October 09, 2015

WELL RESTED: Panthers continue to wait for Saturday's Opening Night against Flyers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers will be one of the final three teams to finally open their season Saturday when they play host to Philadelphia at BB&T Center.
Although the Panthers have been sitting around waiting to kick off their season, they won't be listless for long.
Saturday's opener begins a run of five games in a span of a week.
The NHL season officially opened Wednesday with eight teams in action.
"Unfortunately we're well rested after not getting where we wanted last year,'' captain Willie Mitchell said Friday.
"We're going to play a lot of hockey in a short period of time. But we're excited. There's anticipation for a fresh slate and Lord Stanley is up for grabs. That's why we're playing.''
The Panthers will play a home-and-home series with the Flyers on Saturday and Monday before playing in Carolina on Tuesday. The Panthers then return home for a pair of games against the Sabres (Thursday) and Stars (next Saturday).
For a team that hopes to build on last year's 91-point season and advance to the playoffs for just the fifth time in franchise history, a quick start will be most beneficial.
"It kind of sucks we had to wait to get going but you have to play what's coming at you,'' Brian Campbell said. "Philadelphia already got their opener out of the way so we need to get off to a good start.''
The Panthers played six preseason games but haven't seen game-action since losing to Tampa Bay in the exhibition finale last weekend.
Coach Gerard Gallant has had a week of practice with his team as the roster was finalized on Monday.
On Saturday, the Panthers finally get to play a game that counts. Washington and Anaheim are the other two teams which will kick off the season on Saturday.
"We had a lot of time off to practice obviously, and maybe it would have been nice to have another preseason game in there,'' Gallant said. "We got a lot of things done and we'll play the same team back-to-back. I think it's a good thing. Philly is a good team, have some scoring power. They move the puck well.''
The Panthers didn't make many offseason moves after a strong end to last year in which they won 12 of their final 20 and remained in the hunt for a playoff spot until the final weeks.
Florida's four forward lines Saturday will look similar to last year's combinations.
The big changes are Reilly Smith joining the second line after coming over from Boston in a trade for Jimmy Hayes and Quinton Howden taking a spot on the opening night fourth line.
Rookie Connor Brickley isn't expected to play Saturday but he should be in the lineup soon.
Florida's top six defensemen remain the same from the final weeks of last year with Steven Kampfer and Dylan Olsen offering depth.
"I like what's happening to our franchise,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "I wanted to go with our young guys ... and they're going to get a chance to play. That's how we develop a core.''
-- Forward Rocco Grimaldi, who will open the season on the injured list, skated Friday for the first time since injuring an ankle in a preseason game against Dallas three weeks ago.
"The doctors will evaluate him [Saturday] and we'll see where we go from there,'' Tallon said.
-- Because of the Miami-FSU game, the Panthers' local radio call will be moved from 560-WQAM to 1470-WWNN.
Doug Plagens, formerly of the AHL Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland, makes his debut alongside analyst Bill Lindsay.
When, where:
7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSN; WWNN-1470, WNMA-1210 (Spanish)
Series: Philadelphia leads 47-32-7
Scouting report: The Panthers are 3-0-1 in their past four season openers. Philadelphia lost its opener in overtime at Tampa Bay on Thursday. The two play again Monday in Philadelphia.


October 08, 2015

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO THE RAT TRICK: Mellanby's two goals and extermination attempt happened 20 years ago today

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Believe it or not, but Thursday marks the 20th anniversary of the Panthers' opening night win against visiting Calgary to kick off what turned into a magical 1995-96 season.
The Panthers ended up going to the Stanley Cup Finals in just their third season, and as David J. Neal wrote a few days ago, probably saved hockey in South Florida.


Florida's victory over the Flames was noteworthy for one reason as Dave Sheinin wrote that night: Before the game, Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room then went out and scored a pair of goals.
Mellanby didn't get a hat trick in the win, but as goalie John Vanbiesbrouck noted, he got "a rat trick."
Soon, fans would toss rubber rats onto the ice following Florida goals and a tradition was born.
Here is the original story from that game.

Published: Monday, October 9, 1995
Section: SPORTS
Page: 4D
Herald Sports Writer
Scott Mellanby scored three goals in Sunday night's 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames.
You only saw two of them.
The first one took place in the locker room before the game. The Panthers were dressing for the game when a big, ugly rat came scampering among the equipment bags.
Not missing a beat, Mellanby grabbed a stick and one-timed the poor creature against the wall. End of rat.
"He looked like Seve Ballesteros," said Panthers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, describing Mellanby's rat-smacking form.
Mellanby, of course, went on to score two slightly more conventional goals in the first period of Sunday night's game. He had a few more chances during the rest of the game, but couldn't convert another.
And so Mellanby still has never scored a hat trick in his 10-year career, and the Panthers have never had one in their history.
"Yeah," joked Vanbiesbrouck, "but he scored a rat trick."
Mellanby's two goals were almost picture-perfect twins. Both came in the first period. Both answered Calgary goals and tied the score. Both came on power plays. And both were on deflections.
The first came on a blast by Magnus Svensson from the left point, the second on a shot by Jason Woolley from just inside the blue line.
The Panthers' point men have taken the coaching staff's advice and are firing away from the point on power plays to make things happen.
"Woolley was teeing it up from everywhere," Panthers Coach Doug MacLean said. "Gord Murphy, Svensson -- they all did a great job, and Mellanby scored on two nice deflections."
Eleven times in club history, a Panthers player had scored two goals in a game. And 11 times, they failed to get the hat trick.
But when Mellanby scored his second -- with 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the first period -- he admits the thought crossed his mind.
"When you score two in the first period like that, you think about it," Mellanby said. "I've never had one in my career, unfortunately."
And he had his chances. On another power play in the second period, he took a feed from Murphy in the slot and found himself open, but he didn't get off a good shot. On the same power play, he took another feed from Rob Niedermayer outside the crease, but missed the empty side of the net.
"I should have buried that one," Mellanby said. "I guess that shows it wasn't meant to be."
By converting two of his three shots-on-goal, Mellanby seems to have put his scoring jinx of 1994 behind him. Last year, he led the team in shots but was just third in scoring. He converted only 10 percent of his shots. At times, he got frustrated.
This year was almost guaranteed to be different. MacLean put him on a line with the rejuvenated Niedermayer and the talented rookie Radek Dvorak. "Those guys are both extremely talented players," Mellanby said. "I'm sure I'll get my chances."
That line got shut out Sunday night, but Mellanby made up for it with his power play goals.


