Archive of Kevin O's live blog with Jack Birch

November 25, 2008 - By

Originally on the Democrat and Chronicle, Kevin Oklobzija had conducted a live chat with the director of player personal for the Florida Panthers, Jack Birch.  These things typically disappear over time on the D&C’s web site, so here is the transcript from that chat:

Conversation with Jack Birch (11/25/2008)
11:59
Scott Norris:  Welcome to our live blog. For the next hour, Jack Birch, director of player personnel for the Florida Panthers, will join reporter Kevin Oklobzija to talk about the state of the Amerks.    To participate, type your name and hometown in the appropriate field below (“Joe from Penfield,” for example) and then type your question. Once you submit your question, it will be reviewed by the hosts and they will select questions to include in their live blog.
11:59
[Comment From Guest]
Mr Birch. How do you and Jacques Martin justify paying Frolik 1.275 Million dollars to play in the NHL when he truly hasn’t developed yet. He was handed the 1st line status a few weeks ago, did nothing with it, and is still in the NHL. I hear rumors of Florida being in payroll trouble, so why would you not put that 1.275M to better use? Playing in the AHL gives players a place to develop, I’ve yet to see many of your prospects get the true time they need in the AHL to develop before they get yanked back and forth between Florida and Rochester just to try and provide a spark for the Panthers. Why would you not sign 2 players at a NHL minimum salary (or close to) instead of having a true rookie play on your roster earning 1.275M and putting up a wopping 2 points through 17 games?
12:02
Kevin Oklobzija:  Thanks, folks, for joining the chat. We have several questions already, and we will give Jack time to answer, then drop in the next several…
12:02
Jack Birch:    Michael Frolik is a high first round pick and his salary is in line with what players drafted at that point in the draft have received. A good portion of the $1.2 is in performance bonuses and if he achieves them that would mean that he has played pretty well. Our coaches are quite happy with his play to date independent of his point totals. He has played well when given the chance and we feel that it is a matter of time before he starts putting up points. As to signing lower level players we are all retsicted by the number of contracts available by the league.
12:03
[Comment From Shannon]
Mr. Birch. First of all, thank you so much for your willingness to do this Q&A session. You must know how restless the Amerks’ fan base has become with a record of 2-5-1 and a consistent back-and-forth with the Rampage for worst in the league. My question relates to a statement released this summer by the Panthers organization at the announcement of the affiliation agreement. It was said that, using a quote put out by the Florida Panthers hockey club, “Over the past three seasons, we have been extremely pleased with how our prospects have developed in the Rochester system and we look forward helping the Americans achieve their ultimate goals of winning another Calder Cup championship.” How does this current team represent what was promised to not only the new owners but also the fans.? Is there anything that is being done currently to rectify the situation and if not, why?
12:07
Jack Birch:  First off, I am more than pleased to address questions from such loyal fans. As to statements we made this summer we will stand by them and hope that we can get this thing turned around. Yes we are not off to the start that we expected but there are several reasons (not excuses) that we feel have contributed to this start. Not the least of which has been the play of our goaltenders but also that we havn’t been able to get our best lineup in at the same time to date. We are addressing the personnel situation every day and hope to make improvements in the very near future.
12:07
[Comment From Tom from Scottsville]
Jack, Is there any chance the goaltending situation be addressed this season? Or is it a case of waiting until the summer for some help?
12:07
12:10
Kevin Oklobzija:As Jack addresses that question, someone is wondering whether the $2.25 surcharge for game-day ticket purchases will be eliminated.

Jack doesn’t deal with how the Amerks manage ticket sales. But it makes no sense to charge a person extra just because they opted to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to watch a mediocre (or bad) team.

12:10
Jack Birch:  We have made several contacts with available goaltenders out there but at this point choices are limited. We still have confidence that potential is there in the goalies we have but confidence from them and the players in general make it difficult to turn it around. We have had our goaltending coach from Florida there in Rochester doing what we can to help these young men through this tough stretch.
12:10
[Comment From EricBourgeois – Rochester]
Mr. Birch, I really appreciate you taking time to do this…and although I agree with much of what you have said, I was stung a littte bit about you being upset at Syracuse and Manitoba for having too many vets. The way they are doing things wins cups…and is what the Amerk’s used to be like themselves. Most of us expect the type of team they have their (and in Chicago) here. What say you?
12:12
Kevin Oklobzija:  Eric is referring to comments Jack made last week, where he made comparisons to the old IHL (which went bellyup because of costs) and the willingness of some teams in the AHL today  to pay $500,000 or more for AHLers.
12:13
[Comment From Jason]
Mr. Birch, you basically came out and admitted that the Panthers can’t compete with 3 teams in our division regarding AHL veterans. (Syracuse, Manitoba, Grand Rapids). How are we as fans supposed to accept that and what will be done to get a team here that not only will compete with them, but beat those teams on a regular basis?
12:16
Kevin Oklobzija:Just an FYI: Please be aware that Jack is also in the middle of his work day, and the Panthers are attempting to find help for the Amerks.

