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Panthers Owner Confident About Signing Luongo Longterm


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NHL's new economics prove an asset for Panthers


By Sarah Talalay

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Posted April 30 2006


After a season under the NHL's new economic system, Panthers owner Alan Cohen says he is confident the team will be able to sign goalie Roberto Luongo long-term and will raise payroll by as much as $10 million to keep the team together and add defensemen.


"I would like Roberto to be our goalie till he retires," Cohen said. "Hopefully with a few Stanley Cups in hand and a load of banners in the rafters that he backstopped. Plus his jersey."


Despite the Panthers missing the playoffs this year, Cohen said he sees a tremendous upside for the team's future. He blames the failure to reach the playoffs again -- for the fifth time since 2000 -- on a poor November.


The team went 1-9-3 that month but had a better second half and made a run at the playoffs, ending with 85 points and a 37-34-11 record. They ended up three teams and seven points from a playoff spot.


Cohen said he, coach Jacques Martin and General Manager Mike Keenan plan to stick to a plan to bolster the roster with two to four defensemen, but only if the dollars make sense.


"I don't think Jacques and Mike want us to be a team that pays for a few $7 million, $8 million players and has nothing else besides," Cohen said. "We will be a team of players that show their commitment to playing here and with each other by compromising and staying together. We won't be outbidding 29 other teams to overpay for any one player."


Cohen said losing the 2004-05 season to a lockout was worth gaining a new collective bargaining agreement that allows him to keep his team on a level playing field with his competitors.


"This year we had an 80 percent to 90 percent reduction in losses and we're able to compete with anyone," Cohen said. "The new CBA was a big part of that."


The Panthers recorded an average attendance of 16,014 at BankAtlantic Center, up about .7 percent from 15,904 before the lockout.


Cohen said revenues from ticket sales, sponsorships and other areas of the business were up 16 percent, helping to reduce team losses. The team also receives revenue sharing dollars. He would not release specific figures.


"We will lose a little bit of money, but being able to field a team that can win it all and having all the upside of ticket sales and playoffs in front of us makes it all worth it," Cohen said. "At this point, we are the recipient of revenue sharing. Hopefully we will become a revenue contributor soon."


The league expects the salary cap ceiling, which was $39 million this season, to rise to $44 million to $45 million next year. However, the ceiling could be reduced because the NHL players are considering voting to reduce that number slightly so a smaller percentage of their wages is placed in escrow during the season.


The Panthers had a payroll this season of about $30 million. So far, the Panthers have about $16 million committed to next year's payroll, not counting Luongo and 14 other restricted free agents, including Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Van Ryn and Stephen Weiss. Luongo becomes an unrestricted free agent in July 2007, meaning he'll be able to sign with any team, unless he strikes a long-term deal with the Panthers.


Cohen said it didn't make sense to spend to the cap ceiling in Martin's first year with an unproven franchise.


"We had thought the team was playoff caliber and that we would be adding at the deadline. It just didn't happen that way," Cohen said. "I went into this hoping to keep the same winning team together for many years. It takes a little while to accumulate the talent worth keeping together. We have that now.


"With a couple of additions and growth of our young players, this team's goals should be higher than just making the playoffs next year."




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We will most likely add a couple of solid second-tier defensemen, though I'd die if we got Zdeno Chara. Also look for a Mike Sillinger type forward. One who is a special-teams specialist.


Now that would be awesome.

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