February 12, 2010
The boldest thing about today's stunning letter to the fans from Florida Panthers owners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel is its honesty: The team isn't good enough to win, we're blowing it up, your favorite guys are on the chopping block and you're not going to like it. But we like you, and your season-ticket revenue, so it's about time we all start winning games, yeah?
It's the hockey equivalent of a politician running on a "Some New Taxes!" platform. Here's a snippet from the letter:
Thus, GM Randy Sexton has begun the process of reshaping this team in order to achieve our goals and objectives. This is a multi-step process, beginning now, ahead of the trading deadline, and continuing through the draft, free agency and training camp - so we ask that you assess our success only once this process has run its course.
Unfortunately, these changes will not always be easy for our fans and supporters to accept or understand. These changes also may not be easy for our coaches, players and staff. But they are necessary. No small changes or quick fixes will do. But please note that these changes are part of an overall plan to make the best use of our current assets and set this franchise up to achieve the success we want as quickly as possible, and to maintain it.
Clearly, we are not satisfied with some of the players on this team that do not possess the characteristics we need to be successful. We must be accountable for that. Our task moving forward is to acquire players with the attributes, skills and qualities we want in a Panthers player. We must admit the significant shortcomings we have as an organization, and we must move quickly and efficiently to overcome these shortcomings and reshape this franchise on a much more solid foundation.
With the Olympic break trade freeze here, we'll update this post with any big moves. Meanwhile, how are the Panthers and their fans taking this new and exciting scorched earth marketing campaign introduced by management?
After Dominic Moore(notes) was traded to the Montreal Canadiens, GM Randy Sexton told On Frozen Pond about the level of retooling the owners are expecting:
"From our perspective, we need to add depth. Converting a UFA guy we signed for nothing into a second round pick is something we need to do. There's going to be more things happening I hope. ... The time is ticking. We're working on a variety of things, the discussions have really picked up in the past 72 hours. We'll see. Deadlines cause people to focus.''
Randy also said the second round pick could be in play as part of a bigger deal. "Absolutely," he said.
"Whether we're buyers or sellers, we have to retool this team."
Anyone off limits? "No."
Coach Pete DeBoer told the Sun Sentinel that the players haven't given up on this season, which might be true if they all suffered from hearing and visual impairments. The owners have written the obituary for this roster: "Our team, the way it is currently structured, is not equipped to meet the goals and objectives that we have set for ourselves, our fans and our partners."
Even if the Panthers rally to a playoff berth, and they're six points out, the roster's going to see significant turnover. And it's going to have to be through trades, because they've got significant pieces tied up beyond this season.
One of them is Tomas Vokoun(notes), soon to be seen defending the Czech's bronze in Vancouver but currently one of the only reasons the Panthers have a sniff of the playoffs. He's got a no-trade clause and a $6.3 million salary next season, but he's also got a ton of frustration over not competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN reports that Vokoun's situation is likely a summertime decision.
(An aside: Maybe it's because Canadians are so prevalent in Miami during the winter, but wouldn't Carey Price(notes) be a rather perfect fit in the sunny, no pressure world of the Florida Panthers, post-Vokoun?)
At a recent town hall meeting for fans, the question of how the owners can transfer their enthusiasm to the on-ice product came up. From Litter Box Cats:
The next questioner asked instead of making the playoffs, why can't our goal be winning the conference? "Why can't you translate your passion for the business to the players? Mr. Siegel repeated his earlier statement about the roster and that they're not "all the way there" yet. "We're not the guys who pick the players. We're responsible for hiring the guys who do. We hope you hold us accountable." Mr. Viner followed up. "Everyone should know Pete DeBoer has passion. That group is playing as hard as they can every night. We'd be selling the guys short to say that they're not."
Decisions will be made today. Decisions will be made in March. Many, many more decisions will be made in the summer. The owners have now set the bar for this team at nothing less than sustained contention for the playoffs, and asked that judgment not be passed on their efforts until the process is completed. It's as bold a statement as we've seen from an NHL owner; will the fans offer their patience and cash during it?