If there is a pause before he answers, it could be because he is on the phone with pressing hockey matters.

12:16
Jack Birch:  We must first realize the the Florida Panthers are trying to win at both the NHL and the AHL level. We have great partners in the ownership group in Rochester and I can tell you that they want to win as well. We fully expected to have better results on the ice and the loss of some key people (MacIntyre, Meyer, Sprukts, Stewart, Ellerby, Henry etc.. not being in the lineup together has set us back. As I said we are doing what we can to put the best team on the ice we can. As to what other teams use as their model for success is not our business. We can point to several cases where teams tried to put experienced teams together sacrificinng some development and it didn’t work out.
12:17
12:17
[Comment From Jason]
Mr Birch, most fans seemed to recognize over the summer that the Amerks lacked scoring and a veteran presence on defense. If we the fans could see it was obvious, how did yourself and Florida management not notice it? And if you did, why were the appropriate measures not taken to address it during the summer?
12:20
Kevin Oklobzija:  Be aware that  there are more than a dozen questions in the queue, so please be patient.
12:22
Jack Birch:  First off, we did address the veteran presence on the defense by signing Rory Fitzpatrick and going out to get one of the top Free Agent college players in Jason Garrison. Plus we had two key prospects turning pro in Ellerby and Caruso and we had some returning players. When Martin Lojek did not except our Qualifying Offer it makes it difficult in that 3 years of development did not come to fruition.
As for offense, we were very pleased that Janis Sprukts accepted our contract (he did have 58 pts in 57 games) and was a factor every night in Rochester during his last stint. Plus we expected more from the players who were coming in and who were returning in terms of offense.
12:22
12:22
[Comment From Murf from Perinton]
Mr. Birch, I have been a season ticket holder for the Amerks since the late 70’s. Prior to that, I suffered through the Vancouver affiliation debacle where you went to the games, not expecting to win, but rather hoping that the team would be competitive. This year, my expectations are even lower. I just hope to make it through the second period. I realize that the AHL is now strictly a development league and that’s okay. But given the current Amerks’ state of affairs, how much development can you expect from your prospects when they cannot compete on the same level with the majority of the teams in the AHL?
12:25
Jack Birch:  Let me state very clearly, we are all of the opinion that winning is the most important element for development and as such that’s our main concern. I would suggest that in most games these players play hard and have not been rewarded yet. I don’t think we are outclassed. I think it is more of the situation where we just haven’t found a way to win.
12:26
[Comment From Jason]
Mr. Birch. The signing of goalie Chris Beckford-Tseu was questioned by many at the time. Our supposed “veteran” goalie was someone who never cracked the AHL permanently. But we gave him a chance and he has performed miserably. Will anything be done to move him out of the organization, or will we have to deal with a sub par “veteran” goalie for another 1.5 years?
12:28
[Comment From Millerfan1]
Why was Beckford Tseu brought in for 2 years? Me personally, I wouldn’t have brought him in for 1 let alone 2…
12:33
Jack Birch:  Chris has won a championship at the ECHL level, a place where many of the good goalies in the AHL got their start. At the time of his signing many belived that he was poised to be a top notch AHL goalie and he still has that potential. The issue right now is that he has not received the support from either the players in front of him or the two goalies behind him to give him a chance to be successful. Although the situation isn’t exact we did try something similar with Craig Anderson two years ago and that one worked pretty well. We have talked with veteran goalies but they are either staying in Europe or are waiting for NHl opportunities. I personally think that vet goalies in the AHL are hard to come by. We had several conversations with goaltenders or their agents last summer and the general comments were if they weren’t going to be in the NHL they would prefer to head to Europe for both the lifestyle and the money.
12:35
[Comment From Pete in Rochester]
Thanks so much for your time Jack. We’ve seen the Sabres approach of “development by fire,” with no veteran help, well, backfire in the last few years. There are a group of us fans that love the heart and grit that this team exemplify, which seem far more prominent this year. Still though, a significant veteran presence seems to be lacking. Please tell us help is on the way.
12:41
Jack Birch:  The lack of vets is not really what it appears. Let’s not forget that Larman and Meyer are in their 4th years. Stewart, Fitzpatrick and Glass all have NHL experience. Beckford Tsue is a 5th year pro. Plus these young players have all experienced real success before getting here. Gold medals at the WJC, Memorial Cup winners or finalists. ECHL Championships etc. Lots of these players have had experience in very tough situations.
12:41
[Comment From Scott in Rochester]
I understand and respect the fact that you want a team that works hard on the ice and plays 60 minutes. But at the same time you have to respect that some of the players on the currnet roster are simply playing at a higher level than they might be playing at under more ordinary circumstances. Does the fact that the coach has been so outspoken over his displeasure with them in the media and already conducted a no pucks workout concern you at all, given the circumstances? And do you think his outspoken behavior damages the potential for veteran free agents to consider signing here?
12:43
Kevin Oklobzija:Just an FYI… if some questions are similar to those already addressed, they may be posted together, or we may go on to another topic.
We want to address as many different issues as possible.
12:44
Jack Birch:  No I think these players should be held accountable by the coach. Benoit has been very fair. He has never called them out for a lack of talent, it is only when they don’t compete that he has had to address them in a critical manner. As to signing free agents Rochester is a place where many players want to play so I don’t see that as an issue. Plus Benoit as a coach is very positive for guys looking to advance their careers.
12:44
[Comment From Johnny G Rochester]
Mr Birch thank you for your time, simple and fair question. Is help on the Way? If not please let us know i personally will still attend i just dont want any false hope. Thank you.
12:45

