IT has not been a happy holiday for Quad-City Mallards president and general manager Howard Cornfield, who has watched his club struggle to a 2-7-2 record in December.
"I am having trouble sleeping,'' Cornfield said.
If the Mallards don't win Thursday and Friday, they will put the 2004 portion of the season to bed with a sub-.500 record. That never has happened in Cornfield's previous eight seasons as the Mallards' front-office leader.
He sat down for a question-and-answer session with Mallards beat writer Craig DeVrieze on Monday:
Q: How disappointing has this season been for you?
Cornfield: "I have never gone through a season like this, so it is very, very difficult. I think we have talent, but the defensemen we lost at the beginning of the year, I don't think we ever recovered from that.
"It seems like anything that can go wrong has gone wrong, and when that happens, you just have to keep working harder. We just can't buy goals, and I think now the players have lost confidence. Sometimes all it will take is a solid game or two to get that back.''
Q: So you think specifically the losses of defensemen Martin Wilde and the months-long delay in getting Alexander Skorohod in here have set you back?
Cornfield: "We had Danny Boeser, a very good defenseman from the University of Wisconsin, who was going to be in here. Martin Wilde, who is now playing in the AHL, left. (Mikko) Viitanen, who didn't want to come here. We had some guys who had verbally committed to us and backed out. Just a very strange recruiting year.
"You know, we're playing four rookies on defense right now. That's tough. They are going to be solid players by the end of the year, but right now we are paying the price.''
Q: Is there anybody you didn't bring back from last year who in retrospect you wish you had?
Cornfield: "Jon Francisco had committed to us and backed out. That hurt us at center. I would like Jeff Williams' goals back. But if you are asking me do I regret what we had to do last year, I don't.''
Q: It wasn't too ambitious to rebuild this entire team?
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Cornfield: "No. I needed to do a better job of it.''
Q: And you still believe you can get where you want to go this year?
Cornfield: "Well. I'm not quitting. Neither is Paul Gillis. And neither are most of the players on our team. And the guys that are not on the same page will not be with us.''
Q: Did the sessions a couple of weeks ago between you and the players and coach Paul Gillis ultimately backfire? The record hasn't changed.
Cornfield: "No. I don't think that. I think things were said that had to be said, and I don't think it backfired. I think right now we are snakebitten. How many times have we seen the puck trickle inches from the goal? How many times have we had referees call goals back on us this year? How many times has the puck stopped right on the goal line? It's just ridiculous the way things have gone. But eventually things turn around if you keep working at it.
"I think that as the players are gripping the sticks tighter and tighter, it is harder to do things right. The players hear the fans booing. They feel bad about it.
"I haven't thrown any tirades. Gilly is trying to be positive. But they know this is unacceptable here. This is not fun for them, and it hasn't been fun for me, and it's not fun for Paul. Ultimately, we've got to get it fixed.''
Q: You have talked about a 12-player trade that didn't get done last week. Is a trade the quickest and easiest way to get this fixed?
Cornfield: "I don't like making trades, but yes. We are looking at trades. And I am not looking at trading the 18th guy for the 18th guy on another team. I am looking at significant moves. That's very hard to do in this league.''
Q: That's kind of a rebuild on the run, isn't it?
Cornfield: "I don't know if rebuild is the right word. Reload. Strangely enough when I look at this team, I look at adding an experienced defenseman, adding a scorer, bringing back Greg Barber. I don't think we're that far off. It seems a lot worse right now, but I'm telling you if we have a breakthrough win, and the players start feeling good about themselves, and we win a second and add a third, it will build on itself.''
Q: Are you counting on getting Barber back?
Cornfield: "It's not something I have talked to Hershey about. I know they have got a lot of players coming back in early January. I spoke with Marty Hlinka yesterday (Sunday), and he said his broken ankle is healing and he is planning on getting back on the ice in early January. We'll just see what happens.
"If Greg deserves to stay up there, I hope he stays up there. I'm not counting on getting him back right now. To get him back would be a pleasant surprise.''
Q: Are there players of Barber's ability level out there that you still can get signed here?
Cornfield: "Yes. Right now it's a matter of convincing them to come to the Quad-Cities. We play by the (salary) cap (rules). We always have. And I am having some great difficulty competing with teams in and out of this league, legally.
"That's not an excuse, because we have played by the cap for the last nine years, and we have won. I've just got to do a better job.''
Q: Are you concerned that the fan base is slipping away? Is the decline in attendance a natural thing, or is it a worry?
Cornfield: "I am always concerned when our fans aren't happy, and they aren't happy right now. It has something to do with having a .730 winning percentage over the last eight years. The fans want and demand perfection. And we're not perfect. We are human, and we're struggling right now.
"We have reached heights no other hockey organization has reached. I have been blessed to have four great coaches. And I want our fans to stick with us through this tough time, knowing that we will get it resolved. We always have.''
Q: The Colonial Cup is still the goal?
Cornfield: "I'll say it again. We're not quitting. There's still 50-plus games left. ... We're fighting adversity now, and I'm hoping it's going to make us stronger down the road. We have hit rock-bottom. If we turn this around, when we turn this around, it is going to make our players stronger and our organization stronger.''
Q: Is a resolution to the NHL lockout, play or don't play, going to make a difference?
Cornfield: "Can we get an NHL player in here? The answer is yes. Is that something I'm going to bank the season on. No. It will be a plus if it happens.''
Q: There are people who think this tough season is Paul Gillis' fault. Would you like to come to his defense?
Cornfield: "Paul Gillis is an outstanding coach. He is a coach most any other team in this league would want running their team. I sign the players. Ultimately, I am the one responsible. I don't think I got stupid overnight. I don't think Paul Gillis did either. Ultimately, I am the man in charge, so if people want to point fingers, they can point them at me.''
Craig DeVrieze can be contacted at (563) 333-2610 or email@example.com