Why did you decide to retain GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo? “Because I absolutely think we’re on the right course. Everything that is happening in the locker room is really positive. Yeah, there are some changes that we’ll probably look at for next year and that’s good, because we need to get better. But I think all the players are still excited about the direction that we’re going.”
How important is it as an owner to show your team or your fan base a willingness to go for it? “It probably appears as if I’m always willing to take the team to the [salary] cap. The fact of the matter is we have a business and everything we did last summer were for two reasons: making the team better and completely changing the image that the Wild have in this market.”
What do you think the image was? “Complacent. That the team was getting complacent, that we weren’t building it fast enough. The prospects at the time, we think were good and as you recall, we were really selling that. But those prospects, that’s three years from now and it wasn’t going to be fast enough. So that’s the reason we made the big splash.”
CUP FINALS DRAW HUGE INTEREST IN PRAGUE
The New York Times details how Jaromir Jagr is not the only reason fans in Prague are paying extra attention, although he is a huge draw. Seven Czech or Slovak players are involved in the finals between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks: Jagr, David Krejci and the captain Zdeno Chara for Boston, and Michael Frolik, Michal Rozsival, Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus for Chicago. That has increased interest among fans in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which were united as Czechoslovakia until 1993.
“Everyone here is looking to see how Jagr and the other Czech guys are playing,” said Marko Aleksic, 27, watching the game in the neighborhood bar. “When you have so many players from your country playing, you are more interested in the finals.”
Jason Piro, 36, a Boston native who has lived here for 10 years, has noticed an increased determination in Jagr since he began playing with the Bruins.
“I think his passion is clear, and he can kind of taste this last feather in his cap,” Piro said. “Boston really appreciates effort and hard work, characteristics that he wasn’t always known for, and it would be great to see a legend of the game bring the Cup home, while also helping my home team win.”
“This is different than the Staal negotiation,” general manager Ray Shero said Thursday. “But I don’t have a crystal ball.”
They had ruled out keeping Staal, who had rejected a 10-year contract offer and was intent on playing out the final year of his deal, leading up to the Entry Draft last summer.
Shero said there is no timetable to settle anything with Letang at the Entry Draft on June 30 or by the start of free-agent season July 5. More meetings are planned between Shero and Letang’s agent, with the Pens currently working on an offer.
HEAD COACHING URGE LINGERS FOR LIGHTNING’S BOWNESS
“I want to win the Stanley Cup,” he said. “That’s my goal. I don’t care what my job description says under my name. If it’s assistant skate sharpener, I don’t care. I want to win a Stanley Cup.”
He said the urge to be a head coach has never gone away though.
“This is my best chance to win the Stanley Cup, in the role I’m in now. If I were to get a head coaching chance because of that, fine. What I don’t want to do is what I’ve done three times in my career and mop up. Okay, they’re going to fire the head coach, you come in and you mop up and the season is over and it just kills you.”
That said, “If I had a chance to be a head coach again with a team that had a chance to win the Stanley Cup, absolutely,” Bowness added. “We all want to do that. But for now, this is my role. I’m going to do the best job I can in the job that I have.”
DEVILS’ FREE AGENTS STILL NOT SIGNED
The Star-Ledger indicates New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has not yet been able to re-sign top free agents Patrik Elias, David Clarkson or Dainius Zubrus, three players he would like to keep. There are indications that the team will make every effort to seal a new deal with Elias, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, but he remains a potential unrestricted free agent.
“We’re hopeful with all of them,” Lamoriello said. “Patrik has always been a priority. We’ll just keep working on it until it’s final. I see Patrik, Zubie, Clarkie and Adam (Henrique) as priorities. Adam is not as immediate because he’s restricted (as opposed to unrestricted).
On his stated objective of getting those deals done by July 5: “That’s still the goal.”
On whether he’d still be open to negotiating with them if they are still unsigned on July 5: “You’re always open. You’re never not (open). If you weren’t open, then you’d trade them now and let somebody else have a chance and you get an asset. (Not trading them is) an indication you want your player.”
On his policy of not trading a potential UFA’s negotiating rights: “Unless you really didn’t want the player.”
“I think all sports are seeing a downtrend in terms of ticket sales,” said Stephen McDaniel, a professor in sports and entertainment marketing at the University of Maryland, in a telephone interview. “If you look at where you can maximize revenues, it’s in places like luxury boxes and not regular seating.
“If you have fewer seats, it makes the game more of a draw,” McDaniel said. “And when things are more in demand, you can raise prices.”
If the Red Wings can create a higher premium on tickets, it paves the way for greater profits.
“Tickets in many ways are the lifeblood,” McDaniel said. “It ties into so many other revenue streams.”
“What’s great about sports and hockey in particular is the passion and commitment to your team and you don’t like people hitting your players,” Wilson said. That can change “when he’s on your side — and he plays an honest, straightforward kind of game that’s contagious.”
Wilson also drew comparisons to Bryan Marchment and Mike Ricci, setting them up as two earlier Sharks who weren’t well liked in San Jose until they played here.
“I understand the initial emotions,” Wilson said. “They’re not overly popular in the other team’s rink. But when they become part of your organization, you appreciate what they do and you love having them on your side. A lot of it is the energy that Raffi brings and how hard he plays and how much he loves the game.”