The group of fans attending last night's Panthers town hall meeting had a lot to get off their chest. Like last year's town hall meeting with the owners, held shortly after then General Manager Randy Sexton compared the team to the Titanic, serious questions were asked and answered, and people with no questions vented at team management, ownership and the room full of fans. Unlike last year, which was limited to season ticket holders, all fans attending the game were invited and the media were present.
General Partner Cliff Viner, Team President Michael Yormark, General Manager Dale Tallon and Assistant General Manager Mike Santos were on hand to answer questions. Mr. Tallon began the event by briefly speaking about his plans for the team and often reference "blueprint" for success. Then the fans jumped right in, first with a question from a fan regarding the advertising to other teams' fans. Mr. Yormark defended the ad campaign, saying that he'd like to see the building full of Panthers fans, but that he's responsible for filling the building every night now. The point was also made in the exchange, but possibly lost to the room, that the ad campaign was not local, but national, and that it was his hope that the other teams' fans who do live here would become Panthers fans. Another fan, wearing a Panthers sweater, stood up and announced he was a Canadian snowbird who had previously been a "long-suffering Leafs fan," but had become a Panthers fan.
Following that (very good) question was a long string of people wanting to vent, mixed in with the occasional hockey question. One season ticket holder spoke at length about how they don't have waitress service in the club seats any more and the televisions were taken out of the lounge on the club level, so she couldn't watch the Heat and Gators games. Mr. Yormark said that the televisions had been sponsored and a different sponsor took over the area. He also said he would have the televisions replaced. Somewhat later, a different fan responded, pointed out that we were here to see hockey games, drawing some applause.
One audience member accused the team of not doing enough to support youth hockey and the community and Mr. Yormark and Mr. Viner both vehemently disagreed. Mr. Yormark talked about an aggressive list of 200 appearances that he had asked Mr. Tallon to "sell to the team," and they had agreed to them all. He said that they were the most active professional sports organization in South Florida. Mr. Viner talked about their commitment to being the most family-friendly professional sports organization in South Florida and that before he was General Partner his biggest influence in the ownership group was this focus. He also mentioned that he had recently attended a Saturday night Heat game and in an arena of over 16,000 people, there were probably about 500 children present. He estimated that a similar sized crowd at a Saturday night Panthers game would have about 5,000 or more. He also challenged the questioner to come to Saveology IcePlex, the team's practice facility, on a Monday night to see the eighteen youth hockey teams playing nine games on three sheets of ice. The questioner stated that it wasn't the only rink in Broward, and Mr. Viner said that there was also a partnership with Pines and the other rinks through the local high school hockey association.
One fan asked about the Gudbranson non-signing, concerned that it was all about money. Mr. Tallon responded that "the agent got too greedy," but also made the point that it was best for the player's development and the team that he spend another year in juniors. As he put it, there are not a lot of eighteen-year old regulars in the NHL and that a team can destroy the career of a young player by playing him too soon. Although no names were mentioned, I would bring the forth the cases of Jay Bouwmeester and Steve Eminger in support of his point. Another fan followed with a question about highly-touted goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom's poor performance in the AHL this season. Mr. Tallon said that he was still adjusting, but that the he's "the real deal" and there is no concern at this time about his performance. He is not in a hurry to bring him up, stating that there are few rookie goalies doing well in the league this year. Someone mentioned Sergei Bobrovsky in Philadelphia and Mr. Tallon responded that "Bob" is older and more experienced than Markstrom.
Another questioner was interested in the club's short-term prospects and the needs as management sees them. Mr. Tallon responded that he is interested in the long-term, not the short. He intends to build through the draft and that his goal is to have ten to twelve picks in next year's draft. There were thirteen Chicago picks on the Cup winning team and he said that was "pretty good," but he'd like to better that and have 20 Panthers picks playing for the team. He also addressed, indirectly, one of the criticisms that has been leveled against him when he mentioned the salary cap and stated emphatically that the team would not be "hamstrung by bad contracts" and introduced Mr. Santos as the man who would make sure that was the case.
Mr. Tallon also said he was happy with our prospects in goal and defense, and that where we really need help now is "up the middle." He intends to address the lack of forwards in the next draft. Someone mentioned the goaltending this season and Mr. Tallon reaffirmed his commitment to the long-term and said that we have a number of good goaltending prospects and what we need is forwards who can score.
A few other current woes were addressed. Mr. Tallon agreed that he didn't like dump and chase hockey any more than one commenter and he thinks they should be able to carry the puck in the zone. He addressed the power play issues by saying that the team works on it every practice and it is looking better, but "maybe the players aren't good enough." One fan addressed the lack of Panthers coverage in the local media and urged everyone in the room to call local sports talk shows and ask about the Panthers. Mr. Tallon responded that one day the Panthers would "earn the right" to be featured. When asked about the playoffs, he said that his goal is to "win the Stanley Cup." The questioner stated that the team just needs to get into the playoffs and then "anything can happen." Mr. Tallon responded, "Be careful what you wish for. When you lower your expectations, you just might meet them."
Update: Video via the Official Site