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February 23, 2009

Jacques Martin

DAVID KEON: We now have with us Florida Panthers general manager Jacques Martin. Jacques will be involved in his 15th NHL trade deadline next week. The Panthers currently have a record of 30-21-8 for 68 points, good for second in the Southeast Division and the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
They are coming off a week where they shut out two of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference, Boston and New Jersey. Thanks to Jacques for joining us. We'll open it up for questions now.

Q. I was wondering about approaching the trade deadline when the team is in a situation like this in the midst of a playoff race. How much does marketing, how much does kind of the trust of the fans play into any sort of personnel decisions you make at the deadline?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, I think we appreciate our fans a great deal, but I think from a management standpoint, you can't manage your franchise or your hockey team according to the fans. I think we have people that evaluate our team on a daily basis. Last summer we -- the last couple years we've tried to build a team that would put this franchise in the playoffs moving forward, and we evaluate areas that we need to improve, and when you get into a trading deadline like next week, you probably look to improve your club for the stretch drive if you can, or at the same time, I think we like our hockey club. We think our hockey club has grown a great deal since last summer. We've made a lot of moves in the off-season, a lot of acquisition, and we feel that our team is improving as the season is moving along.

Q. Given the answer to that question, can you give us an update then on where you are with Jay in terms of bringing him under contract, if it's still an option? And if you don't think it is realistically between now and July 1st, what's your strategy moving forward with an eye to maximizing your assets for the future?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, I think it's clear that our priority for this franchise at this point in time is to make the playoffs this year. I think we're in the process of evaluating what's available for Jay Bouwmeester, and come March 4th a decision will be made whether we move forward with Jay on our team or if I feel that I can get something that makes us a better club, then the possibility of moving him. But I think the priority for us right now is to move forward to improve our club, to make the playoffs this year, and I don't want to disturb that.
So depending on what's available, if it's a good transition, if we feel we can improve certain areas of our hockey club, then that would be a possibility. But I think there's also a possibility that we retain Jay, then we see where we're at after the season.

Q. Can I ask a quick follow up. Does that suggest any kind of package you would be looking at between now and March 4th, you would need somebody to come in and play in your line-up, whether it was to bolster your offense or wherever, but you would need someone to play now as opposed to a package that was strictly futures?
JACQUES MARTIN: Yeah, I think as I stated in my first sentence of my -- when I made the fact that I want our club to improve. If we trade Jay Bouwmeester, we need to have somebody in return to help our club going down the stretch.

Q. If I can follow up a little bit, just with regard to making the playoffs, you're at nine games over .500 and you've won seven out of your last ten, but you're still only a point up over the ninth place team. Can you speak to how competitive the Eastern Conference is this season?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, there's no doubt, the last couple years it's been extremely competitive. I think since the lockout, since we've gone to three-point games, it seems like a lot more teams stay in the race, and you're looking at requiring 92, 94 or 96 points to make the playoffs. I think it's great for the fans, and I think that we've just got to keep improving and keep the pace that we've had since probably December 1st. If we keep that pace, that should put us in the playoffs.

Q. I don't know whether you've heard, but Tom Renney was just fired. As a former coach yourself and as a general manager, can you just speak to the fine line that coaches are under between trying to make hay in the salary cap world and trying to keep their jobs?
JACQUES MARTIN: Yeah, I think it's unfortunate. I think Tom is an excellent coach. He's done a great job in New York when you look at that franchise.
Now, it's difficult for me to make comments. I'm not close to their situation. It is a very competitive field, and I think that it's also very important as an organization to work -- to be on the same page, general manager and coach, and work very closely. I think we've had teams that have had changes lately; Pittsburgh have had changes, Ottawa has had changes; so it's always unfortunate because I think most individuals coaching in the National Hockey League are great individuals and are very knowledgeable.

Q. Do you think the fact that it is so tight prompts general managers to move more quickly than they have in the past, because as you've mentioned we've had a lot of changes this season?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, it seems like every year you have a lot of changes. Whether it's because of the competitiveness, I'm not sure. I think when you look at some of the best organizations, depending on the philosophy of the organization -- I mean, you look at the Buffalo Sabres, they've had a lot of consistency there with Lindy Ruff; you look at Nashville, they've had the same coach; you look at the Red Wings. So depending on the philosophy of the organization.

Q. I realize it might be a little early for you to say or tough to predict but do you think we'll see as busy of a trade deadline this season as we have the last couple?
JACQUES MARTIN: It's difficult to predict. You would think because of the parity, especially in the Western Conference, it's hard to predict that teams would be sellers at this time. I think there's very few teams, probably a little more in the east, but who knows. I think teams are trying to improve their club, but I think it's obvious as a league we're probably getting more and more towards like football where the team that you've built in the off season is the team that carries you through the season.

Q. Have you noticed have trade talks started to pick up yet, or do we have to wait another week or so before that happens?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, I think trade talks are continuous with general managers. I think you're always looking to improve your hockey club. But I think what's becoming more and more of a factor are the cap, and you're seeing more and more trades now where money is a factor. A lot of times you're trading bodies, and you have to make money fit. So that's a factor that has to be -- enter into the solution.

Q. How much belief is there in the organization right now that you guys could sign Bouwmeester before the trade deadline?
JACQUES MARTIN: I don't know how much belief. I think that what's important is to look at all our options, and whether he signs between the trading deadline or not, I think that we're investigating to see what's available for him, and we'll make the decision in due time.

Q. If you do decide to trade him, would you be willing to offer any other general manager a window to negotiate with him to sign him?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, I think it depends on the situation. I think we have to see whether we have a deal in place, and then we would make that decision.

