who was one of the leading scorers in Florida’s Rochester farm team last season, and in return received the exclusive negotiating rights to the veteran center Reinprecht. Steven was then quickly tied to a 3-year deal. The 33-year old will bring a wealth of Stanley Cup experience after having tasted glory with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. To the Panthers he also adds some competition for the center slots of the team. Described as a high character (was assistant captain in Phoenix) and hard working player, Sexton will be hoping that Steven can help the Cats win a few more face-offs while also injecting some speed into the team.

 

June 26th: NHL Entry Draft in Montreal; Day One

With the spectacle that is the Entry Draft underway in Montreal last Friday, people were expecting plenty of pending moves to be announced. However, with the notable exception of the blockbuster move of Chris Pronger to Philadelphia from Anaheim, it turned out to be a quiet occasion. Not even Jay Bouwmeester’s name was read by the commissioner – to most people’s surprise.

NY Islanders sealed John Tavares with their top pick and Tampa Bay sealed much needed blueline talent in the form of the giant puck moving Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman with the #2 pick. Matt Duchene went third; to his favorite team the Colorado Avalanche. These were of course the “Big Three” names of the draft and the selection of them went pretty much the way everyone had expected.

Expected to go higher in the draft was the talented puck moving Russian defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (Ranked #11). Many analysts projected him to go among the top ten and it must have come as quite a surprise to Randy Sexton that the talented defenseman was still around when it was time for the Panthers to pick at #14. Teams had been scared off Dmitry due to the “Russian factor”, that is the fear that a Russian player might leave for the KHL without compensation – now or in the future, but Sexton and chief scout Scott Luce knew a steal when they saw one and selected the defenseman with their first round pick (14th overall).

Scott’s verdict of Kulikov was summed up in four words: “Smart, driven, determined and passionate”. In addition to this, the player himself has been said his lifelong dream was to play in the NHL, and for a Russian to come to Florida to live and work – it surely is a dream move in more than one way. In fact, he might even be plying his trade here in South Florida this coming autumn already. Scott Luce at least seems to think he has that kind of immediate upside. At the very least he’ll be given a fair chance to make an immediate impact this coming season.

The last year Kulikov has been playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and won the Rookie of the Year Award after scoring 62 points (12 goals) for Drummondville. Drummondville’s assistant coach Danny Brooks said about Dmitry: “He could’ve made life easy and stayed in Yaroslavl Locomotiv and been a superstar in the KHL. But his dream is to play in the NHL and bring his family from Russia to North America….He’s a North American player who happens to have a Russian last name.”

 

June 27th: NHL Entry Draft in Montreal; Day Two

Jay Bouwmeester was finally put out of his misery here in South Florida and was traded to the Calgary Flames for their 3rd Round Pick in this year’s draft and the rights to pending UFA Jordan Leopold (D). Since then Bo has signed a 5-year deal with the Flames worth #6.68 million a year and he seems happy enough to be back in Alberta, Canada. The Cats has of yet, not been able to tie down Leopold to any deal, but are hoping Keith Ballard’s old collage buddy and golf partner – will want to partner Keith on the ice as well. We’ll see I guess…

As the actual day two of the draft got underway, the Panthers selected Drew Shore from the United States National Team Development Program. The 6-2, 200 pound center, was ranked at #28, and expected to go in the first round. But the Cats managed to nab him at #44 instead. The upside for Florida is that they get a solid, big center prospect; who also just happens to be American. This could be a very good steal by Sexton and Luce.

Thanks to the Bo trade the Cats also had a third round selection to make. With the #67 pick Florida grabbed C/RW Josh Birkholz from Fargo Force. The 6-1, 182 pound winger, is currently taking classes at the University of Minnesota and working out with Keith Ballard. It seems the Panthers may soon need to start paying Ballard some extra money for all the networking, on behalf of the organization, that he seems to be doing… Anyway, with Birkholz the Cats get another solid American prospect to swell to the current ranks.

Randy Sexton however felt the Panthers needed to further enlarge that contingent of prospects and moved to secure Los Angeles’ 4th (#107) and 5th (#138) Round selections in this year’s draft – in exchange for a 3rd Round pick in 2010.