JAROMIR JAGR: Trying to harness "power of the hair"

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Jaromir Jagr is growing out his hair again with the hope that his mullet -- the style he fancied in his early NHL days -- will be in its full glory by the playoffs.
"I'm not going to cut my hair, see if there is still power in the hair,'' Jagr said Thursday. "Once I cut it [in 1999] I couldn't score again."
Coach Gerard Gallant says he welcomes Jagr's new/old look although he won't try to copy it himself.
"I think it's great, think it's awesome,'' Gallant said.
"I played against Jagr when he had the mullet and I think it's great for our players, they get to have fun in a long season. He's been great for our crew. But I can't grow the mullet because I don't have enough hair for it.''


EARNING THEIR WAY: Quinton Howden, Connor Brickley earn spot on Panthers, plan to make their mark on fourth line

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
After a few days of using a folding chair set up in the middle of the locker room, rookie Connor Brickley now has his own stall next to pal Alex Petrovic.
A spot on the Florida Panthers opening night roster comes with some perks, a place to hang your gear apparently being one of them.
Brickley, 23, parlayed a strong season in the AHL last year into an eye-opening training camp that earned him a place on the team.
Although Brickley may not make his NHL debut in Saturday's home opener against the Flyers, that milestone moment is expected to come in the near future, perhaps in Game 2 at Philadelphia.
"Obviously I'm pretty thrilled about the opportunity right now and I'm going to take it and see where it leads,'' said Brickley, who scored a total of 21 goals in four years at Vermont yet tallied 22 goals last season in San Antonio.
"We have a great group of guys and we're all excited about Saturday night. I just took the process every day and wasn't handed anything. But I had a good year in San Antonio and that led to better opportunities with the Panthers this year.''
Brickley and Quinton Howden weren't handed spots on the roster but their play during camp got them there.
Howden has played in 34 games with the Panthers but he didn't get a chance to play for coach Gerard Gallant last season as he spent a rough year in San Antonio.
Howden was limited to 33 games with the Rampage after breaking his wrist in the first game of the season then came back and broke his jaw just five games later.

"I had to prove myself after not getting any games here last year, having a rough season,'' Howden said. "That's already in the past, I've forgotten about it. I wanted to prove myself again, earn a spot. I wanted to earn the job and move forward from there. I had the confidence that I could come in and take a job, not let anyone else take it from me.''
This year, Howden came into camp hungry for a spot on the team and looked good on Derek MacKenzie's fourth line.
Gallant is expecting a lot out of that trio -- veteran Shawn Thornton is expected to start Saturday in place of Brickley -- with the line looking to have good chemistry from the start.
"Sometimes young guys look at depth charts and feel something catastrophic has to happen for them to make it,'' said MacKenzie. "This year, it was obvious there were a few jobs available and right from the start, those guys kept getting better and better. They're both good players and can potentially be top six guys. Right now, though, they're excited to play on my line. And that's reciprocated. I like playing with them. They save me a little bit.''
Added Thornton: "I had the privilege of playing a game with Brickley in Tampa and thought he had a great game. Both got better as camp went on and I think it's great when guys earn their way when nothing is given to them. Competition makes everyone better.''


October 05, 2015

MAKING MOVES: Panthers send Lawson Crouse back to OHL, waive Dylan Olsen and Garrett Wilson ... Connor Brickley and Quinton Howden make team

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The big news out of PantherLand today has to do with a certain Hall of Famer deciding to grow out his famed mullet.
But there was more news as well.
The Panthers have to set their 23-man roster by 5 p.m. on Tuesday and on Monday, they made some moves to do just that.
The big surprise was Florida sending 18-year-old rookie Lawson Crouse back to his OHL team in Kingston.
Crouse -- Florida's top pick (11th overall) at the June draft -- will not be able to play for the Frontenacs until next week at the earliest as he still has some time remaining on the eight-game suspension handed down last season.
The thought was -- and last week, Crouse was under this same impression -- that the Panthers would keep him on the 23-man roster at least for the start of the season.
"It's never an easy decision, but we're thinking long-term,'' general manager Dale Tallon said.
"I thought it would be more beneficial for him to play a lot of minutes and World Juniors instead of six minutes then sitting out. We talked about his performance in camp; he's close. We just wanted to play more with his peers, be the No. 1 guy on his team.
"We did it with Huberdeau and it definitely helped him. We want him t get some confidence. We have more depth now. We're thinking long-term. You alwawys want to err on the side of caution with those guys."
Florida also put Dylan Olsen and Garrett Wilson on waivers with the intent to assign them both to AHL Portland upon clearing waivers tomorrow at noon.
With Crouse gone and Rocco Grimaldi looking like he'll start on the injured list since he hasn't skated since injuring his ankle two weeks ago, Connor Brickley and Quinton Howden have made made the team.
Brickley has been terrific since rookie camp and looks to be a natural fit alongside Derek MacKenzie on Florida's fourth line.