Expand
12:48
Jack Birch:  We are working every day to address the issues and I am hopeful that we may be able to resolve the issues by either improving the play of the players there or by bringing in new players. I don’t want to give you false hope as in this business what is available one day can quickly evaporate. We are in serious discussions with more than a couple of teams and with more than a couple of agents and hopefully they will bring some results. We all have to recognize that getting players at this time of year is difficult but we are trying.
12:48
[Comment From Dorky Dave]
Jack, First of all thanks for the time to talk about the team we all care so much about. Can you please explain the role of Jody Gage as far as bringing in talent to the team, many of us are very curious about this.
12:51
Jack Birch:  Jody is the GM of the Amerks and I can tell you that the Panthers rely on him on a daily basis. As you know Jody is one of the most respected guys in the AHL both as a player and as a manager. His experience alone is a great comfort to us when we are talking personnel. He is actively involved in the assessment of players both in Rochester and what might be available and we take his input very seriously. Rochester is lucky to have him in place.
12:51
[Comment From Craig]
Mr. Birch: Can you assess the Amerks D-corps and talk about the plans for guy’s like Garrison etc. I know that the big club has some injuries and such, what short and/or long term thoughts do you have?
12:52
12:52
Kevin Oklobzija:And in regard to the defense, is there any update with Wade Belak, who cleared waivers on Monday? Is he staying in Florida, would he be assigned to Rochester, are there trade talks?
12:54
Jack Birch:  Jason is off to a long and potentailly good NHL career. He was a heavily recruited FA and we were very happy that he chose us. As with any first year player he is having some ups and downs but I think what we see on most nights that he might be one of the best rookie defensemen that the Amerks have seen since I have been associated with the team.
12:54
Kevin Oklobzija:  Jack, any update with Belak?
12:58
Kevin Oklobzija:The response to this chat is astounding… The questions keep coming, and good questions…
We’re trying to get to as many as possible.
12:58
Jack Birch:  Wade Belak did clear waivers yesterday and is presently meeting with our coaches today. The fact that he cleared waivers does not mean that other NHL teams did not have an interest in Wade. Several teams have called about potential deals but I think at this time it is too early to determine what Jacques and the Florida coaches will decide. We for the most part have been very happy with Wade and I can only suggest that what appears in the papers may not be what is happening behind the scenes. In the Cap era it is not always easy to make hockey deals.
12:59
[Comment From Rich]
Jack, thanks for spending time with us fans and I do appreciate your efforts. I believe that you have been here everyday since the start of the season for all games and practices, and that does tell me that you do care. On the other hand, I do believe that your hands are tied with regards to player moves because of your bosses and the way that they operate. The Florida Panthers are obviously a mess due to upper Mgt. Over the last 3 years, JM has traded away all the class and leaders of that team and he hasn’t reaped any benefits. I really blame Mr. Cohen for allowing this guy to destroy this whole organization. Wade Belak is an exceptionally character guy on and off the ice, why he would be let go is a mystery to me. It seems like the bad moves never end down there and I’m wondering how long is Cohen going to wait before making a move or better yet let a real owner run the show. I know a lot of this is internal stuff which you can’t comment on, but again , thanks for your time and please make us competitve for the remainder of this season, we do appreciate effort in this city.
1:01
Jack Birch:  I do recognize your passion and as I have said the ownership group in both Rochester and in Florida are doing what they can to help rectify this start.
1:01
[Comment From Blue and Gold Forever]
If the local owners were able to identify a veteran player or two who could help the team immediately – like a goalie for instance – would the organization allow them to sign these players even if it might cut down on some ice time for Florida Panthers prospects and/or might not fit in to the long range plans of the Florida organization
1:02
[Comment From Jason]
Mr. Birch, if Florida is unwilling to spend money on veterans the way some teams in the AHL do, will the Panthers allow Curt Styres to spend his own money to bring in top notch veterans under the Panther’ name if he was willing to do that
1:04
Jack Birch:  YES. We have had several discussions about potentail players and they have indicated that they are quite willing to help. But we do need to have players accept our offers, or teams accept our offers to get things to happen. I have every confidence that when the need is there the ownership group in Rochester is willing to step up.
1:04
[Comment From Pat from Henrietta]
Thank for taking questions. Recently it was said the organization supports the coaches and that the problems existed with the players and their effort. Isn’t it the job of the coaches to motivate the players through benching, practice and ice time. How is it the coaches are not being held accountable on this according to the Florida organization.
1:05
Jack Birch:  Simply put, Benoit is one of the bright young coaches in the game and we were very fortunate ot get him. He has had great success at the Junior level and I have no doubt he will have success here as well.
1:06
[Comment From Ted from Henrietta]