With those picks the Panthers selected two more forwards; LW Garrett Wilson (#107), a gritty winger from Owen Sound, and C Wade Megan (#138), who’ll attend Boston University this spring – after graduating from a boarding school in Connecticut.

In between those picks, also in the fifth-round, the Cats selected C Corban Knight (#135), an offensive centerman that will attend the University of North Dakota this coming season – after having led all rookies in scoring in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this previous campaign.

Last, but not least, the Panthers selected 19-year old C Scott Timmins in the 6th Round (#165). Timmins is a player Coach Peter DeBoer knows well from his Kitchener days and scout Scott Luce believes the player is one to step up and turn pro immediately. Timmins is a good skater that won back-to-back Memorial Cups for Kitchener and Windsor.

 

June 30th: The Day before Free Agency

With the onset of free agency the Panthers organization, and Assistant (now inter-rim) GM Randy Sexton in particular, are by necessity going to be very active. It started on the 29th already as C Brett McLean was placed on unconditional waivers. Brett had a miserable season last year and his $1.7 million contract is now up in the air. Question is: If no one takes McLean on waivers; will his contract be bought out? In such case the Panthers would be on the hook for two-thirds of the remaining amount of the deal.

Janis Spukts, the Latvian center that played in Rochester last year, went public with his frustrations and has now been released to play in Europe instead. Other current Rochester players that were pending RFA’s and have not been handed any offers so far include: Drew Larman, Tanner Glass, Franklin MacDonald and David Shantz. Current Panthers player Steve Eminger, acquired on last trade deadline, hasn’t either been offered any qualifying deal.

Sexton however admits that he’d like to re-sign a couple of these players, including Glass and Eminger, but didn’t want to sign them before free agency. In Steve’s case it is due to the fact that he played so many games with the Lightning last season that his qualifying salary would be too juicy for Florida. Instead they are willing to take their chances with him as a pending free agent.

Two pending RFA players that have been offered qualifying offers are Panthers star David Booth and prospect David Brine. Booth will be up for a considerable pay-rise and has expressed his willingness to sign a long-term deal with the organization. And since the departure of Bouwmeester; he is now set to be the face of the franchise and a deal should be able to be sorted out before long.

Of the pending UFA’s Richard Zednik has already signed a deal that will take him to Russia’s KHL next season, whilst Nick Boynton is set to be released. Nick has a big contract and since his falling-out with Coach DeBoer has not been seen as a player with a future within the organization.

Of the other free agents that Sexton has expressed an interest in re-signing, we find veterans such as Karlis Skrastins, Ville Peltonen and Radek Dvorak. Whether or not this trio of players will be re-signed for next season – will largely come down to what their wage demands will be. It will perhaps also depend on whether the Panthers are able to compete for the signatures of any quality free agents available elsewhere. Likely is that one or two of these players will return to the fold next season; seeing as they all have been instrumental in Florida’s largely successful penalty-kill unit this previous campaign and seem settled in the area.

A couple of other players that will be UFA’s are Anthony Stewart, after he was not handed any qualifying offer and Craig Anderson. It seems unlikely either will re-sign with the Panthers, but it’s still a possibility for both. Anthony didn’t develop in the way the organization had hoped and may need to find pastures new for the coming campaign. In Craig’s case the opposite is true and he now feels ready for a starting gig in net and with Vokoun still with the Cats – he won’t get that here. If he fails to land that move however; then he may consider re-signing for Florida, but it seems very unlikely at the moment.

 

It will be an interesting next few days and much of the suspense will be to see what Randy Sexton and the Panthers do about their free agents and whether or not they can compete on the market for the plentiful plethora of skilled free agents available. It also remains to be seen if Randy is given the confidence to be take the reigns full time as GM – or if a new face will be brought in for the job. What happens over the next week is likely to settle both those questions…

Janis Sprukts Snared in Panthers’ Amerk Decoy

February 2nd, 2009 1 comment

According to an article in the Democrat and Chronicle, the Rochester Americans pressed their parent team the Florida Panthers hard to get Latvian Hockey player Janis Sprukts back to the AHL. The player himself however, was under the apparent impression he’d be playing in the NHL with the Cats.