"Brickley had a great camp, was basically our last cut,'' Tallon said.
"It bodes well for our future having guys [like Wilson] in our system.
"[Brickley] earned a job. It started in rookie camp, continued on. He's been terrific every day. He didn't just have one day. We love Quinton's speed."
Also still around and potentially sticking around is veteran Martin Havlat.
"We're talking. It's an ongoing situation,'' Tallon said. "Looking at our depth, we're still discussing it.
"We're trying to find the right place for Marty. We don't want to sign him, then have him sit in the press box. It's harder and harder. We only have so many spots."
Tallon also said he's looking at the waiver list to see if Florida will put in a claim, but added "nothing jumped out" and he would "rather use our guys."
We'll see what happens in the coming hours.
Crouse photo courtesy of Kelsey Hinds/ @KHindsPhoto







UP IN THE HAIR: Jaromir Jagr says the mullet is making a comeback

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Good news hockey fans: The mullet is coming back.
Panthers' winger/Hall of Famer/legend Jaromir Jagr said Monday afternoon that he has started growing his hair out and is bringing back his famed mullet hairstyle from his early NHL days.
"We have to wear helmets, so that's why I'm growing my hair back out,'' Jagr said on being recognized by non-hockey fans.
"I'm growing it back. I have to."

Jagr was egged on by Panthers' goalie/Hall of Famer/Twitter legend Roberto Luongo to bring the mullet back via his @strombone1 account.
"It's getting there,'' Jagr said with a smile.

Although there isn't much to show just yet, Jagr said he's started to grow the hair out in the back.
The front, well, that he can trim.


October 03, 2015

LIGHTNING STRUCK: Tampa Bay scores three in final minutes, drop Panthers 3-2 in exhibition finale ... Panthers to make final decisions in next few days

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Tampa Bay Lightning led the NHL in goals en route to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.
No one has to tell the Panthers that.
Tampa Bay continued its winning ways against its cross-state cousin Saturday night, closing out its exhibition slate by scoring three goals in the final five-plus minutes to beat the Panthers 3-2 at BB&T Center.
The Panthers, who open the season Oct. 10 against the visiting Flyers, end the preseason 3-3.
"I was real happy for 54 minutes because we played a great game,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team's early 2-0 lead held up until late in the third.
"The last six minutes came back to haunt us. ... But it was by far our best preseason game. We made a couple of mistakes there and I'm disappointed obviously. But I'm glad this was preseason and not the first game when we did this.''
After finishing with 91 points last season and being in the playoff hunt until the final games, the Panthers expect nothing less than the postseason this year.
One measuring stick the Panthers have to show how far they have come -- and how far they still have to go -- is the Lightning.
Although Saturday's loss won't count for anything, it's just another example of Tampa Bay's recent success against the Panthers.
Not only did the Lightning outscore Florida 7-3 in a pair of preseason wins, but the Lightning has won seven of the past eight in which the games did count.
This year, the two teams meet the maximum five times with Florida traveling to the west coast for three of the games.
The defending Eastern Conference champions expect to be a title contender again this year and Florida will need to get more than a few of the 10 available points in the season series.
"I don't think we stole a lot of points from them last year,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Those are desperate points we need to get this year. They're quick and you better get used to playing them.''
Saturday, the Panthers ran out to a 2-0 lead as the Lightning -- playing its fifth exhibition in eight days -- didn't seem all that interested.
Florida's first goal came 12:47 into the game when Derek MacKenzie took a pass from Quinton Howden and roofed a shot past Ben Bishop.
Later in the period, Nick Bjugstad teed off on a power play feed from Campbell and zipped one into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
"It didn't end the way we wanted it to but I thought we had a pretty good preseason,'' Bjugstad said. "There's nothing to be mad about, guys made some progress. The last five minutes aren't how you want to end it, but that's how it goes sometimes.''
The two teams seemed content to let things go at that, but with 5:26 left, Ondrej Palat worked his way to the goal and beat Roberto Luongo.
Tampa Bay then got goals from Brian Boyle with 3:48 left before Jonathan Druin got around Aaron Ekblad after he hit the ice and beat Luongo for the winner with 2:02 remaining.
"It's disappointing because I thought we played a really good game,'' said Luongo, who gave up goals on three of the final four shots faced.
"For one reason or another, they got a goal and we panicked a little bit. We have to get used to playing in these situations because we're going to be in them a lot. So whether it's me making another save, you can't lose the game in regulation like that.''
-- The Panthers will make final decisions on their opening night roster in the coming days with general manager having until 5 p.m. on Monday to make his moves.
Of the bubble players who were inactive Saturday only rookie Lawson Crouse is expected to make the team (at least initially) with forward Rocco Grimaldi going on the injured list after injuring his ankle two weeks ago.
Florida is expected to send Dylan Olsen and Garrett Wilson to its AHL team in Portland, Maine, as well as release veteran Martin Havlat from his training camp tryout.
Olsen, who started last season with the Panthers before being demoted, didn't play in any of Florida's six exhibition games.


