The Rochester Americans, the Florida Panthers affiliate in the American Hockey League, recorded history this week when they were eliminated in the first round of the AHL playoffs after getting out to a 3-1 series lead. It was a devastating loss for a team that was built to make a run for the Calder Cup. After a loss like that players will typically call it disappointing, but the players took it a step further calling the entire season wasted.
(this also appeared on LitterBoxCats.com, a great Panthers site over on Sports Blog Nation)
There was one player more than willing to share his thoughts the day after the playoffs ended last week and his feelings towards the Florida Panthers, the player was Jamie Johnson. He was the Amerks leading scorer (27 goals + 44 assists), on a two way contract, played through his own injuries, gave a solid effort when half the team was called up and also played in all 80 games but never once got a call from the Panthers. I asked him if he would come back next season and he said he does not want anything to do with Florida.
“They haven’t made the playoffs the 10 years,” Jamie Johnson said. “They had no interest in me all year, I don’t think I should give them the time of day for another season.”
The Panthers are yet again in the stages of trying to find ways to improve for the future. If players are leaving unhappy, does that paint a bigger picture of problems within the organization?
I talked to General Manager Randy Sexton about a number of things this morning and when this was brought up he simply said, “no comment.” A question in return was asked if Johnson has ever played a game in the NHL and the answer is no.
At 5’11” he’s the type of player where size could be an issue, but he was never afraid to mix things up or throw a big hit when given the chance.
“I don’t know what they want up there, they can’t score goals, they can’t win games. They don’t call up the people who can produce, not much justice to be honest,” Jamie Johnson had said. “First I think it looks bad, you have guys that do well, do everything they’re told to do, pay their dues and there’s no reward.”
Interesting points by both of them. Johnson has never played in an NHL game but he’s also never had the opportunity. There are a lot of players who play in the American Hockey League who produce at a high level that never evolves into the necessary talent to play in the NHL. When the big club is struggling though, players question what they really need to do to move up and help out.
A similar situation happened with Janis Sprukts during the 2008/2009 season. Sprukts had been lured back to play in North America with the expectations he would be given an opportunity but only saw one game played with the big club. He made it very clear during the season that he was unhappy and leaving once the season was over.
When the Panthers struggle to improve and seem to have some tools in the system that are not utilized you have to question what NHL free agents think when approached to play for the Panthers. They’re constantly improving for next season and always seem to have a few what if scenarios where the season could have turned out differently. What if David Booth had been healthy all season is just one example.
Not talking about Johnson specifically, I asked Randy Sexton to explain a little further about how they determine what players to call up from the Rochester Americans.
“You recall players becuase you have a need. We look to fill a need that we have on the big team as a result of injury or suspension or to try and upgrade the play of our team in Florida,” Sexton said. “At various times of the year we needed various types of players. Just because someone is scoring doesn’t mean someone is automatically recalled. You really have to look at the needs of the team and the fit of the team so you have the highest premonition of talent and chemistry to give your team the best chance to win.”
Johnson also said the day after the season ended, “It’s pretty disappointing when they don’t give you any respect.”
It may sound as if players like Johnson and Sprukts were whining and not NHL caliber players in the first place, but you have to wonder what players in the NHL really think but can’t publicly say. Bother Johnson and Sprukts felt as if they could have been an upgrade and been an asset to the Panthers. Either the players are being given false hopes by the Panthers about playing with the big club or the players think they’re better than they really are. Either way, the Panthers struggled this season and when a team has not made the playoffs in 10 years it’s a discussion worth bringing up about confusion players in the system seem to have.