So, Janis left Europe to sign a 1-year contract with Florida, but has so far only played one single game with the Cats, the remaining contests have been played in the AHL with Rochester. Not exactly the deal he thought he had bargained for. The 26-year old wasn’t given any guarantees from the Panthers organization, as far as anyone is willing to admit to anyway, but it seems the player was under the impression he’d get a real shot at establishing himself in the NHL.

It is likely that this was never the case; as already in August billboards in Rochester were publicizing his imminent return to the team. But Sprukts is a consummate professional and remains one of the few Amerk players to have distinguished himself in an otherwise mediocre campaign.

Jan is disappointed with the treatment from Florida and can’t envisage signing a new contract with the Panthers. He thinks he’ll return to Europe instead: "To me, it seemed right away there wasn’t much interest up top," Sprukts said in the article interview. "I signed to be playing in The Show, to be playing in the NHL. I don’t look at myself as an AHL player for the rest of my career."

Despite the obvious sense of disillusionment which Sprukts gives the impression of feeling, his line with fellow Panther call-ups Tanner Glass and Michal Repik has been producing of late. Coach Benoit Groulx believes the Americans are finally beginning to see what Janis is capable of on the ice; after having had a recurring groin problem early in the season which seriously limited his ability to play as well as he could.

Janis Sprukts’ hard work and dedication seems to have been rewarded as he has been given the opportunity to help Latvia try and qualify for the Olympic Games next year. It was  announced the other day that he had been loaned by the Panthers to the Latvian National Team for the Qualifying Tournament, to be held between February 5th and 8th. He’ll then be eligible to return to Rochester’s next road trip, starting on the 10th. Florida’s GM Jacques Martin said in a statement:

“This is an excellent chance for Janis to gain further experience playing at the international level, […] he has provided the Americans with a consistent effort all season long and he is very deserving of this opportunity to represent his native country. We are also very pleased that the Rochester ownership group recognizes the importance of Janis playing in this tournament and for agreeing with this mutual decision.”

If the Florida Panthers are hoping that this decision, to let him play for his national team, is going to make Janis re-sign for the Panthers next year; they may have another thing coming…

One can only speculate as to what exactly was said to lure him here in the first place, but it seems unlikely he’ll fall for the same ruse twice. If indeed Florida had hoped to utilize Sprukts in a future NHL roster, they may very well have blown that chance already. And even if he plays an important role in Rochester, the kind of tricks used here are unlikely to impress other players who may want to sign for the Cats in the future. None of them will want to sign with the Panthers, expecting to play, and then be sent up north for AHL schooling instead.

These things spread fast and can tarnish a franchises reputation with players, and so it seems like a precarious move to make and has a – not so small – hint of desperation surrounding it. Hopefully it is a case of misunderstanding and not a deliberate subterfuge from the Panthers, but that would be the best of any possible rationalization; while all others reek of the pungent smell of deceit.

 

Janis Sprukts has remained a true professional throughout this time, playing through injury in the early campaign, and has a team leading 28 points on the board (in 39 games). That is six more than the closest following players – line mate Michael Repik and defender Jason Garrison (22). Janis has 12 goals and 16 assists, minus 10 and 10 penalty minutes in total.

An Everblade Update

January 14th, 2009 1 comment
Update from the Florida Everblades in the ECHL

While the Panthers affiliate in the AHL – the Rochester Americans – may at best be seen as a work in progress; the ECHL affiliate update undoubtedly takes on a much more positive tinge. The Florida Everblades recorded their fifth straight victory yesterday – away to the Charlotte Checkers. Getting an all-time record in shots on goal in the process (61), the Everblades scored a convincing 8-goals-against-two hammering of the Checkers.

The Florida Everblades call the Germain Arena in Estero its home. It’s an affiliate that the Florida Panthers share with Southeast Division rivals Carolina Hurricanes, along with AHL outfit Albany River Rats and OHL club Plymouth Whalers. The club was formed in 1998 and has never missed the playoffs in its nine tries. This season will be no exception. Leading its Southeast Division with 50 points; six ahead of closest Division team (the South Carolina Stingrays), the Blades are well set to make the knockout rounds. The current Divisional Standings:

ECHL American Conference
South Division

Pos
Team
W
L
T
Pts
1.
Florida Everblades
24
8
2
50
2.
South Carolina Stingrays
20
11
4
44
3.
Charlotte Checkers
18
16
2
38
4.
Gwinnett Gladiators
15
15
4
34
5.
Mississippi Sea Wolves
15
18
3
33

Leading the team in scoring is, the 1999 LA Kings 7th Round draft pick, RW Kevin Baker. With 28 goals and 21 assists he has 19 points more than the closest team mate; defenseman Peter Metcalf. The roster currently includes some Panther and Amerk prospects – such as defenseman Luke Beaverson and forward Andrew Sweetland. Both have had stints in Rochester, but are at present assigned to the Everblades.