October 02, 2015

SHOOTOUT REDUCTION: New overtime rules aim to bring excitement to tied games, reduce games decided in shootouts ... Florida closes preseason Saturday against visiting Lightning

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers had a league-high 18 games decided in a shootout last season.
New rules implemented this season will almost surely bring that number down.
If a game is tied after 60 minutes, instead of a five minute overtime consisting of 4-on-4 play, teams will play 3-on-3 overtime.
As was previously the case, the first to score wins the contest.
If preseason is any indication, a good percentage of games will be decided in the quick-paced 3-on-3 overtime with the fairly unpopular (among players, coaches and fans) shootout becoming less commonplace.
Last year, 316 NHL games went to overtime with 180 (57 percent) ending in a shootout.
Going into Friday, 22 preseason games went to overtime under the new format with only five (23 percent) making it to a shootout. A team that wins in overtime or a shootout still gets two points in the standings; the loser gets one.
"I think it's going to be great,'' Florida coach Gerard Gallant said.
"It should be very entertaining. When you win more than you lose, you'll be happy. But I think it's good for the game.''
The shootout was brought to the NHL following the lost 2004-05 lockout season as a way to bring excitement to games and get rid of ties, crowning a winner of each game every night.
In the 10 years since its inception, the shootout has mostly lost its luster with players complaining that too many games -- and valuable points in the standings -- have been decided based on a "skills competition."
Although there are exceptions, most notably's Florida's record 20-round win over Washington last year, the shootout has grown old.
With 3-on-3 play, there is plenty of room on the ice for players to make plays with one mistake handling the puck or a bad line change likely leading to a rush toward the goal.
"The players like it although I haven't talked to the goalies,'' Gallant joked. "The scary part is people are going to see the overtime and how exciting it is and want the entire game to be like that. There's going to be 2-on-1s, breakaways back-and-forth. The goalie is going to be real busy in that five minutes.''
In the new overtime, coaches are going to get creative with who they throw on the ice.
Gallant said he'll likely play two forwards with a defenseman to try and limit rushes toward his goalie, although he liked how his top forward line of Jaromir Jagr, Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau looked in Sunday's overtime in Dallas.
"Some teams are going to change it up,'' Gallant said. "We'll mix it up.''
Goalie Roberto Luongo, who has appeared in 76 shootouts (winning 35 of them) since 2005 says one mistake up the ice will quickly become a scoring chance and the goalie knows he will have to make a big save to keep his team in it.
"I think teams are still trying to figure out how they're going to approach it,'' Luongo said. "It's definitely going to be interesting because it's a much different dynamic than 4-on-4. As a group, we need to have a good plan in place to have an edge early in the year. It's going to be exciting. Even though I'm not the best shootout goalie, it was fun. You roll with the punches. They are fun to win.''
-- The Panthers play their final preseason game Saturday against visiting Tampa Bay with Gallant saying while he would like to ice his opening night lineup, with some roster positions still being fought over, that may not be possible.
Florida has 26 players -- not counting injured forward Rocco Grimaldi -- left in camp. The Panthers need to be at 23 by 5 p.m. on Monday.
"You have to give guys who are fighting for the jobs the opportunity,'' Gallant said. "There's such a long break between our last exhibition; if we play our team [Saturday], does it matter?"
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
Radio: WQAM 560
Of note: This is the final exhibition game of the preseason for the Panthers with the 2015-16 season opener Oct. 10 against visiting Philadelphia.



October 01, 2015

BILLY'S BACK: Panthers bring back Billy Lindsay to be radio analyst


TWITTTER: @GeorgeRichards
Bill Lindsay will be in the Panthers' broadcast booth this season after all.
On Thursday, the team announced that Lindsay -- a member of the first Florida team in 1993 -- will be the radio analyst for all 41 home games.
The Panthers hinted of such a role for Lindsay in August when his television contract with Fox Sports wasn't renewed. Lindsay has been part of Florida broadcasts since he joined Randy Moller on radio in 2007.
In 2009, Lindsay became Florida's television analyst and remained part of that broadcast team through last season. Moller replaced Lindsay as host and in-game analyst on Fox broadcasts this coming season.


CROUSE'S CHANCE: Panthers appear ready to give top pick Lawson Crouse his NHL tryout

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
With four more players released from training camp, the Panthers were finally able to put all of their players in one locker room on Thursday.
Rookies Lawson Crouse and Connor Brickley don't have their own stalls just yet, so folding chairs set up in the middle of the room will have to suffice for now.
"Hey, it's a promotion,'' Crouse said with a laugh. "At least I'm in the big room, be with all the guys. That's a step in the right direction. I'm glad they moved us in."
For Crouse and Brickley, it appears Florida is going to let them stick around past Monday's roster deadline.
Brickley, 23, has been extremely impressive during rooking camp and full camp and is expected to make the opening night roster.
Crouse, 18, was Florida's top pick at the draft it hosted in Sunrise a few months ago.
It appears Crouse will also start the season with the Panthers.
What happens after that, however, remains to be seen.
Florida has the option to send Crouse back to his junior team in Kingston, Ontario, after a maximum of nine games before the first year of his rookie contract kicks in.
If Crouse stays with the Panthers past Oct. 16, which seems all but assured, the eight-game suspension he faces in the Ontario Hockey League will have expired.
Since Crouse is listed on Kingston's active roster, he's getting credit for missing OHL games while in South Florida.
The Kingston Frontenacs have already played three games, so Crouse only has five games left for his head shot to an opponent in the final seconds of what was Kingston's final game last season.
Of course, Crouse hopes to stay with the Panthers after his tryout and not worry about a return to Kingston.
"I just can't put any extra pressure on myself to stay,'' Crouse said. "I think I'm a good enough player to stay but I still have to prove that. I would like to stay the entire year, but I'll do what they want me to. If they keep me, great. I'll do everything I can to make this team better.''
Last year, Aaron Ekblad was in a similar situation (minus a pending OHL suspension) as Florida had to make a decision on whether to return the rookie defenseman to his Canadian junior team.
Ekblad made the decision extremely easy on the Panthers.
On Thursday, coach Gerard Gallant admitted the Panthers knew before training camp broke that Ekblad would spend his season with the Panthers, his junior career over.
"We knew the kid was real good,'' Gallant said of Ekblad. "I'm not saying Crouse isn't there, but Ek is a special player."
Crouse doesn't have those same assurances although he still has time to impress the Panthers.
"I don't think there's any pressure on the kid because he's 18, he can go back to juniors and have a lot of success there,'' Gallant said.
"We want him to have fun, get used to his teammates. If it works out, great. If not, he goes back to Kingston, probably plays in the World Juniors. He's going to have a long NHL career. It's just a matter of when it starts.''
Ekblad said he and Crouse haven't talked about his current situation.
Ekblad, who ended up playing in all but one game last year (flu) and won the NHL's rookie of the year award, says Crouse just needs to be himself.
"It's tough because you don't know what's going on so you just have to play the game you know you're capable of playing,'' Ekblad said.
"I didn't try to step out of my game last year, I just did what I always did.''


