My sense back in the early part of the season was that the hockey operations were struggling for direction and that Mike Kitchen was frustrated and confused. Of course, we would learn that he was not the man for the head coaching job here when Andy Murray was hired and immediately got things turned around. That one move by John Davidson seems to have gotten the entire organization re-charged and ready for great things. Murray has been magical.
I also wondered back then how JD and Larry Pleau would handle the situations with veteran free agents come the trade deadline. Obviously, whatever worries I had were answered with a series of fantastic moves for the future. Not only did our guys get big returns in the Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk deals, but they put a cherry on top with the outstanding Dennis Wideman-Brad Boyes trade. The team is wonderfully positioned for the youth movement of the next 3-5 years.
Jarmo Kekalainen should have some terrific assets to work with come draft day in June. There is still some worry that there hasn’t been an announcement yet on an extension of Jarmo’s contract. But Davidson promised that would happen, so I’m confident it will.
It also seemed that early on in the season some of the old front-office management team was being supplanted by new personnel without reason, other than they had been associated with the old regime. Because of my long-time association with many of the sales, marketing, and communications folks who worked under the Laurie ownership…and those before it…I probably was more emotional about seeing some of them go than I needed to be. From an objective standpoint, the energy around the office now seems to have multiplied enormously. I now see sales people who appear to be excited about their jobs, the team, and its overall direction. They obviously have goals to meet in their sales effort, and seem genuinely excited when they achieve one. Making money, after all, is also a part of any business. And with more money from ticket sales, comes the opportunity to invest in players and fan-friendly operations.
Recently, more money was brought into the ownership group by bringing aboard Tom Stillman of Stillman Distributing. The fact that Stillman is aligned with the Miller beer company in the hometown of Anheuser-Busch is causing concern for some. But I tend to think he’s on board more for his contacts in the community than to upset the beer-selling applecart at Scottrade Center and run the risk of alienating the wrong business people in town.