The Southwestern Florida team have yet to conquer the ECHL playoff cup, the Kelly Cup, after two consecutive final appearances in 2004-05 – both of which ended in defeats (to the Idaho Steelheads and Trenton Titans respectively). Perhaps this year they will fare better, and, so far – so good… Only the Victoria Salmon Kings (of the West Division) have a better poits tally – 54.

Not only are the Everblades an affiliate of the Panthers, but it is also a partner in introducing a wider Hockey culture to South Florida. Residing in Estero, close to Naples and Fort Meyers off the I-75, the club has helped open up the Southwest of Florida to the catchy game that is Ice Hockey. Many games in the Germain Arena are sold out contests, especially the Saturday night games, boasting approximately 7000 seats. It has been a model franchise since its conception and deserves to be highlighted for its achievements.

Hopefully a missing piece will be added this spring, in the silverware cabinet, as the Florida Everblades prepare themselves for playoff Hockey and finally conquering that Kelly Cup trophy.

 

Rochester Americans Restoring Some Pride

January 12th, 2009 1 comment

Dwindling attendances, a team filled with rookies that were unable to win or get points in any shape or form. Things hit a new low in Rochester at the beginning of this season.

Rochester Americans - Florida Panthers AHL affiliate.

People looked for answers and the Panthers organization failed to provide any adequate response. Director of Player Personnel Jack Birch was approached in one instance by the editor of letsgoamerks.com and rather than providing reassurance of any kind he angrily retorted at any allusion of lassitude, on his or the Panthers organizations part, by petulantly snapping back at he who dared inquire about the sad state of affairs. [Read article here]

The defensiveness is perhaps understandable. It would never be an easy step for the Panthers organization to fill out the Americans boots on their own. Having previously shared the affiliate with Buffalo, Florida announced before this season that they were ready to shoulder the ‘burden’ on their own. The reasoning being that the Cats now had enough promising youngsters to fill a line-up and hopefully continue to develop them in to future NHL players at Rochester by themselves. The idea was good, but it could perhaps be argued that they (both the organization and the rookie youngsters) weren’t quite prepared for the competitiveness of the American Hockey League.

Realistically, a sensible approach to the early tribulations; would be that problems were simply to be expected and there is always a learning curve to everything. Perhaps no one could have foreseen the early season struggles being of such a mammoth proportion however. Likely this unpreparedness and disbelief, experienced by the Amerk faithful, led to a sentiment of vanished pride; which illustrated itself in falling attendances and in scattered outbursts of booing – and even in instances of fans heckling its own players.

There was also a distinct of lack in faith, when it came to the competence of the Panthers organization; which is as much due to a history of unsuccessful drafting’s and player development – as it is a reflection of the slide in fortunes of the club itself over the years in the National Hockey League. All this hampered Rochester in those murky losing days and the snappish attitude displayed of Jack Birch hardly helped to restore any confidence or pride in Rochester either.

The turnaround didn’t come until December, when goaltender Mike Brodeur was brought in to try and steady the ship. Finally Birch and his cronies had woken up and taken action where it counts; on the ice. Brodeur worked magic in goal and his displays brought much needed self-belief to the other players on the team, and they started to slowly get out of the doldrums. Apart from Mike’s excellent goalkeeping, the injuries in South Florida that autumn/early winter probably helped the Amerks also. While the short term consequences were that they lost players, who were called up to the Panthers, the long term equation was that players returned back north with a sense of restored self-confidence after some assured displays for the Cats.

