The Florida Panthers invited a number of season ticket holders to attend their first (and hopefully not their last) meeting with the team owner, Alan Cohen. Or, as I now call it, Bitch at Cohen Fest. Absolutely no recording devices were allowed nor were any media allowed. The sole recording was by the official Panthers video guy (who, I might add, was using an HD camera).
I made an original post on my message board from my unedited notes. You may find them interesting. Those notes were written more or less in order with my few thoughts inserted as they came up. They were unedited and lack complete sentences, complete thoughts: just typing from my notes and not checking spelling, grammar, or anything. What you’re reading here is far more polished and includes conclusions and such reached after the fact.
The event started on time on 10 April 2008 at about 705pm and ended at around 910pm. I didn’t check my watch but was in my car at 914pm so that’s a pretty close approximation. The meeting was held in the Chairman’s Club. All the ticket representatives seemed to be there — and a shout out to my rep, Mario, who is awesome. Also there were Randy Moller, Bill Lindsay, Michael Yormark, Steve Goldstein, and of course Alan Cohen. In the crowd were a number of people from my message board (the best and the ORIGINAL one), more from the “official” message board (some great folks, but it’s still quantity over quality), and the Booster Club, of course. And of course Cowbell King Van Murphy was there wearing a sports-jacket and tie so I almost didn’t recognize him — who didn’t get in the question line, much to my disappointment.
Let me start by saying that it wasn’t what I expected. There were about 150 people of the 250 or so who sent an RSVP. I’ve never met Cohen, never heard him speak, and knew nothing about him except what I heard second and third hand. I formed an opinion of him based on that, and that opinion is apparently wrong.
I will start by saying that at the end, I left thinking that Cohen seemed very sincere. And I have to say he was brave to take some of the hardball questions lobbed in with the softball questions. It takes real cajones to face the music, especially when you know what must be coming.
A few people expected shills to be planted. Others expected questions to be screened. It was, however, open microphone. If you wanted to ask a question, you got to line up at the microphone and ask it. A nice and simple plan if they’d have stuck to it. I was 4th in line. About 20 people, all told, got in line before they closed off the line due to time constraints.
At the beginning, it was requested by Steve Goldstein to please have one question only and go no more than one minute. He also asked people to stick to topics that were in the scope of Cohen’s job. Because of the requested limit, I only asked one question. Had I known other people after me would steal the floor and rant for a long time without ever making a point, I’d have spent more time asking some additional pointed questions. Enough said about that.
First, there were no shills apparent though they would have been preferable to some of the speakers (which is the term I will use to refer to the person asking the question). A few people were rude, some long-winded, and several never did get to a point causing Steve Goldstein to jump in and ask if they’d please get to one. Even that admonishment didn’t deter some of them.
Cohen gave long, long, often detailed answers and I mean that in a good way because he explained why he did what he did — and though he rambled a little, it was interesting for the most part. I will say he actually seems to give a shit about the team. I can’t say what he thought about us, the fans. But it’s apparent he’s disappointed in what the organization delivered on-ice and this was his way of offering partial redress.
The first question was about, of course, Jacques Martin, and was more of a statement that we need a new coach and General Manager. There was a huge but not unanimous applause. Cohen agreed something needed to change and said he was talking with Jacques Martin to give him time to decide. He also said the Coach and General Manager job would be separated for next season. It sounded like Jacques Martin was going to keep one of his two jobs. Cohen took a hand vote to see who wanted to jettison Jacques Martin entirely and who wanted to keep him in some capacity. The crowd was about 66% for a total jettison and about 33% for a partial capacity. Cohen repeatedly said he doesn’t know hockey, and some fans apparently took him literally and not in the sense he meant, which was that he leaves running the hockey to the hockey people. He’s a long-time fan so he knows hockey. I don’t know why I have to explain this to people.
