What's Next for Panthers: Sale, Atonement

GM's exit on eve of sale gives Florida a chance to undo mistakes -- and try to keep Jay Bouwmeester

Jacques Martin did two things Panthers brass could not: get rid of himself -- and give the team a chance to undo their mistakes and move forward.  The latter effort might soon be hastened by new management.

Sports Properties Acquisitions Corp., a recently-formed public company, has reached an agreement with Alan Cohen's Panthers ownership group allowing a sale to go forward, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail (via Litter Box Cats).  The purchase of the Panthers, BankAtlantic Center, and some surrounding land is expected to cost SAPC about $240 million.  It's impossible to know exactly what to expect from new ownership, but considering the current group "failed to connect," how bad could it be?

(Note: please, SPAC, don't make us answer that.  And please don't take our scones.)

But back to Actual Hockey: Martin should have been sent off when he stepped down from coaching duties in April of 2008 (which might have allowed Florida to hire Joe Nieuwendyk instead of see him go to Dallas last month).  But just a year after Cohen mystifyingly made Martin the general manger instead, and a week after the decision earned them both a public shaming, the two parties welcomed the chance to go their seperate ways. Martin said the decision to leave Florida "didn't take me a long time," and Cohen readily gave permission for the Canadiens to speak to his GM rather than force a buyout of his remaing contract -- or risk running them off and being stuck with him.

And now Cohen has a chance to do what he should have done a year ago: hire someone great.  

He's on his way, because he's out of the way: the Panthers' own George Washington, Bill Torrey, is stepping in to lead the search for a new GM. With the draft just weeks away, Torrey will help manage the Panthers until he finds a suitable replacement. And that's the best possible clue Cohen means to make up for lost time (and lost games): there is no better interim help, or available evaluator of talent.

The amends can continue with keeping coach Peter DeBoer. "[The new GM] has to be comfortable with Pete," Torrey said Monday. "We have to keep this thing moving forward... with clear understanding that Peter is here... In this particular place we have people in place who are going forward.''

The Panthers are already instantly better since Monday, if only by subtraction and retention.

But that won't be enough.  Not least of the opportunities afforded by new blood is the chance to revive talks with top-flight defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.  Martin passed up a chance to trade Bouwmeester during the season, and now the Panthers face losing him and his dowry to free agency July 1.  Earlier this week, Bouwmeester said he hadn't heard from Florida "in a long time" -- but within hours of Martin's press conference in Montreal, Bouwmeester's agent had already heard from assistant GM Randy Sexton.

It's a start. And after being set back years by poor decisions, Cohen needs to keep making it up to the Panthers.  

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