All in all, things were finally on the up and a time for restoration of pride has slowly begun in Rochester. While it is never good in itself to lose or go through bad times, it is true on the other hand that there is much to learn from these occasions and it is the kind of thing that builds character amongst players. They are, believe it or not, richer for the experience, or as Nietzsche would say: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

More good news for the Americans is that Mike Brodeur was recently tied up for another year, after being initially signed on a 25 game professional tryout. An 8-3-1 record, two shutouts, 1.59 goals against average and a .944 save percentage later, Mike was All Star nominated and with a fresh contract in his hands. Undoubtedly well deserved and a big part in the remarkable turnaround of the club. While Jack Birch may need to hone his people and interview skills, he did do a good job in getting Brodeur in and signed for the Amerks. At the announcement of the deal he said: “He [Mike Brodeur] has certainly shown he has the talent to play in the AHL and the potential to play at the next level.”

Indeed, it will be interesting to see if his continued displays warrant Panther GM Jacques Martin to call him up for Panther duty next season; especially considering current back-up Craig Anderson has his contract set for unrestricted free agency this summer…

However, not only Brodeur has been clicking of late and the entire team has continued to perform in the New Year. After yesterday’s win against the Hamilton Bulldogs (6-5), Rochester has won 4 out of the previous 5 games and improved its season record to 13 wins and 29 points; now only 5 points behind the next club in the AHL North Division standings:

AHL North Division Standings
Pos
Team
GP
W
L
OTL
SOL
Pts
GF
GA
Last 10
1
Grand Rapids Griffins
39
28
8
5
3
54
134
102
7-1-2-0
2
Manitoba Moose
40
26
12
0
2
54
126
96
5-4-0-1
3
Hamilton Bulldogs
39
24
13
2
0
50
141
105
6-4-0-0
4
Toronto Marlies
39
20
15
1
3
43
111
107
6-3-1-0
5
Syracuse Crunch
39
18
17
2
2
40
99
110
4-4-2-0
6
Lake Erie Monsters
38
14
18
1
5
34
94
110
3-6-0-1
7
Rochester Americans
39
13
23
0
3
29
82
131
6-3-0-1

Shawn Matthias, reassigned to the Amerks after Panthers 8-4 win against Atlanta, contributed with two goals in the game, winning first star. Cory Murphy, at the end of his 14 day conditioning stint, also contributed with a goal and two assist (6 points in 5 games overall), whilst rookie and former College player (and Florida call-up) Jason Garrison had a four point night (1+3).

Here are the Rochester team statistics (showing only the current roster players) after 39 games:

Rochester Americans Top 20
Skaters & Goalie Tandem Stats

Skaters:
GP
G
A
+/-
Pts:
Stefan Meyer
31
11
9
-3
20
Janis Sprukts
33
8
12
-12
19
Michal Repik
34
7
11
-13
18
Jason Garrison
38
3
15
-14
18
Kenndal McArdle
38
6
9
-4
15
Jacob Micflikier
30
3
10
-4
13
David Brine
38
3
10
-5
13
Michael Duco
34
7
5
-9
12
Tanner Glass
35
4
8
-3
12
Karl Stewart
31
8
3
-7
11
Keaton Ellerby
34
0
10
-3
10
Drew Larman
33
3
5
1
8
Shawn Matthias
25
5
2
-20
7
Greg Classen
20
2
5
-12
7
Rory Fitzpatrick
22
2
5
-21
7
Cory Murphy
5
2
4
2
6
Peter Aston
19
1
4
-6
5
Jordan Henry
28
1
4
0
5
Franklin MacDonald
29
1
4
-3
5
Dan Collins
26
4
0
-4
4
Goalie:
W
L
OT
%
GA
Mike Brodeur
10
4
3
.936
1.94
Chris Beckford-Tsue
3
11
1
.870
3.83

Good news for Rochester Americans and Florida Panther fans is that there are some talented players here who will likely shine brighter with time. The turnaround in Rochester was not only timely, but quite necessary for both clubs. A few sighs of relief has undoubtedly crossed the lips of Panther and Amerk directors and staff lately. Now improvement is the key word and continued upgrading of the Americans standing in the AHL.

It is crucial for future development and a healthy Florida franchise that the affiliates, especially the AHL one, are vigorous and strong. Montreal and its affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs, which the Amerks beat yesterday, are a proof of this importance. Just take a look at their track record; and most Canadien players have come through this line of success – from AHL to NHL. And, as we all know, success breeds success; at whatever level it is achieved.