Mr Birch–I have attended Amerks games since 1960. This season, as you look out over the mostly emplty BCA, ‘the tribe has clearly spoken’ regarding their interest and confidence in what has transpired. Personally I have never seen the building this empty. The veterans of whom you speak are not the veterans we are referring to. We were hoping to get bonafide, proven AHL players who have already demonstrated ability to compete, no rather to shine at this level. Pretty much all of the names you mentioned have not come close to accomplishing that. We were hoping for those kind of players back in the early summer. Will you vigourously pursue that kind of player now, or in the offseason; and if our current owner is willing to spend some of his money to obtain 1 or 2 of these kind of players, are his hands tied by Florida. Thank you
1:10
Jack Birch:  Yes we know the players you are talking about. Let me remind you that Jason Pomniville took 4 years before he really made his mark. There are a whole list of players that started slow and there is another list that started quickly. I have been in the league now for 25 years and I can tell you that I have seen a young team (Syracuse when the Canucks and   Pittsburgh were together) that didn’t fare very well and then (Hamilton when Montreal and Edmonton were together) that did very well. It is not always as simple as throwing money at good players and expecting it to work.
1:10
[Comment From Rocky from Brighton]
Is there an out clause in the current Panthers-Amerks agreement?
1:11
Jack Birch:  We have an agreement in place for 3 years.
1:11
[Comment From JTL from Farmington]
From the stands, it seems that these players are trying most of the time. Which, despite the team record, makes this team a little easier to watch than last year’s debacle. Your efforts to find help are appreciated, especially by those who chose to back Florida early on. What can we say to the rest of the fan base that ridicules us for attempting to support the current affiliation?
1:12
1:14
Kevin Oklobzija:  We planned to only go an hour, but there have been so many questions, we’ll extend to 1:30, and we thank Jack for his willingness to participate, and hang in longer.
1:16
Jack Birch:  I would say that loyalty to a team is something you establish over time. Everyone knows how passionate the Rochester fans are and I can only tell you that some of the games that I have been at have at the very least been entertaining. I can also tell you that the reduction in attendance is not from a lack of trying by the owners in Rochester or soley as result of this poor start. I am attending professional hockey games on a daily basis and I suspect that the present economy has also had its influence.
1:16
[Comment From Al / Los Angeles]
What do you think of San Jose signing Claude Lemieux to a minor league deal? Are there any players on the same level as Lemieux that are available and could come and provide some assistance to this Amerks club?
1:18
Jack Birch:  Lets just say Claude is 43 years old and has been out of the game for a while. I wish him luck but I wouldn’t think the fans in Rochester would prefer us to put our resources and hopes in a situation like this.
1:18
[Comment From rock hudson redux]
God Internet Explorer stinks. OK, I have a question. What have the Florida Panthers done (if anything) to attempt to familiarize or regionalize themselves to make Rochesterians Florida Panthers fans? I think it is easier to write this team off because we haven’t been able to identify with the Panthers to this point like we previously did with Buffalo.
1:23
Jack Birch:  I agree, and that has been an issue we addressed right from the start. We would love to have the Panther brand more prevalent in Rochester and with time we think that will happen. I can assure you that our presence is there behind the scenes every day. I have been at all but 5 games and our GM has been there twice. Plus we have many of our scouts and coaches there on a regular basis. So we believe we are doing our part in presenting the face of the Panthers and hopefully with a few wins both there in at home here in South Florida we can attract more interest in the Rochester area.
1:23
[Comment From Blake Miller]
Was wondering if you have considered signing some local talent to bring the local crowd back to the arena? Know there are a few local players in the AHL at this time, and the team is not looking like they are going far without some key scoring..
1:25
Jack Birch:  We did try to address the local interest when we signed Rory and we didn’t stop there. We did talk to several players that have some roots in Rochester but were not able to get them under contract. I can assure you that we are scouting players all over the world on a daily basis and if we find the right fit we won’t hesitate to act.
1:26
[Comment From Jack from Rochester]
As a diehard Amerks fan I really do miss the Sabres signed players, playing for the Rochester Americans, although the Sabres farmteams have proved themselves being a young team able to accomplish many of their own goals. A lot of the Florida players have been training with Sabres roster for the past years. I do believe these players have the talent but it seems like they don’t have belief in themselves. Is there anything being done by the coaches to help the mentality of the players spirits to not have to feel like they are going into a game that they have already lost.
1:28
Jack Birch:  As for the coaching, we will leave that up to Benoit, Jason Cipolla and Bob. We have brought in our sports psychologist and will do so again this coming week. As I said we are working to improve the play of all our players anyway we can.
1:29
[Comment From Shannon]
Jack, Rochester is not used to losing or developing an entire team at the same time. I, for one have no problem with the current AHL philosophy but would like to know Florida’s ideas on development – specifically, how much time is a prospect given and what are you looking for as leadership for the developing players
1:32
Kevin Oklobzija:  We’ll have one more question after Jack answers Shannon.