In response to the next question about Luongo — I wish people would get over this already — he said Luong’s demands on who the team could and couldn’t hire and who they had to get rid of are what ultimately led to Luongo’s trade and nothing else. This corroborates many media reports after the fact. Cohen also said Mrs. Luongo really wanted Roberto to stay and he had several conversations with her as well. I could make some very rude comment here about the calibre of Mr. Luongo’s character, but I shan’t do that.
Cohen did not sound very positive on Olli Jokinen’s leadership abilities but he deferred that to whomever the next General Manager or Coach may be. In fact, he repeatedly deferred these types of question to the Coach and/or General Manager. I think this is the proper answer to such questions. He claims to be a hands-off owner, and moreso since the Keenan/Luongo debacle. I am not sure if I believe him entirely, or if he even realizes what constitutes a hands-off owner. This isn’t a critical statement but an observation.
My question and I had my choice of two back-up questions since my Jacques Martin question was rendered moot by the people in front of me, was about the advertising. I introduced myself (and got some applause which surprised me ::smile::) and asked if he felt we were selling the soul of our team to the highest bidding advertiser. There was a smattering of applause in response to my question. His response was that ticket sales were US$16 million and advertising revenue was US$19 million — will the IRS please confirm this — but he did think maybe the ad-laden urinal cakes were a bit over the line.
Then, Yormark chipped in that at least I noticed there was a sponsor. To that, I replied “but I don’t know who the sponsor is.” That wasn’t an answer to my question. I will report that Yormark has a sense of humour, and that surprised me as he always comes across as very dour. My opinion of him is still very much coloured by the infamous New Times article (scroll down to Body Slamming Alice) about him where he fired an usher for telling him not to cuss in front of kids while screaming “don’t you know who I am?” Um, we don’t care who you are, sir. The rules are for everyone, especially those who should lead by example. Two years on, I am still waiting for the story where he apologizes to her.
As I finished, I threw in a quick comment about settling for mediocrity being completely unacceptable and told him he doesn’t settle for it in his business and he shouldn’t settle for it with the Panthers either, thanked him, and sat down.
Next up was the speaker from Hell. And it had nothing to do with what he said. It was the fact he said nothing. He ranted, he raved, and went on and on and on and never got to a point. He took forever. He went 19 minutes before Goldstein interrupted and told him to get to his point. It didn’t faze the speaker at all. He kept going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny — never getting to his point, before the audience finally got sick of him and began shouting him down.
Cohen was overly indulgent of the windbag I suppose trying to be a nice guy even though it wasn’t warranted. And this is where things became less civil, much like when a referee loses control of the game. People began shouting comments, talking amongst themselves, and so forth. I felt bad for Cohen.
Next up was a kid, Brian I think, of about 12 who got a standing ovation with his question “What, given free-agency, would you do to make the Panthers a playoff team” Cohen gave a half-answer touching on a number of things. He also stated, again, that Jacques Martin is doing a good job as General Manager to a muted applause. I tend to concur that though Martin does make mistakes here too, he’s not horrible. If you’re going to keep him around, at least he can do some good here.
In response to another question, he deferred again to the Coach, who was obviously not there. But he did come up with an answer. He said he’d answer from a fan’s standpoint. “Olli needs to be motivated,” said Cohen. “It’s wanting it.” The implication being Jokinen didn’t want it anymore. I am not an Olli-hater nor am I an Olli-lover. I’ve said this on my message board repeatedly: I don’t think he’s the right captain for this team, but I also think stripping him of his Cmay ruin him. A fan trotted out the Zednik excuse, and Cohen agreed. This doesn’t sit well with me because Zednik was in good shape after a few days, and Jokinen should have recovered and he didn’t. Olli’s a professional and it’s an excuse, and not a good one. This team has way too many excuses.
Cohen also trotted out the injury excuse is used every year and that also didn’t sit well with me. I’m tired of excuses. But then again, I’ve sat through the entire run of the Panthers organization since day one. I’ve also worked for an ECHL team so maybe I know more than some of the other fans and am less tolerant of excuses. I don’t like think so, but maybe that’s it.