September 30, 2015

COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF: Panthers made four moves; cut David Booth, send three to AHL Portland ... Quotes from Booth, Dale Tallon, Mike Matheson and Shane Harper

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Minutes after coach Gerard Gallant said he wanted to play his starting lineup in Saturday's final exhibition game of the preseason, word starting getting around that cuts were coming.
The biggest casualty Wednesday: David Booth, who was released from his training camp tryout.
Booth was informed of the decision by general manager Dale Tallon following Wednesday's practice.
By the time Booth was caught leaving the Panthers' facility by a reporter, he had yet to inform wife Ashley.
"We'll see what happens,'' said an obviously dejected Booth. "I don't know what the next step will be. I want to keep playing hockey but I believe I'm better than [playing in the AHL]. It's just a matter of getting my timing down, getting everything back.
"It's just one of those things. You don't know what's going to happen."
Booth, 30, spent parts of six seasons with the Panthers before Tallon traded him to Vancouver six games into the 2011-12 season.
Although Booth has had injury problems in the past, he played solid minutes for Toronto last season and said he felt as good as he has in years.
"It's always tough coming into camp and trying to play your best in the first three games,'' Booth said.
"It's unfortunate. I feel I'm still a great player. This place felt comfortable and like a place I could do some of the things I've done before. But this is a business and sometimes you're just a number. They have to make the decisions they feel are best for the team."
Said Tallon: "It was very tough because he played very hard. We have young guys ... It was hard to fit [Booth] into the slot. It was a difficult decision and I wish him all the best."
The Panthers also sent prospects Shane Harper, Mike Matheson and MacKenzie Weegar to their AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.
The moves put Florida's roster at 27, although it sounds like forward Rocco Grimaldi will start the season on the injured list as Tallon told reporters the roster "is at 26."
With the moves, veteran Martin Havlat -- also in camp on a tryout -- remains in the running for a roster spot as do Quinton Howden, Connor Brickley, Garrett Wilson and 18-year-old Lawson Crouse.
"We have lots of players,'' Tallon said. "The positive thing is, all these guys are going to get into games. That's been the focus, getting good pros in our system. It takes an army to get to the promised land here. It takes more than 23 guys. It takes 30-35 guys."
Defenseman Dylan Olsen also remains in camp although he's expected to be sent to Portland after not playing in any of Florida's first five preseason games because of conditioning issues.
The Panthers need to have their roster at 23 by 5 p.m. on Monday.
Gallant said, barring injury, his lineup Saturday against visiting Tampa Bay would likely be his lineup for the season opener Oct. 10 against Philadelphia.
"We have a lot of guys battling for a few spots and it's healthy competition,'' Gallant said. "Saturday's game is pretty much going to be our team unless guys are banged up or something. As much as possible, I'm going to play everyone to get ready for the season.''
-- Matheson, considered Florida's top prospect the past few seasons, said he was disappointed to be sent to Portland but added he would work hard in trying to return to the Panthers.
"I knew coming in that it would be a long shot to make this team out of training camp just with the numbers and the caliber of the players they already had here,'' said Matheson, who played in a handful of AHL games last spring after leaving Boston College.
"You can't go down there and sulk and think the whole world is against you. If you do, you'll be stuck there. If you take it as motivation and work even harder, I think the odds of me coming back are greater."