Thanks to all.

This entire chat will be available on DemocratandChronicle.com, and also by clicking the link on my blog today, Hockey O-Zone.

1:33
Jack Birch:  Development is not an easy template to describe. As mangers we look for improvement from game to game, week to week and from one season to the next. There are players who show steady progress and there are some who suddenly click in. As to the time we give, I can only say as long as it takes as long as there is a willingness on their behalf to get better. When we don’t see that in them then we make tough decisions. Plus winning is still the key factor in everyones progression.
1:33
[Comment From Tom from Scottsville]
Jack, I know the Panthers travel all over the country in the preseason. Is their any chance Florida will make a pit stop in Rochester for a preseason game or a couple of Training Camp Practices for the Amerks fans to further familiarize themselves with the Florida Panthers? Or is there some restrictions on that because this is consdered a Sabres Market?
1:34
Kevin Oklobzija:  In regard to development, a guy like Martin Lojek was an interesting case study. He wasn’t very good as a rookie, made great strides in his second year and even played some NHL games, went backwards last season (many players did during that disaster of a season).
The Panthers wanted to bring him back, because there appeared to still be an upside, but Lojek opted to sign with a team in Europe.
1:34
Jack Birch:  I can tell you that that very possibility has been discussed and hopefully we can make that happen in the future. We think it is important for the Panthers to make the presence felt in Rochester.
1:35
Kevin Oklobzija:  Thanks again to all who asked questions, to all who were reading, and to Jack Birch for giving Amerk fans 95 minutes of his time.
1:37
Jack Birch:  I am very pleased that I was given the opportunity to respond to such great fans. I can only tell them to keep their passion and I want to assure them we are doing everything possible to improve this team.
1:37
Annette Meade:  Below you can see the rest of the questions and the comments that we did not get to today. Thanks to all who participated. If you would like to continue to chat on  the Amerks  you can do so in the comment section under the live blog.
1:38
[Comment From victorboy]
Mr. Birch, How confident do you feel @ your relationship with a financially insolvent AAA hockey team?
1:38
[Comment From Charlie – Penfield, NY]
Jack, does that “signing lower level players we are all retsicted by the number of contracts available by the league.” comment mean that our roster is full of guys that shouldn’t be here, with no opportunity to make moves?
1:38
[Comment From Jason]
Mr. Birch. It’s obvious Florida was no where near active enough or aggressive enough this past summer in regards to AHL veterans. Will we see a more aggressive approach next offseason?
1:38
[Comment From JTL from Farmington]
Amerks season ticket holders were surveyed last year regarding their opinions on ownership. I know I wasn’t alone by ranking an affiliation with whoever would support the team with veteran leadership as my number 1 choice. Recently you stated that too many veterans would cause the AHL to have the same fate as the IHL, an assertion that I have a hard time believing for many reasons. While we sincerely appreciate the Panthers singing Rory Fitzpatrick, one veteran alone is not enough. Why has Florida’s position on stocking the Amerks with veterans seemingly changed to be more in line with that of Buffalo’s (pure player development with few to no veteran leadership) which the Amerks fans clearly did not believe in and has not produced winning teams. I must respectively say, competing with other teams without veterans is not the goal of an AHL team, winning the Calder-Cup is.
1:38
[Comment From Millerfan1]
Why do you have 50 players signed to NHL only or 2-way deals? How can you justify giving that many players contracts when they will likely not be NHL players down the road? Why would you not fill in with AHL Free Agents instead of going the young ECHL cheap player route? Sweetland, Delroy, macDonald, and Delroy?
1:38
[Comment From Jason]
Mr. Birch, all we hear from the Panthers is constantly “we’re working on it”. The fans are tired of hearing this politically correct statement. Will any player moves really happen this season to avoid being the worst team in AHL history?
1:39
[Comment From Millerfan1]
At what point are you going to give your true prospects the time they need to develop? We’ve seen (in pattern) over the last few years that Florida always calls up a prospect to replace a player who gets hurt. Other teams have fringe NHL players they can call up in case of injuries, yet you tend to pick on the young kids. Will that ever change??
1:39
[Comment From Steve]
Mr Birch, why weren’t some of the higher profile free agents pursued this off season? It seems very apparent your talent at this level is way overrated.
1:39
[Comment From Jason]