Cohen also said specifically that Olesz and Kreps are on target to have long-term deals signed in the off-season. He also said Jay Bouwmeester is on the target list and later, when pressed, confirmed they have spoken to his agent. Cohen repeatedly reiterated that he believes in working with what we have. He believes we have the core players. This would allow consistency. He also said he’s a hands-off owner and the hockey people ultimately decide this. He said he had to get involved in the Olli thing and only because he felt it could turn into another Luongo fiasco, and he claimed he learned from that mistake. I tend to agree he had to get involved. I tend not to agree when he said he learned from that mistake.
He related the entire Keenan story to us. He admits it was a mistake. I could relate the whole story, but I’ll sum it up quickly. He brought in Keenan and Dudley and he ended up going with Dudley the first time and told him “If you believe we can win with the talent we have, here are the keys: do it!” And Dudley didn’t do it, so he was axed and Iron Mike, The Demon-Spawn From Hell, returned much to the chagrin of almost everyone.
He also discounted one fan who said we needed stars. Cohen said the team needs to get credit for spending money to retain talent and it’s not just about getting new talent. I agree wholeheartedly. The same fan who bragged about his seats on the glass — said we needed more star power and advocated bringing Eddie Belfour back over Tomas Vokoun. I can only assume the fan was intoxicated. The crowd greeted his comments with stunned silence and then disbelieving laughter. Cohen just didn’t know what to say but just said “no” and continued sipping on his energy drink which I must point out was not the one that sponsors the team.
Cohen doesn’t realize our farm system is a mess and the ramifications of it and this should scare you. He thinks it’s basically okay. He says Jacques Martin was working in Rochester that very night working on fixing that situation. But Cohen doesn’t believe splitting our farm system is a bad idea. The smart hockey fans vehemently disagreed. Those may be the dumbest words that came out of Cohen’s mouth all night. Most people in the room didn’t get that part because they don’t realize how essential a farm system is to building your future. If you don’t have control over it, you have a catastrophe, and this is one area we have repeatedly failed. It’s sad or scary, but I’m not sure which. Just because we have a few great players, such as Matthias, doesn’t mean our system is good.
In referring to the team Cohen vehemently said, “We’re built. It’s just a matter of someone driving the damn thing.” And he also said “The road to winning isn’t through me.” Both statements are true because that’s the coach’s and General Manager’s job but it is disturbing as an attitude. The speaker at the microphone called him on it, but I didn’t catch his reply. It’s hard for me to detail this part in context because at this point everyone in the audience was talking amongst themselves.
One speaker tried to blame Olli Jokinen, but Cohen defended Olli saying “I don’t want to blame Olli.” Good for Cohen. He didn’t prevaricate on that for even an instant and received applause for that. Sure, Olli did have some bad games especially when they counted — but he had an overall good season. We cannot and must not forget he’s currently the best player on our team.
In referring to Jacques Martin’s performance as coach, record last three years as coach. I can’t accept that. It was blunt and damning. However he repeatedly refused to specifically say whether or not Martin was going to be coach next year. He said that he hadn’t yet decided, something I know find hard to believe was true when he said it.
Again Cohen continued to humour speakers who rambled, made no point, and even asked no question. Goldstein interrupted those speakers repeatedly to remind people to get to the question these interruptions grew increasingly more frequent as did random interruptions by rude sots in the audience. And the questions were the same over and over and over. I don’t understand why if he’s already answered your question for someone else, why you need to ask it again? Keep beating the dead horse? Oh, joy.
Cohen’s spending his time to talk to us, and all anyone wanted to do was speak about Martin. I guess I was one of the few with a back-up question list. Again, I wish I had known that sort of behaviour would have been tolerated. I had more questions and would have loved to ask them. My friend Evan who also attended, never got in line to ask his question and left early out of frustration.
One fan told Cohen he should meddle. Cohen disagreed and said he was very laissez-faire. Thank God he’s got some common sense. I am not sure I agree with him that he is laissez-faire, but good for him.
