Saskatoon Blades owner Mike Priestner supports the club’s decision to let go of Dean Brockman.
It came down to a belief. And the top brass didn’t believe that Brockman could get the team deep into the WHL playoffs.
“Dean’s a great guy,” Priestner said Tuesday. “He’s a hard guy not to like.”
“Do I think he’s the guy to get us two or three rounds next year? Probably not.”
Preistner said the decision to remove Brockman was made by “four or five” people in Blades’ management, adding that nobody overrules anyone on a decision like that.
“Not an easy decision. It was obviously a very, very tough decision.”
Some of Priestner’s rationale came from the perception of the team among owners and administration in WHL circles.
“In the last two days, I’ve had a lot of call with different owners and GM’s across the league. I think everybody across the board thought the Blades were a playoff team,” he said.
Echoing statements made by his son and GM Colin, Priestner said the team is poised to make some noise within the division next season as teams like Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Regina all lose “between 250 and 300 goals next season” due to departing players.
There is no shortage of candidates already in the hunt to be the Blades’ next coach. About 25 people have applied for the job via phone or email, according to Priestner.
“You would be shocked at some of the names – in a good way.”
“The tough part is going to be picking the right person because we’re going to have such a great choice.”
Priestner was quick to dodge questions about persistent concerns from fans about hockey acumen in Blades’ management.
“If the fans looked at the 50-man roster and the (18-20) guys coming back next year, they’re the envy of most of the league,” he said before pointing to Colin’s ongoing education in hockey administration at Athabasca University.
Priestner hiring his own son as GM and trading the team’s best players with questionable returns since the hiring has been a source of anger from fans.
This year, the Blades shipped hometown forward Cameron Hebig and defenceman Libor Hajek to the Regina Pats at the trade deadline to supply the Pats’ Memorial Cup run.
Another troubling sign for the Blades is the business aspect.
“Ticket sales are not fine,” Priestner said plainly.
Attendance numbers have declined in recent years. When the Priestner family took over the Blades in 2013-14, an average of 4,719 people attended each game. That number has dwindled down to 3,851 for the 2017-18 season, according to hockeydb.com.
Priestner said the magic number is 5,000 for the team to break even and makes some money each night.
“I think it’s going to take a full year of being a real good team to get the attendance where we need it to.”
“The financial losses, I’m not one bit concerned about. That’s not why I bought the team.”
While the plan has gone awry on a couple occasions and lead to Brockman’s dismissal, the message has stayed the same, no matter the past failures.
“I am extremely patient. I’ve had five consecutive years of a better team. I am now, I think finally on the ice, seeing some real rewards from the hard work the hockey people have done.”
-With files from Wray Morrison