Now that the draft’s over, we can move along more quickly. Two entries – one above, the other below the fold.
JUNE 25th, 2021
Today the team got a bittersweet reminder of the double-edged nature of young promise.
The AHL’s season-end awards were announced. Unlike the NHL variety, in which Florida was pretty much shut out (Ondra Cerny made second team All-NHL, and that was it), a bevy of the Panthers’ prospects grace the AHL honor rolls. Ivan Pohanka, the wing from Slovakia, was taken 90th overall in 2018 and made a rousing success out of his first North American season: 46 goals and 95 points (second overall in both) and the AHL’s Rookie of the Year. Finishing third in that vote and joining Pohanka on the All-Rookie Team was defenseman Gary Flynn (hence everyone’s interest in obtaining him over the past few weeks), the former USA World Juniors star, taken a year and a round earlier. Marco Robson and Yevgeni Nosov, taken three years and 143 picks apart, came together on the AHL First-Team: Nosov for his 18 goals and 46 points in 63 games, Robson for his 57 assists (the team-high) and 84 points.
The only problem is that the Amerks, defending Calder Cup Champions, lost in the Conference Finals, making individual honors somewhat sour after that. One consolation is that Randy Cunneyworth, repeating as the AHL’s Coach of the Year, and his fine staff will continue to prepare and develop these and other Panthers’ hopefuls; but it’s still no guarantee that these players will translate their lower-level success into NHL accomplishments.
JUNE 29th, 2021
Following every draft, every franchise makes a point of contacting all of their chosen prospects and talking with their agents or representatives. Along with these negotiations are meetings about the overview of the organization, what it needs now, next month, next year, and how it all must be paid for. The public part of the process reported in media and discussed by fans is the merest tip of the iceberg poking over the surface; the vast bulk of that work has already happened.
Some those icebergs bob up unexpectedly, and the new job is how to avoid hitting them and taking damage. Beginner is dealing with such a one right now, as the representatives for several draftees are telling him that they’ve heard whispers about what happened between him and Frank Granderson on draft day.
Beginner isn’t surprised. He knew a version of this would get some play in Philly after the de rigeur “anonymous sources” talked about how he’d been “a dirty dealer.” It’s not really in Granderson’s interest to push a story like that, as it leaves the impression that he had been gullible and had gotten rolled by a better GM. But Philly is a contact-reporting town, and the hint alone would get play, threatening to undermine the Panthers’ reputation among the very draftees he now hopes to sign.
To combat this, Beginner got his side out first, speaking to reporters on the trade in person. He said very openly that Florida liked Svajlen, and it was tough to give him up, but he had been the key to the deal from Philadelphia’s point of view. “Svajlen was our choice there, all along. Before that it was all tire-kicking with us and the Flyers. After we made our pick, Philly called back, and we went back and forth and finally got to something we both felt was too good to pass up.” The take-away for the listener was that it had been Philadelphia’s idea to make this deal, and that any crying “foul” on their part was disingenuous after the fact.
The rival theories on the mini-spat were duly forgotten by the public in a couple of days, but did their work among the target audience from Philly’s point of view. Agents and players reps, many of whom had dealt with Beginner for well over a decade, knew it all for what it was and didn’t care. But a couple of the players were still anxious. And Dan McConnell’s representative – currently his mother, an attorney – wants to make sure that he’s in a good spot for his future career. “Let me level with you,” she says from across the conference table in her office. “It could be that you couldn’t work anything out beforehand… or, it could be that Dan just got traded somewhere he’ll never get to play, working for someone who didn’t think enough of him to take him in the first round.”
This is tricky. If Beginner brings up Granderson he would look petty, but if he says nothing he looks guilty. “You have a point about the number of defensemen we have right now,” he tells Ms. McConnell. “I want to show you both something about that.”
He pulls out simplified versions of several of the charts whose originals are in his office filing cabinets – depth charts and draft records for the Panthers going back several years. The names of the defenders are highlighted, with their current salaries, where they’re playing, and other basic statistical information. “You can see that we’ve been very lucky to have veterans who established themselves early and stayed for a very long time,” he says, indicating Kulyash and Bouwmeester. “So we only had five slots to fill instead of seven like other teams.” He flips ahead to the current chart. “Now look at our top seven right now. You see that six of them are our own draft choices. You see that we’ve got most of our own guys in the minors or juniors right now, too.” He points out that others who have been moved are doing well all across the league, both in play and in pay. “We do a thorough job of preparing our draftees to have successful careers, and even if we can’t hold onto them ourselves, we like to send them where they can do well for themselves. I think that’s good business as well as common decency. But if you’re concerned about moving too often, you can see for yourself that we generally like who we pick.”
“Well, I’ll come right to it,” Ms. McConnell replies. “You say that, but the general feeling I got from Philly is that you told them what they wanted to hear until it suited you, and then you did something else.”
“Frank Granderson’s job is to build and promote the Philadelphia Flyers,” Beginner replies carefully. “So it’s natural that he’s disappointed that he didn’t get more out of us when we made our trade. He expressed as much to me on the day. It sounds like someone overheard that and jumped to conclusions. I don’t know who said that we made a deal that I went back on, but it doesn’t sound like it comes from him.”
Of course Beginner has no idea who spoke with Ms. McConnell from Philly’s side, or if it was hearsay – but she does. “Anyway, I know that your job is to build and promote Dan’s career, so I don’t expect you to just believe what anyone says. That’s why I’m showing both of you the information. You can see for yourself the kind of opportunities Dan will have in the NHL and the kind of player we want to help him become. We hope that will happen as a Florida Panther.”
Dan McConnell breaks into the conversation here. “Would you have taken me if I went in the second round?”
“36th, or 45th?” his mother asks at once.
Beginner smiles at the excellent question. “I don’t know,” he admits. “We were back and forth.” He sketches out the last few weeks of maneuvers: “We needed forwards and we needed to make space for defenders, and that’s why we did the Seabrook trade. That moved us up. Then we took another forward. We were trying to get back into the twenties after that because we knew that you and Oskar were the next guys we wanted and you both wouldn’t last. Edmonton wanted to be higher than 15 so we couldn’t go there, Vancouver said no, and then Philadelphia made up our minds for us. But we always liked the both of you guys. It’s my hope you can both find a good home in Florida for a long time.”
It’s the family’s turn to nod. An attorney can appreciate a good answer to a tough question, especially when it comes with the satisfaction of knowing that their question forced you to give information away.
“You have time if you want it,” Beginner says. “I know your college coach is glad to have you, and we think it can still help your game to be there. You can wait and see how things go, and we can discuss signing when it will in both of our better interests.”
The meeting ends cordially. Beginner is satisfied. “Five to go,” he says with a smile.