Mr Birch. Signing 5 quality AHL veterans cost just a little more than 1 NHL player at minimum salary. Are you telling Amerks fans that Florida is not willing to spend that type of money so we can be assured a competitive team that has a shot at the Calder Cup?
1:39
[Comment From Jason]
Mr Birch, we keep hearing how the Panthers “expected more”. To be blunt, clearly you were wrong. Can we expect several new players next season that will get the job done?
1:39
[Comment From eric from webster]
i found a way to win… root for the portland pirates… lead by an organization that actually knows how to develop players…
1:39
[Comment From Jason]
If winning is the most important element of development, why do the Panthers refuse to sign minor league free agents such as Hershey and Syracuse? And I’m not talking about 2 guys. I mean 5 or 6 top free agents to assure a winning team?
1:39
[Comment From BJD from Rochester]
While I hope it’s not the case, this season is rapidly becoming a lost cause. Florida has a pretty poor record when it comes to winning at the AHL record, which was the main reason why San Antonio parted ways with Florida. With the Amerks on pace to “top” the worst team in AHL history, why should the remaining Amerks fans renew their season tickets for next season? What has your organization learned from the losing seasons in Rochester and San Antonio?
1:39
[Comment From EricBourgeois – Rochester]
I’m sorry if this is already known, but do you know if these 3 players are available: Eric Healey, Craig Darby, Brad Ference
1:39
[Comment From Guest]
I’ll take this quote from you just now… “As to what other teams use as their model for success is not our business. We can point to several cases where teams tried to put experienced teams together sacrificinng some development and it didn’t work out.” Can you answer me what teams have been successful in using this new model that Florida is now practicing? Kevin please make sure this one goes through
1:39
[Comment From Tom from Scottsville]
Mr. Birch, going forward do you feel there is a need for a veteran first line winger such as a Mathieu Darche either to be signed this season or even in the summer for next season? It’s painfully obvious (In My Opinion) that he has no one capable of being that winger that we need to compliment his great passing skills. You mentioned earlier his 06-07 season, but you didn’t mention his linemates were of the likes of Drew Stafford, Michael Ryan, and Clarke MacArthur. In my opinion all very capable AHL scorers. I’m not sure the Amerks have one of those guys on the team right now.
1:40
[Comment From Guest]
What are the Panthers’ long-term plans for Jacob Markström? When his current contract expires (next year?) are the Panthers going to try to bring him right over to North America? If they do, would the objective be to start him in the AHL, will he go straight to the NHL behind Vokoun, or do you think he will be staying in Sweden a little longer?
1:40
[Comment From Millerfan1]
Why did you not address the question of why Beckford Tseu was signed for 2 years?
1:40
[Comment From Steve]
Is there any chance that there might be a decrease in ticket prices to draw more fans?
1:40
[Comment From Jason]
Mr Birch, several AHL veteran goalies signed and are playing in the AHL this season. These include Marc Denis, JS Aubin, Drew MacIntyre, Yann Danis, David LeNevue and Scott Clemmensen to name a few. I think it’s a blatant lie that veteran goalies aren’t in this league. Why were the Panthers not able to get any of them?
1:40
[Comment From brian in rochester]
Mr. Birch, You have to know that coming in you are fighting an uphill battle, in that many fans here were able to see Miller, Pominville, and many of the young Sabres here in the last several years. I am very surprised that more was not done to make a splash, both from the team and new owner. I see the Fitzpatrick move as one of appeasement to the local fans, but not nearly enough. I also dont get the game-day hike in prices….This has to be a worst-case scenario you are looking at, agreed?
1:40
[Comment From Mark P]
Our the Florida Panthers in trouble financially? I see they have laid off people. Also would you allow the Amerks owners to contribute money next summer to sign Vets.
1:40
[Comment From Rick F]
Mr. Birch – I agree the loss of MacIntyre before the season started hurt ,but I don’t see where any actions have taken place to try and secure a replacement. It is apparant that we lack a physical force and are continuing to get pushed around by other physcial type teams. Were any action taken to seek a physical type player, if not then, how about now.
1:40
[Comment From Jason]
Mr. Birch, when we talk about a veteran presence, we mean at least 3 veterans on offense at at least 2 on defense with a veteran goalie. Can we expect to see a team with this make up in our time with the Panthers?
1:40
[Comment From Jason]