There were humorous moments scattered throughout such as the speaker who called Goldie a homer to much laughter. We all know it’s true and that’s great: I think we all love Goldie. But it was all to get to a point when the speaker wanted to know if they would have shown those last games on television. Goldie said if we were in the playoff hunt, they would have got them on television even if they had to do it themselves.
One shout out from the audience asked if the team was staying. Cohen replied. “The Panthers are not going anywhere. I promise you.” He then went on to detail the US$7 billion complex he wants to build and use shared revenue to help support the team and guarantee they stay here in perpetuity. I’d like to see the financial plan before I begin to believe him — I don’t believe $7 billion and I don’t believe the numbers behind the plan. I remain an ardent skeptic on this point.
Another speaker railed about the lack of “locked-in” prices even though they were. As soon as he said it, a loud, collective “yes, they were!” came from the audience and also from the staff up front when Cohen looked to them in confusion. They guy, I kid you not, pressed on.
As an aside, Cohen was dressed casually in jeans and a black t-shirt, and very relaxed and patient throughout though he clearly was getting frustrated with the lack of diversity of questions and lack of courtesy near the end. I liked the guy despite my preconceptions going in. Good for Cohen, he won me over so far. It takes a strong guy to take the abuse, put up with the mix of dumb and smart questions. He didn’t have to do this, and he did. That much, at least, is worthy of respect.
Cohen needs to pick a full-time General Manager “that’s his main job. I failed in that job,” he admitted. He didn’t elaborate. As it turns out, that would come later that evening.
One of the last speakers up said the coaches behind the bench lack passion. Everyone applauded wildly. Even Cohen nodded affirmatively in agreement though he did not verbally agree with the statement. The speaker identified himself as Ron Kxxxx and retired from the USA Hockey coaching staff and formerly working with Mike Ilitch, the owner of the Red Wings. I wish I had got his name, but he spoke softly. He obviously knew what he was talking about and knew names both new and old and had facts, not fan-crap backing him up. The guy went off and he knew his stuff. He was, by far the best speaker of the night. Whether or not I totally agreed is irrelevant.
(END OF MEETING NOT END OF THE STORY)
I spoke to Erin on the way home and shared some salient points. I was dog-tired and went to bed when I got home, so missed the big news. I woke up and what do I see on the front page of the Daily Fishwrapper (aka The Miami Herald)? “Jacques Martin Fired as Coach!” Glory, glory, hallelujah! Wait just a damned minute! There are two scenarios:
Cohen lied to us.
- Cohen told us the truth and the decision hadn’t been made meaning the story wasn’t true
- Worse, he listened to us and fired Jacques Martin because of what we said. No guilt on that, mind you, but if an owner lets the fans run the team then there is no saving us at all.
I don’t honestly believe number two. I can’t say I honestly believe number three. That leaves number one. So I guess my “sincerity” was only perceived. I don’t expect him to share secrets with us. However any good businessman or politician can dance around a question easily and with skill. He clearly said “I haven’t decided yet. Only he quite clearly had. I cannot reconcile this contradiction in “facts” and invite an explanation.
I find it interesting the Herald said after the meeting he decided that Jacques Martin wasn’t going to be coach. The Herald clearly states that he was cornered after the meeting and asked. I want to give Cohen the benefit of the doubt, because the Herald’s article seemed pretty qualified in what they said. I also understand one should never believe what one reads in the media, so I do give Mr. Cohen the benefit of the doubt.
Today’s press release also says that Jacques Martin hasn’t accepted the General Manager’s job. Honestly, at this point I hope he doesn’t. That press release also failed to mention the resignation of Joe Nieuwendyk, a fan favourite.
This is a way too long blog post, but I had a lot to say. I should say it on my message board but this one ranks as blog-worthy so my loyal readers can read it. (And we’re closing in on 200,000 hits. Damn.)
Thanks for reading, everyone.
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