Q. When was the last time you talked contract with him?
JACQUES MARTIN: I've talked contract with him on a continual basis. I think that we've kept the communication fairly open.

Q. He's one of the quietest players that any of us will ever meet in the NHL. How would you describe him to people who don't know him?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, I think Jay is very professional. I think that even when you look at the contract situation, I think he's come this year and is giving us some tremendous hockey. He's competed on a nightly basis. He's been one of our better players. He's gone about his business. He has a contract, and I think what people have to realize is there's many other players that are in the same situation as Jay Bouwmeester. You look at the Montreal Canadiens. I don't know how many players are going to be free agents at the end of the year, and I think it's probably something we're going to see on a more regular basis under the new CBA, the fact that more players are becoming free agents at a young age.

Q. Can you tell us how the status of your negotiations with Jay Bouwmeester have changed from the beginning of the year and what effect, if any, the success your team has had this season has had on those?
JACQUES MARTIN: I don't think the negotiation with Jay is for public knowledge. I think you have to respect the privacy between a club and the individual agent, so I don't think I'm in the liberty of talking about our negotiations. I think negotiations have been good, but I think that's something that I don't want to do on the public table. It's no different than any other players; I think when you're talking about negotiation, I think that should be done on a private basis.

Q. Having seen this team about 60 games this season and having coached them in the past, what type of players are you looking to add to this roster before the deadline to strengthen your playoff push?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, I think first of all, it's important to get somebody that's going to fit into the chemistry. I think that we have a great chemistry as a team. I think we have a good balance of young players versus veteran players. I think that we've improved our defense a great deal over the last three seasons. I think when you look at the mobility of our back end, you look at the production, I think we're still No. 1 from getting some production from the defense.
I think if there was any areas that we would like maybe to improve, it would be maybe at the center position. I think that's something that if we could improve, or even the depth of our forwards, that would be something we would look at.

Q. Considering Jay's status, have you received many phone calls inquiring about his services?
JACQUES MARTIN: I don't think -- regarding Jay, I think I've been in continual contact with general managers. We've talked about Jay with certain teams, no different than any other top players on our hockey club.

Q. And about the negotiations, has he expressed a willingness to remain with the organization?
JACQUES MARTIN: I think, as I said before, I think our negotiations are -- I think you have to respect the privacy of the player and the privacy of the organization, and I think we've had several communications, several talks in the last season, and I think that's something that should remain private.

Q. How do you feel about players like Marian Gaborik and Tim Connelly who seem to be unrestricted free agents and unfortunately injury prone, and considering that, do you wish the CBA allowed more allowance for incentive leads in contracts for players like these?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, I think those are tremendously skilled players that have suffered some key injuries. I think it's unfortunate in Gaborik's case where he's in his last year of contract, now Connelly has come back. I think it's up to each individual organization to decide whether they want to acquire a player of that status.
I think when you do sign a player, whether it's from your own organization or from an outside organization, you always consider those factors, how durable he is, and that's part of your evaluation process, whether you want to take on a player of that status that are very skilled and could be a factor in turning a franchise around. But at the same time there's always the factor of missing or being injured long-term.

Q. How about for the summer? Would you anticipate more or fewer lucrative contracts, for example, like Wade Redden got with New York for six years?
JACQUES MARTIN: I think at this time it's probably a little difficult to speculate. I think we probably need to wait a little longer after the season to find out what the cap will be next year. I think there's no doubt there seem to be players -- organizations seem to want to sign their own players first, because you probably know them better. And whether the amount of money -- there's probably still going to be, when you look at top players, organizations are always in search of acquiring top players. Each organization has a responsibility to evaluate the players that are available through free agency, and it's one mechanism that's available to each organization to improve their hockey team.

Q. In general for the trade deadline or the summer, you guys are in a playoff berth, but unfortunately your power play is 26th in the league. Would you be resorting to looking for these type of players in general to help out those situations?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, I think that sometimes you've got to look on the inside. When you look at our power play, I think that we have the elements in place. We have a major league shooter in Bryan McCabe that brings a dimension to our power play. I think sometimes it's just trying to find the chemistry. I know that our coaches are working hard at developing that chemistry with the players that are on the power play, and hopefully in the stretch drive it'll be a factor for us.

Q. Do you feel that Bouwmeester needs to be a part of this team to challenge in a playoff run, and how much would it affect the team chemistry if he's lost?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, I think, as I said earlier about Jay, I think it all depends on what we could acquire in return. I think if it's a package where we feel that we improve our hockey club, I think the rest of our organization, the rest of our players I think would recognize that. And that's why I said, we're going to make -- we'll go forward with Jay in our lineup if we can't get something that helps us now, and if we do get something that we feel is more beneficial for our hockey team, then I guess I would be willing to change the chemistry.

Q. What being said, what type of experience and what has Bryan McCabe brought to the blue line for you this year?
JACQUES MARTIN: I think Bryan has brought a tremendous value to our blue line. I think first of all, even strength, he's a plus player, he's an individual that can make a good first pass, can join the attack. He's always an offensive stress five on five, and as well maybe on the power play, maybe as much as it's not shown, he's definitely a threat with his shot and his ability to get the puck to the net. It's another asset that he brings to our organization.

Q. Michael Frolik, how impressed are you with this kid?
JACQUES MARTIN: Well, very impressed with Michael. I had seen him play in junior before, and we felt that we had a young man that would blossom in our organization. I like the way that he's capable of skating. We like his quickness and speed that he brings to our hockey club. But probably more important is his vision. He has a great vision. I think he's got 14 goals at this time, but also he can really make plays.
So we feel that we have a young player that's not only good offensively but is very good defensively, as well.
DAVID KEON: Thank you very much for your time today. Good luck.

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