By MIKE MASTOVICH
A few days after the Johnstown Chiefs’ season ended, President Jim Weber promised that changes are coming.
The second-year owner saw more than a few positives this season, but Weber isn’t one to be content with modest gains off the ice and a .500 regular season followed by two playoff losses to Trenton.
“Last year we went farther in the playoffs and I’m not happy that we took a step back. I gave this system two years,” Weber said on Friday night. “I’m starting a reassessment process, everything from top to bottom. I’m going to take into consideration some things the fans said and things people in the hockey operation said. In the end, I’m going to take full responsibility for doing what is right for the entertainment factor for the fans as well as the on-ice product.”
Weber’s expertise is in the business operations and marketing. He is known for trying new ideas and pushing his employees almost relentlessly.
On the ice, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning handled personnel moves during a 33-33-6 fifth-place season. It’s no secret that without Tampa Bay assigning the majority of the players and offsetting many expenses associated with hockey operations, this team would be history in Johnstown.
But Weber has enough business savvy to realize that the model must be tweaked. The Tampa system is great for developing the Lightning’s prospects, but fans of the team frequently complained they were bored watching players attempt to execute that system.
And what the Lightning giveth, the Lightning taketh away. Player movement between Johnstown and Springfield in the AHL frequently affected the Chiefs’ consistency and sometimes left the team embarrassingly short-handed.
“The people of Johnstown should be proud of the guys who played here,” Chiefs coach Frank Anzalone said after the Titans eliminated the Chiefs 7-5 in Game 2 on Tuesday. “Yeah, everybody wants to quote-unquote go deep in the playoffs and win Kelly Cups. But you have to have a team built for that. This organization is built to develop hockey players.
“The way our guys played right until the end in Reading to make the playoffs. ... We could’ve easily won the series, but every time I turned around there was another guy injured. It was always the core, top-end guys that were injured.”
The Lightning hired Anzalone prior to the 2005-06 season and he has another year remaining on his contract. But Weber’s comments might indicate that Anzalone’s status is uncertain despite his taking the Chiefs to two straight playoff appearances, including a two-game sweep over Trenton a year ago.
“I have no desire to operate in the status quo and do the same things,” Weber said. “I’m looking for better results. I’ve talked to the people in Tampa and they’re willing to embark on an effort where we’re going to be able to improve our product on the ice and improve our fan experience. I’m as unhappy as many of our fans about some of the things that have gone on during the past two years. I don’t want to expand on that. Expect changes, because if you do the same thing, you’re going to get the same result.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.