When we talk about “veterans”, we don’t mean underachievers like Larman and Meyer. We mean guys like Darren Haydar, Matthieu Darche, Denis Hamel etc. These players can compete at this level and can win. Will we see these types of veterans?
1:41
[Comment From hockey55]
After 18 games the Amerks are 2-15-0-1. They have scored 37 goals and given up 81. Seeing that you hope to make improvements in the very near future, where in the standings do you expect the Amerks to finish this season? If you don’t expect the Amerks to make the playoffs this year, what are your expectations for next year?
1:41
[Comment From eric from webster]
here we go pirates!! woooooo
1:42
[Comment From Jeff from fairport]
Bring back Jim Hofford!
1:42
[Comment From EricBourgeois – Rochester]
I am 100% with you with regards to injuries playing a large role in the 2-15-1 start, however, I think I can speak for most Amerk fans when I disagree with you that Glass, Larman and Meyer should be looked upon as “veterans”. I’m supportive of you guys because you got us our hometown vet D, and brought Sprukts back..and tried to grab Law and Taylor, but to my knowledge Styres brought in Stewart and we need more vets like him. You can’t count on 23 year olds to be your go-to vets. Plus, these guys haven’t had anyone to help them here for their first 3 years.
1:42
[Comment From Rick F]
Prior to the star of this season, many proven AHL type caliber players were cut by their parent team and exposed to waivers before being sent to the AHL. I will use Mark Mancari as an example – was the waiver wire being monitored and was any serious considerations applied to bring any of them into the Florida organization.
1:42
[Comment From Al / Los Angeles]
Do you think that adding a few journeyman AHL veterans would help the Amerks start winning games and aid in the development of these players?
1:42
[Comment From Millerfan1]
You mentioned that you have 50 players signed and that is the league limit, Is this going to be the practice for years to come? it seems to me you have signed alot of dead weight and are banking way too much on lower level success. Now because of that the NHL won’t let you sign a player even if you wanted to…
1:42
[Comment From Brian in Manchester]
Dixon Ward, Craig Charron, Dane Jackson, Rob Conn, Scott Metcalfe, Dan Frawley – plus prospects Barrie Moore, Scott Nichol, Brian Holzinger and (in lesser roles) Curtis Brown, Wayne Primeau and Vaclav Varada. The forwards on the ’96 Cup team that came from dead last at the halfway point and got hot at the right time. Proven firepower and muscle. Proven AHL firepower and muscle gave hope that once Buffalo officially missed the playoffs and the shuttle back-and-forth stopped running, we could ice a squad that could play with anybody. Sorry, but I can’t see any reason to drive the 31 miles from Manchester to watch this collection of ne’er was and ne’er will bes.
1:43
[Comment From Millerfan1]
Jack- Jason Pominville was given the likes of Chris Taylor and Dominic Pittis to help his growth. All do respect but none of the players on this roster could touch what those 2 guys meant to those Rochester rookies.
1:43
[Comment From Fred from Spencerport]
I don’t really have a question as much as an opinion , we appreciate whatever Florida can do to help this team , but , people from Rochester are not really interested in what becomes of “Our” players that go to Florida , we have for many years loved seeing the boys earn a shot at the “Show” and then jumping in the car and cruising up to Buffalo to watch them play there , no one is in a position to do that with Florida now are they ? whoever was at fault of the failure of the Buffalo affiliation is quite honestly an IDIOT ! and should be chastised as such . My section (season tickets for over twenty years) was full of season ticket holders and now as I look around and miss the many familiar faces , I would say section #222 is down to maybe six of us left . . . I do not see the business sense in that ? ? ? and I too will be out the door after this season if we are no longer affiliated with Buffalo , and I have been there for over twenty years wether the team wins or loses , it was and always will be the Affiliation that matters to us here in Rochester .
1:43
[Comment From eric from webster]
ditch the panthers…. amerks would be better off having an affiliation with RIT
1:43
[Comment From Blue and Gold Forever]
We all know that the European leagues and the new Russian league have had an impact on the available talent pool. Yet every year, players go over and for whatever reason want/need to come back. How aggressively do the Panthers look at/for situations that develop to identify players who might be unhappy across the pond who might be good fits for the Amerks?
1:43
[Comment From Jason]
With very few Panther prospects being eligible to sign this summer, how will Florida go about improving this club?
1:44
[Comment From Amerk fans]
Thank you Jack – only positive from here on
1:44
[Comment From Pacquetsniffer]
Thank you Jack Birch and Kevin O.
1:45
Annette Meade:  Thanks again folks. We’re signing off now.