"It's always tough coming into camp and trying to play your best in the first three games. I remember the years when I scored 20, 30 goals and having meeting with the coaches asking me 'where are you at right now? You're not playing well.' And this is better than I've felt in those years.
Sometimes you have a contract and they have to play you and things work out as time progresses. It's unfortunate. I feel I'm still a great player. This place felt comfortable and like a place I could do some of the things I've done before. But this is a business and sometimes you're just a number. They have to make the decisions they feel are best for the team."
"Back in the day, it seemed like the older guys were pushing the younger guys back. Now things are reversed. The older guys are getting phased out.
"We'll see what happens. I don't know what the next step will be. I want to keep playing hockey but I believe I'm better than [playing in the AHL]. It's just a matter of getting my timing down, getting everything back.
"It's just one of those things. You don't know what's going to happen."
On sending Shane Harper to AHL Portland
"It was real positive. We were very impressed with him, he played really well. Our depth is really solid. He can come up and play some valuable games for us, that's what he showed us in training camp. We have lots of players. The positive thing is, all these guys are going to get into games. That's been the focus, getting good pros in our system. It takes an army to get to the promised land here. It takes more than 23 guys. It takes 30-35 guys."
On sending Mike Matheson/MacKenzie Weegar to AHL Portland
"This was also positive. They were both very good in camp, they just have to get some game experience and learn their craft, learn their position. They have all the tools physically; they both have good skating ability, good puck movement, good hockey senses. They just have to learn the hard part and that's the defensive play at this pace."
On cutting David Booth
"It was very tough because he played very hard. We have young guys; Brickley has had a great camp, so has Howden and Wilson. Then there's Crouse. It was hard to fit [Booth] into the slot. It was a difficult decision and I wish him all the best."
"I was happy with how camp was going and I just found out that I'm going to Portland and that was to be expected.
"I knew coming in that it would be a long shot to make this team out of training camp just with the numbers and the caliber of the players they already had here.
"Obviously I would like to stay, try to change their mind but at the same time, I'm happy with what I did. I showed I can play in the league and I'm almost there with my game. Right now I'll go to Portland and try and perform well for the Pirates.
"You can't go down there and sulk and think the whole world is against you. If you do, you'll be stuck there. If you take it as motivation and work even harder, I think the odds of me coming back are greater."
"I think I've been a bit of a late bloomer; every year I've had progression.
"I feel the best I've ever felt as a hockey player.
"There were some teams interested in me but I felt Florida showed the most interest. I talked to Dale a couple of times and he really sounded honest, more so than other guys. He was more genuine. I think you have to feel comfortable and this was an easy to decision to make. Once I got here, I was happy I did. I've been given a chance, and that's more than I can say for some other places I've been. There are a lot of guys who have been sent down. I'm really happy for that chance. If I do get sent down, I'm going to work my butt off and build on what I did last year.


September 21, 2015

VETERAN BATTLE: David Booth, Martin Havlat fight for spot on Florida Panthers this season ... Panthers split preseason opener in Nashville, play host to Dallas in Game 3 on Tuesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers enter the second week of training camp with what is realistically three forward spots up for grabs.
Florida would like to see some of its young players rise up and take them -- players such as Rocco Grimaldi, Quinton Howden and Lawson Crouse -- although there are a couple veterans fighting for them.
David Booth and Martin Havlat, who have almost 1,300 NHL games between them, want to stick around and play for the Panthers this season.
"We have our eyes on everyone,'' general manager Dale Tallon said as camp opened last week.
"There aren't many openings so you better be at your best every day. Competition is getting deeper and deeper and we have depth at every position. I'm not going to give a guy a job just because we drafted them. They have to earn the spot. Inner competition will make our team better.''
Both Booth and Havlat already have their living arrangements set.
Booth, who spent parts of six seasons with the Panthers, never sold his Parkland home after being traded from Florida to Vancouver in 2011 and is in the process of moving back into the place he has been renting out.
Havlat closed on a home in Boca Raton in June before officially getting a training camp tryout from Tallon earlier this month.
For Booth, returning to the Panthers has been a bit of a homecoming despite all of the changes.
Only a handful of players remain from Booth's final Florida team as he was traded six games into the 2011-12 season.
"It feels like I was just here last year,'' Booth said. "Walking in here just feels awesome. I feel like I'm at home. There are nothing but good memories here. When I got off the plane, all I could do is smile. I'm really excited.''
Havlat, 34, spent last season in New Jersey, partly as a teammate of Jaromir Jagr.
Injuries have slowed both Havlat and Booth over the past few years but both say they are healthy as they fight for a spot on the team.
While Booth was healthy last year and played in 59 games for Toronto, Havlat was limited to just 40 games with the Devils and hasn't played more than 50 games in a season since playing in 78 for Minnesota in 2010-11.
"The last few years were tough because of injuries, but that's part of the game,'' said Havlat, who did play 39 games in the 48-game lockout season in 2013.
"I'm heathy right now, feeling great and ready to start again.''
Florida plays its third preseason game Tuesday at BB&T Center against Dallas and coach Gerard Gallant continues to look for his best mix of players.
Veterans and rookies will be judged, he said, on what they do on the ice during camp and in the final four preseason games.
"Opening night we're going to have our best players, our best team out there,'' Gallant said.
"Hopefully we have that for all 82 games, that's the goal. You can't give guys tryouts when the season starts, we're going to have our best team out there.''
-- Florida split its preseason doubleheader at Nashville on Sunday.
The Predators won the opener 5-2 with the Panthers rallying to win the nightcap 3-2 thanks to a 3-on-3 overtime goal from rookie defenseman Michael Matheson.
"There were a lot of mistakes in the first game obviously but we had two rosters out there and I thought we competed hard,'' Gallant said Monday.
"There was some good, some bad. The first game is out of the way. The big thing is no one got hurt.''
Gallant said Roberto Luongo would start Tuesday's game against the Stars and get at least two periods of work.
Veteran Mike McKenna, expected to start the season at AHL Portland, should play the third.
-- Florida made its first moves of the preseason Monday, sending eight players either back to their Canadian junior teams or to Portland's training camp which opens this weekend.
The Panthers' roster is now at 43.
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: None




September 19, 2015

BACK TO WORK: Injury behind him, Nick Bjugstad ready to continue moving forward ... Florida Panthers open preseason slate Sunday in Nashville

