Panthers President and COO Michael Yormark recently celebrated his sixth anniversary with the team, and he admits he’s never been as optimistic as this season.
With the Panthers core players signed to long-term deals, with the organization’s depth better than any time in its history, Yormark is excited about the possibilities this season could bring with Peter DeBoer entering his second season behind the bench and Randy Sexton taking over as GM.
FloridaPanthers.com recently sat down with Yormark to talk about Saturday’s home opener at BankAtlantic Center against the Devils, the appointment of Sexton, the recent signing of Dominic Moore, the commitment of ownership, and the business of launching the Panthers 16th NHL season. Q: You must be excited about Saturday’s opening night at the BankAtlantic Center? YORMARK:
“I’m very excited. Actually, due to our trip to Finland this year, it actually gave us a little more time to prepare and the whole organization is really focused on Saturday’s opening night with the Devils. We’ve got about 2,000 seats available, so clearly there’s a buzz in the marketplace about the NHL season. We have a revamped game presentation, a whole new graphics look and a whole new opening show. We have some new branded destinations in our building that are going to be very fan friendly and exciting for our guests. We’ve got some product we’re selling at our concessions that I also think will be very appealing to our fans.
“We tried this off-season to really focus on the experience of our fans when they get to the BankAtlantic Center, beyond just watching the game. To that end, we’ve done a lot of things to enhance the experience, whether it’s in the concourses or the show we create during the game. We’re really excited about unveiling it on opening night.” Q: Let’s talk about ownership’s commitment to the team. YORMARK:
“I’ll tell you, I think there’s a misconception in the marketplace that Alan Cohen and his partners don’t invest the resources in the team they should. Last year we played very close to the cap. Our commitment this off-season was to once again play very close to the cap, and we’ve done just that. Look at our off-season acquisitions. We signed new defensemen Jordan Leopold and Ville Koistinen, the first star in our first win against the Blackhawks in Finland. We picked up Dennis Seidenberg, who was one of the top four defensemen for Carolina last season, averaging over 22 minutes. We picked up a second-line center, Steven Reinprecht, who was actually the first acquisition of any team in the off-season. We followed this up by signing Dominic Moore just this week.
“I think the Dominic Moore signing is really indicative of the mindset of this franchise. We saw some things in Finland that we didn’t like. We felt we needed some more skill up front, that we needed to strengthen our third line, and we huddled as an organization and asked, ‘Who is out there who fits the role that we need and want,’ And we beat out three other teams who were looking at Dominic.
“Peter (DeBoer) really recruited him hard after the game Saturday night. It’s interesting….I walked into the coaches’ room after the game and was looking for Peter and I was told he was on the phone with Dominic, telling him why he should come to South Florida. I think that’s a strong indication that we are an organization that will not stop until we can put a team on the ice every night that can compete and can get us back into the post season.
“So we not only acquired six (players), including goalie Scott Clemmensen
, but we made a significant commitment to David Booth, making him our highest paid forward, and Radek Dvorak, a key signing for us. All of our key players have been signed to long-term deals. We made those moves and then signed Leopold, Seidenberg and Moore to one-year deals. We challenged these guys to have breakout seasons. It also gives us flexibility because if guys keep developing in the minors, guys like (Jason) Garrison and (Keaton) Ellerby, we can bring them up and not have to worry about a numbers game.
“So, as I said earlier, I think there’s a misconception we haven’t stepped up. We’ve clearly stepped up and, once again, we’re going to be playing very close to the cap. As of this morning, the cap is a little over $56 million and I think we’re at $54 million.” Q: There’s certainly more depth and stability than ever before. Your thoughts? YORMARK:
“When I look at the continuity of our players, when I look at the continuity of our front office now with the hiring of Randy Sexton as our general manager, we’re absolutely one of the more stable franchises in the South Florida marketplace. In the past we couldn’t say that. Today we can. On the hockey side, Randy has been here for four years, three as assistant general manager. Peter DeBoer is starting his second year and I think we all agree Peter is a big key for this organization and did a terrific job in his rookie season. So we think all the pieces are in place. As we move along during the season there will probably be some tweaks, some challenges we’re going to have to overcome. But we like the product on the ice, we love our coach behind the bench, and we’re very confident Randy is going to be a spectacular general manager.” Q: Tell us about the decision to promote Randy Sexton to GM? YORMARK:
“As everyone knows, we had Bill Torrey take us through the GM search. It started in June and we took a long time. We wanted to make sure we did our due diligence and talk to all the candidates that were available. I think Bill received some 70 resumes and interviewed close to 30 candidates. As he narrowed those 30 candidates down to 10 we began to realize the best candidate may be the guy we have right here in hockey operations. We thought that Randy did a wonderful job taking us through the draft. Our first pick in the draft, (Dmitry) Kulikov, looks to be one of the steals of the first round and he made our opening night roster. Randy took us through the free agent signing period and I thought did a tremendous job rebuilding our blue line and adding the critical pieces we needed. He’s continued to do that since July. The other thing that became very evident is there was an understanding on Randy’s part how important it is to work with the business side and how we really wanted to integrate the hockey and business sides of the organization. I personally feel that if both sides are totally integrated and on the same page, it just makes us a stronger organization, and Randy has been a part of developing that culture over the last couple years and he really understands the importance of that; the importance of getting our players out in the community, the importance of doing things perhaps a little differently in a non-traditional market. Randy has the experience of being a CEO and GM when he launched the Ottawa Senators. That wasn’t always an easy market or easy sell. So having somebody in that position who, quite frankly, understands what I go through each and every day was very comforting to me. So for all those reasons, we think Randy is going to be a terrific GM and for me, personally, a terrific teammate, which is as important.” Q: What was the experience like in Finland? YORMARK:
“Finland really provided us with a national platform to promote our brand and to give our players and this organization visibility beyond the South Florida marketplace. And throughout the eight or nine days we were there, when you turned on ESPN News or ESPN, there we were representing the NHL as we kicked off the 2009-2010 hockey season. So I think it did a lot for us globally. It was an opportunity for our players to get on the road and bond and spend time together. I think what’s important for us is that we’re a real close, cohesive group of players not only on the ice but off the ice. And I saw things in Finland I never saw before with this franchise. There were guys hanging out together, laughing together, and having a fun time away from the ice. And to me that’s one of the ingredients of a successful team, believing in each other and trusting each other and being loyal to each other. So it was a great experience for the franchise.” Q: So you’re ready for Saturday night and the Panthers in the playoffs? YORMARK:
“I am. I think this franchise is in the best position since I’ve been here. When I look back at my six years here, there have been a lot of challenges, a lot of transitions. But at the end of the day, when you look at our team and where we are as a franchise, I think we finally have our act together. I think we have a product on the ice our fans are going to be excited about and proud of. Our business this off-season was as good as I could have expected. We developed a new pricing strategy, reduced the price of our tickets in most of our seating areas, and we actually have sold more full-season ticket equivalents this off-season than we did last year. There’s a lot more season-seat holders going into the beginning of this season than last.
“We’re also going to be more involved with our Fox broadcasts this year, which is exciting to us. We’ll be much more involved from a production standpoint, controlling our ad sales. And we’re excited about Bill Lindsay and Steve Goldstein being together in the broadcast booth. It will be a fresh look and feel for our fans.
“So I am excited. There’s a lot of optimism throughout the organization. We just need to get off to a good start and reach out to our fans. We need to live up to expectations, and I think we will.”