After wards some additional questions were answered that couldn’t be during the time frame of the live chat, here are those:

3:30 p.m.: Here are several more good questions from the live blog that we couldn’t get to, but I thought should be answered. I phoned Jack and he was glad to answer:

(Comment from Millerfan1)
Why do you have 50 players signed to NHL only or 2-way deals? How can you justify giving that many players contracts when they will likely not be NHL players down the road? Why would you not fill in with AHL Free Agents instead of going the young ECHL cheap player route? Sweetland, Delroy, macDonald, and Delroy?

“The 50 contracts are alloted to the NHL teams. That doesn’t prevent us from signing players on ECHL/AHL deals. That doesn’t prevent us from signing a player like Karl Stewart to an AHL contract, which we did. We had 11 guys coming out (of junior and college) and they all needed contracts. That’s a big turnout for any one year, which you normally wouldn’t have.”

Comment From Jason]
Mr. Birch, all we hear from the Panthers is constantly “we’re working on it”. The fans are tired of hearing this politically correct statement. Will any player moves really happen this season to avoid being the worst team in AHL history?

“I think that will resolve itself in the next couple days. There is going to be some movement here, I would strongly predict, but until you actually have the thing signed, sealed and delivered, you can’t overstep it.”

Comment From Millerfan1]
At what point are you going to give your true prospects the time they need to develop? We’ve seen (in pattern) over the last few years that Florida always calls up a prospect to replace a player who gets hurt. Other teams have fringe NHL players they can call up in case of injuries, yet you tend to pick on the young kids. Will that ever change?

“That’s really more a reflection of previous management, to a certain degree. When I got here, there were very few players in the system. When we were bringing up the Rob Globkes up, that was more a reflection of not having a lot of depth. We feel we’re in better position to address the needs of the big club this year, whether it’s a top-6 forward, toughness or a defenseman.

“Granted, when you look at how some of these kids have played, you may wonder if we’ve overstepped those bounds. But at least if the big club needs a big scorer, we have a Michal Repik who is projected to fill that role. We didn’t have that type of player the past few years.”

[Comment From BJD from Rochester]
While I hope it’s not the case, this season is rapidly becoming a lost cause. Florida has a pretty poor record when it comes to winning at the AHL record, which was the main reason why San Antonio parted ways with Florida. With the Amerks on pace to “top” the worst team in AHL history, why should the remaining Amerks fans renew their season tickets for next season? What has your organization learned from the losing seasons in Rochester and San Antonio?

“Not to throw stones but I can’t make comments on past administrations. The San Antonio situation, much like it still is, was not an ideal environment for development. Our first year in Rochester (as an equal partner in stocking the franchise, 2006-07), when we had Craig Anderson there, I think we had some solid prospects. And I would suggest the Portland Pirates have even benefited from that when you look at Adam Dennis (an Amerk the past two years and one of two Buffalo Sabres prospects playing goal in Portland).”

[Comment From Guest]
What are the Panthers’ long-term plans for Jacob Markström? When his current contract expires (next year?) are the Panthers going to try to bring him right over to North America? If they do, would the objective be to start him in the AHL, will he go straight to the NHL behind Vokoun, or do you think he will be staying in Sweden a little longer?

“He was a first-round pick and all indications are he has been excellent this year in the Sweden Elite League. He’ll be on Swedish national team at the World Junior Championship. He’s a tremendous young prospect, and whoever asked this question obviously pays close attention to the game.

“He is under contract in Sweden for this year and next. Sometimes there are capabilities of outs so you never say never. We have all said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have him here right now.’ Much of it may depend on what happens with Craig Anderson (a free agent after the season).”

[Comment From Blue and Gold Forever]
We all know that the European leagues and the new Russian league have had an impact on the available talent pool. Yet every year, players go over and for whatever reason want/need to come back. How aggressively do the Panthers look at/for situations that develop to identify players who might be unhappy across the pond who might be good fits for the Amerks?

“We monitor the transfers every day from Europe. Vince Bellissimo came up (when he left his team in Finland). We talked to him and he ended up signing in Innsbruck, We did talk with Kirby Law but he stayed in Europe (Fribourg-Gotteron in Switzerland). Just because a player is released and not happy in Russia or anywhere in Europe doesn’t mean he wants to come back to the American League.

“The only other player who has come back is Grant Potulny and our staff just didn’t see him as an answer (he signed with San Antonio).

“We talked to (goalie) Jocelyn Thibault three days ago. He’s not retired but he’s not prepared to play in the American League right now. He’s basically saying, ‘I’ve never played in the American League.’ Financially he’s OK. He wants to wait until some NHL team calls him and wants him to go there.”

[Comment From Rick F]
Prior to the star of this season, many proven AHL type caliber players were cut by their parent team and exposed to waivers before being sent to the AHL. I will use Mark Mancari as an example – was the waiver wire being monitored and was any serious considerations applied to bring any of them into the Florida organization.

“Like every team, we monitor every player move (regarding waivers). At the end of the last year, if you asked everyone affiliated with that team if they would re-sign Mark Mancari, I’m not sure they would have said yes. At the end of the day, the Sabres did re-sign him, but I’m sure it was at their terms.

“He has surprised everybody. I don’t know whether it’s him or Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy coming in and tearing the place up but he has surprised everyone.

“Someone on the blog mentioned Mathieu Darche. Well, last year people (the Tampa Bay Lightning) took a chance with him and it didn’t work out (at the NHL level). There wasn’t anyone more surprised than me when Mathieu Darche signed with Buffalo, because that hasn’t been how they’ve done things.

“A guy we went after from Day 1 was Mike Iggulden (an Amerk for six games late in the 2004-05 season). I went to watch that guy five or six times last year (when he played for Worcester) with the sole purpose to determining whether he would fit into what we wanted to do. We wanted him and Joe Nieuwendyk went after him hard because they’re both Cornell guys, but he decided to sign with the Islanders (apparently because he was promised an NHL chance).”

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