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Few players were ready to get training camp going and get back to a normal hockey routine than Nick Bjugstad.
A herniated disk cut Bjugstad's season short last year as he underwent surgery in March to relieve pain so severe general manager Dale Tallon said even tying his shoes was an ordeal.
Still, Bjugstad tried to play through the pain. For about 10 games, Bjugstad fought through.
Until he couldn't go anymore.
"The kid is a gamer,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
Bjugstad, 23, was having a career season before the back injury came to light.
Centering Florida's second forward line, Bjugstad was leading the team in scoring with 24 goals and 19 assists, becoming a breakout player for the Panthers in his second full NHL season.
"It was a tough way to end it,'' he said. "Obviously I had to watch the end of it on television or in the stands. It was a fun season to be a part of, night and day from the year before. But I had never been injured before. I think you learn to appreciate the game a little more. Sitting out for a long time is no fun. You start losing your mind. I was getting bored."
On Dec. 30, not long after he scored against Montreal, the Panthers showed Bjugstad how much he meant to the organization when they signed him to a six-year contract extension.
"I'm so happy they want me around that long,'' Bjugstad said. "It's an honor."
Bjugstad, who had his back surgery at the Mayo Clinic in his hometown of Minneapolis, says he is ready to build on the success he had last year.
"This was a different summer for me, but it was good, I put on some weight and put on some muscle,'' said Bjugstad, who also got more flexible by working a Pilates program this offseason.
"I'm rested and in a good mental spot to be ready to go this season.''
The Panthers know how important Bjugstad is to their success, with Tallon saying he thought Florida would have been a playoff team last year had Bjugstad not been hurt.
Not only did the Panthers miss having Bjugstad in their lineup down the stretch, but the games he played while injured affected his game as well.
Bjugstad played as hard as he could, but the back pain affected him as he had no goals and two assists in his final six games before surgery.
"I appreciate Dale saying that, but who knows what would have happened,'' Bjugstad said.
Added Gallant: "Nick was playing outstanding and to lose him down the stretch was big for our team. I definitely hurt us a lot. But he's 100 percent now and looks really good. We'll move on from that.''
On Sunday, Bjugstad will be in his first game situation since being pulled by Gallant on March 21 against Boston when the Panthers visit Nashville for their exhibition opener.
Bjugstad said he is ready to get closer to when the games count.
"You have to treat it as a normal game,'' he said. "You have to be ready mentally. I haven't missed this much time and it was a long offseason. I'm ready to get the pace back.''
-- The Panthers will play their now traditional preseason doubleheader against the Predators in Nashville on Sunday.
This will be the fourth straight season the two teams have opened the preseason with a pair of games in the same day.
Rocco Grimaldi knows a little bit about playing doubleheaders as Florida's rookie forward played in two games in the same day last year.
Grimaldi played a morning game with Florida's AHL team in San Antonio on Nov. 19then was summoned to join the big club in Los Angeles to play against the Kings later that night.
Grimaldi won't play in both games Sunday, but says if asked, he would.
"Might as well, it's not like I haven't done it before,'' said Grimaldi, one of a handful of players fighting for one of the open roster spots.
Gallant said the Panthers are taking 42 of the 51 players on the roster to Nashville for the two games.
Goalie Roberto Luongo will not play Sunday but is expected to start Tuesday against Dallas at BB&T Center.
"We had two good days here and now we're going to go and play some games,'' Gallant said. "98 percent of the guys are going to be able to play.''

Sunday: Preseason doubleheader at Nashville, 4:30 p.m.
Monday: Practice at Coral Springs IceDen, noon
Tuesday: Preseason game vs. Dallas, BB&T Center, 7:30 p.m.

Photo by WALT MICHOT/Miami Herald Staff


September 18, 2015

BACK FOR MORE: Panthers open training camp with Jonathan Huberdeau on the ice, playoffs only goal

TWITTER: GeorgeRichards
The Panthers didn't make many offseason moves so Friday's opening of training camp didn't include a whole lot of introductions.
Florida's coaching staff, new a year ago, returns minus Mark Morris who left to coach Carolina's AHL affiliate in Charlotte.
A handful of veteran players departed, replaced by the likes of Reilly Smith, David Booth and Martin Havlat.
Florida's goalie tandem of Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya also return from last season.
"We're a confident team coming into camp,'' second-year coach Gerard Gallant said.
"We came into camp last year and had new coaches and a lot of new players. The year went pretty good for us, we were pretty happy but the guys are saying it's not about having a good team but getting into the playoffs. The guys believe we can beat any team in the league if we play well. We're confident right now.''
Last year, the Panthers bounced back from being a last place team in 2013-14 to one being in the playoff hunt until the final weeks, not eliminated until there were just a handful of games left.
So the biggest difference for the Panthers as camp opened in Coral Springs this year is the expectations.
Last year, improvement was hoped for.
This year, only making the playoffs will do.
"We have a lot of young players who took big steps last year,'' Luongo said. "The next step for them will be this year. We thought we could have made it last year so we didn't feel like we needed to [change] much. There was really nowhere to add when you look at our roster.
"The culture that was here for so many years, we changed that last year. The expectation here is to win every night. We're holding everyone accountable. We're not letting anything slide.''
The Panthers finished with 91 points last year, a league-best 25-point improvement.
Those 91 points, however, weren't good enough as Florida missed the playoffs for the 15th time in the past 17 seasons.
The Panthers have been to the playoffs twice (2000, 2012) since 1997.
General manager Dale Tallon said being close won't cut it this year.
"They understand that last year we got to game 79 and this year we need to get to game 82 and have it be a [meaningful] game and we make the playoffs,'' Tallon said.
The Panthers opened camp with 51 players as the near-holdout of winger Jonathan Huberdeau never transpired.

