Due to a high number of questions submitted, the Tom Lynn Q&A session will be split up into two sections. Stay tuned later this month for Part 2.
Q: [Kathy from College Station] What effect will the possible lockout/strike of the NHL have on the AHL and the Aeros? Will we be seeing more of the players that spent significant time in the NHL last season and will teams be able to send down younger players that have already established themselves in the NHL?
A: [Tom Lynn] First of all, any schedule disruption in the NHL would not directly affect the AHL the Aeros are playing their regular schedule, no matter what. As far as players, I do expect that some NHL "depth" players (players who have spent significant time in the NHL but have not permanently escaped the minor leagues) will want to play in the AHL during any work stoppage, and thus you may see them in Aeros jerseys. We like to think that if a player is not playing in the NHL, then Houston is the next best place in North America to play!
Q: [Mary from Faribault, MN] How do players find out that they are being sent down to the team in Houston, or that they are being called up to the big club in Minnesota? Is it the same in both cases, or do different people handle it like agents, coaches or office personal?
A: [Tom Lynn] Before the Wild started up, Mary, general manager Doug Risebrough spoke to our coach-to-be Jacques Lemaire about what was essential to building an organization with a winning tradition. One of the first principles, said Jacques, was "treat the players with respect." What he meant was that the players are the ones skate until their lungs burst, work their hearts out, and put their bodies at risk so that the team may win. The organization must recognize this by not taking too much credit in management for team success, and not blaming it all on the players for a lack thereof. This respect should come in all forms of contact with the players. This is why our guys play their hearts out for Jacques because he and his staff demonstrate respect for the players, both professionally and personally. When it comes to bad news for the players, this principle means that a player is never told he has been cut or traded by a trainer or staff employee (or in writing). Either Jacques, Doug, Tom Thompson or I speak to every player in this situation, thank him for his service to the team, and explain what is happening to him and what he can expect. Who it is that communicates with the players depends on the player's status (long-time NHL veteran or training camp tryout) and who may know the player best personally. We do not like to use agents to communicate bad news, and in fact I have called players personally in the summer to tell them we are not offering to bring them back, even when those calls are unhappy affairs, because we feel we owe certain players direct explanations for organizational decisions.
Q: [Katie from Sugar Land) - Ive been a STH for 5 years, and I want to know if the forthcoming season is worth going to.....because last year was a waste of our time. We love the Aeros and have faithfully followed them for years - however, when you let real talent go and we have nobody left, except the few guys who really try but it makes no difference - they have to have some experienced better players to accompany them. Please shop for some players the caliber of Larose, Nycholat, Murphy, etc., who are all currently in the playoffs. My question: are you shopping for some new and experienced guys for our team?
A: [Tom Lynn] Katie I am afraid I cannot agree with your premise that the Aeros were not worth seeing this year. Watching one of the NHL's most talented crop of prospects (ranked #3 by the Hockey News) develop into NHL players was certainly worth the relatively low price of admission. In the first two years the Wild was affiliated with the Aeros, the Aeros finished in the Final Four (Western Conference Finals) and won the Championship in a 28 team league. This year's team performed below expectations for the fans, players and management, but in any one given season a team can suffer a setback because of factors outside its control; in this instance a number of Aeros players from 2002-2003 wanted to play in Europe this season (Domenichelli, Trudel, Benysek, Pavlikovsky), and injuries in the Wild organization (at both the AHL and NHL levels) meant some good players spent the season with the Wild rather than in Houston. I would say that what we are trying to create here is a longer-term relationship with our fans than one season -- that over a three or five year period, you will see one of the most competitive teams in the AHL, you will see great prospects develop into NHL stars (and in many cases, have personal contact with them), and have a very reasonably priced family entertainment experience. This is what we have provided for three years and are excited about providing next season. And, by the way, next year looks like a very exciting year on the ice, as many of the Aeros players you saw get better this year will be ready for an even bigger role next season. Some new Wild players will arrive (potentially Mikko Koivu, Saku Koivu's brother, if he does not make the Wild team out of camp, and Josh Harding, former MVP of the Western Hockey League and member of Canada's World Junior team), the Dallas Stars will place a few of their top prospects with the Aeros, and the Wild will also add a two or three veteran AHL leaders to help lead the players and team to greater heights.
Q: [Ray Brown] Dear Mr. Lynn: Im presently on the U.S. Navy base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. I try to follow the Aeros as much as I can on the Internet. Occasionally I can listed to a game through my computer. I was fortunate enough to be at the final game when they won the championship in the old IHL, but because of where I am right now, I missed the championship game last year when they won the Calder Cup. My question is: Are you guys ever going to put the new F-18 logo on the jerseys? The only jerseys available are those plain looking things with Aeros across the front. My wife and I have jerseys with the Bomber on the front and would like to purchase new ones with the jet on it, if and when they become available. The new logo seems to be on everything except jerseys. Thank you Ray Brown
A: [Tom Lynn] Good question, Ray We have received a lot of positive feedback about that logo (except for Air Force people, who wanted their own planes on there). The logo was changed a little late last year to get it represented on more of our merchandise. This year's merchandise plans are still being formulated, but I am sure you will be able obtain a number of items with that logo prominently represented. Thanks for keeping up with us from afar we look forward to seeing you at Toyota Center when you are back.
Q: [Truman from Spring Valley, N.Y.] My question is about Maxime Fortunus. What's his status with Houston and the Wild organization?
A: [Tom Lynn] Maxime had a fairly strong developmental year between Louisiana and Houston and we have made clear to him and his agent we are pleased with his development and would like to have him back. However, he is a free agent, and the decision will be his in the end.
Q: [Don from Houston] Mr. Lynn, your recent comments regarding MSE not receiving the lease agreement and further comments saying that the Aeros/MSE owned franchise not being connected to the Des Moines issue left some issues unresolved. Once and for all, please respond to this question: Was moving the Aeros/MSE owned AHL franchise into the Des Moines arena ever an option should the lease agreement in Des Moines gone MSE's way? Thanks for your response.
A: [Tom Lynn] Don, I will have to reiterate what I have been publicly saying for over a year. The Wild purchased the managing interest in the Aeros with the intention of keeping them in Houston. If at some point in time it became clear that the Aeros could not break even or make money in Houston, the Wild would consider moving the team. However, Des Moines would have had no better chance in that instance than any other town that wanted an AHL team they would have had to bid for it. At this point in time, it looks very unlikely the Aeros will move anywhere unless an NHL team shows up, as we are encouraged by the team's performance this year under new President Tom Garrity, along with the support of co-owner Chuck Watson and the working relationship developed with the Toyota Center, and, most importantly, the continuing support of our fans. The season ticket holder base should jump this year under the new "40 for 30" plan and the enhanced benefits being provided, and we look for the Aeros' attendance this year to begin to truly reflect the quality of the entertainment being provided.