Huberdeau agreed to a two-year contract with the Panthers early Thursday morning, flew back to South Florida from Montreal and reported to camp.
On Friday, Huberdeau was in the third and final group of players to take the ice. After a brief workout, Huberdeau returned to a locker stall that just a few days prior had been used by a player trying out for Florida's AHL team.
Every thing looked back to normal as Huberdeau was back in his familiar No. 11, his nameplate affixed to his stall.
"It was important for me to be in camp, not miss anything,'' said Huberdeau, who led the Panthers with 54 points last season.
"I'm glad the business side is over and now it's time to think about hockey. The deal is done, now we're thinking about hockey and everyone is ready to play.''
-- The Panthers will follow a similar schedule on the second day of camp with the team split into three groups with two groups scrimmaging at the Coral Springs IceDen.
Florida will fly to Nashville following Saturday's workout and open its exhibition season with a doubleheader against the Predators on Sunday.
The trip to Tennessee will be quick as the Panthers will be back in Coral Springs on Monday and play host to Dallas at BB&T Center Tuesday night.
Saturday (9:45 a.m. with scrimmage at 10:45 a.m.); Monday (noon)
Where: Florida Panthers IceDen; 3299 Sportsplex Drive, Coral Springs
Admission: Free
Preseason opener: Sunday at Nashville Predators (doubleheader), 4:30 p.m.

Photos courtesy of Kelsey Hinds/ @KHindsPhoto


September 17, 2015

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED: Jonathan Huberdeau agrees to two-year deal, back in Florida ... Plenty of players battling for a few spots as training camp opens

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers will hold their first practice of the season Friday morning and their leading scorer from last year will be there.
Jonathan Huberdeau agreed to a two-year contract with the team early Thursday morning ensuring he'll be part of training camp.
Huberdeau, 22, will be paid $2.5 million this season and $4 million in 2016-17 giving him a cap hit of $3.25 million.
"I think it's fantastic,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "I'm real happy for Huberdeau and happy for our team. I think it's good to have everything settled, have a whole unit. Sometimes things take longer than others but I was confident we would get it done.''
The bridge deal allows the two sides to potentially work on a long-term deal down the road as Florida continues to control Huberdeau's status for the next four seasons.
Huberdeau will continue to be a restricted free agent when this current contract expires following the 2016-17 season.
If Huberdeau's numbers continue to rise, his next contract will likely be a big one.
"It's incentive and there's still room for improvement,'' Tallon said. "I like to have guys hungry. It's a good bridge contract, very fair.''
Huberdeau is obviously an important part of the Panthers' youth movement as he had a career-best 15 goals, 39 assists and a plus-10 rating last season.
The third-overall pick of the 2011 draft, Huberdeau made his NHL debut following the 2012-13 lockout and won Florida's first Calder Trophy which honors the league's top rookie that season.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad became Florida's second such winner last season.
"I think there's a lot of talent on this team, from what I saw last year and what I've seen here the past few days,'' said Martin Havlat, who trained with Huberdeau during the offseason and is represented by the same agent.
"[Huberdeau] is going to get better and better."
The Panthers went through medical and fitness testing at the BB&T Center as training camp officially opened Thursday.
Huberdeau agreed to his deal early in the day and flew to South Florida from his native Montreal and did his testing in the afternoon.
On Friday, Huberdeau is expected to be back on Florida's top line with Jaromir Jagr and Sasha Barkov.
Last year, that trio was one of the highest-producing lines in the league when together for the final 20 games of the season after Florida acquired Jagr in a deal with New Jersey.
On Thursday, Jagr said he was happy to see his linemate agreed to terms and that the Panthers would be whole on the opening day of camp.
Jagr scored six goals with 18 points in 20 games with the Panthers last season. Barkov had seven goals and 15 points during that span and Huberdeau had six goals and 21 points.
"They have all the tools,'' Jagr said Thursday. "I can help them with the experience, tell them how to take advantage. If you don't tell them, maybe they find out, but it won't be for five, six years down the road.''
The Panthers will have 51 players in camp and will carry 23 on the opening night roster.
Although Tallon told his players all jobs were up for grabs in training camp, realistically, there are just a handful.
"There are a couple of spots open,'' coach Gerard Gallant said, "and there are six, seven, eight guys fighting for them. It's going to be interesting.''
Florida is expected to replace veterans Tomas Kopecky and Scottie Upshall's spots with youngsters, although free agents David Booth and Havlat being in camp on tryouts will make the competition interesting.
Booth, who spent part of six seasons with the Panthers before traded to Vancouver in 2011, still has a home in northwest Broward and plans on living there this season.
Some of Florida's talented young players -- such as Rocco Grimaldi, Connor Brickley and Lawson Crouse -- as well as Havlat may have a say in whether that transpires.

"When Florida offered me, I just thought it was a great opportunity,'' said Booth, who will wear the No. 10 he wore with the Panthers from 2006-11.
"You want to come in, earn a spot. ... Nothing is given. You have to earn everything. Being on a tryout here, that really rings true.''
Said Tallon: "We have a lot of guys and a few jobs. Do the math. We want the best players. It's really starting to come together. There's no excuse now. It's time to take it to the next level.''

Friday/Saturday; 9:45 a.m. (scrimmage 10:45 a.m.)
Where: Florida Panthers IceDen; 3299 Sportsplex Drive, Coral Springs
Admission: Free
Preseason opener: Sunday at Nashville Predators (doubleheader), 4:30 p.m.