Good afternoon hockey fans.
Was at practice today for the first time this week and got some pretty good stuff.
First off, I was under the impression that the Panthers might want to sign a couple of their unrestricted free agents to a contract extension before the trade deadline later this month.
Well, nix that.
Assistant general manager Mike Santos told me today that the team will not be talking contracts to any of their pending free agents until after the season.
That means no extension for the likes of Tomas Vokoun or Bryan McCabe. At least not now.
I have said in the past that if the Panthers and Vokoun don't get a deal done before the deadline, Vokoun would be traded. Now, I guess, I'm not so sure about that. First, Vokoun can turn down any deal. Second, the Panthers seem to be in no rush to do anything. They are pretty confident the players they want to stick around will stick around.
It's a dangerous game – if the Panthers decide to keep some of these free agents at the deadline. In that case, they once again risk losing players for nothing.
I still see quite a few trades in the Panthers near future.
-- Last night at the town hall meetings, Santos talked about Rochester and how that franchise has been “bad” for the Florida Panthers.
It has been floated in Rochester that the Amerks and Panthers affiliation could be rekindled, but I definitely don't see that happening anymore.
This divorce is going to be final soon.
Santos said he doesn't see the Panthers returning next year, and said the worst case scenario for the Panthers – if there are no open AHL spots save for Rochester – was that the team would go back to splitting an affiliation with another team.
If that does happen -- which the Panthers really, really don't want to happen -- my money is on Florida joining up with Nashville.
Just a hunch.
-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov went for an MRI today although the Panthers don't think he has a broken ankle after being smacked by a puck last night. Coach Pete DeBoer thinks, as long as nothing is broken, that Kulikov could play Sunday against the Sharks.
Word out of Rochester is that no player has been told he's coming up yet. Joe Callahan and Clay Wilson would be your natural candidates to replace Kulikov if need be.
-- Cory Stillman was in a cheerful mood today and after working out at the optional skate said he felt “good” and would probably play Sunday.
-- McCabe also worked out and said he should be ready to go in a week. Not sure if McCabe will take part in Saturday's 10 a.m. practice in Coral Springs, but he probably will.
-- Last time I spoke with Byron Bitz -- about two weeks ago -- he said he hoped his latest trip to a specialist would allow him to get back on the ice. Apparently not. Bitz, who had sports hernia surgery, is still not skating.
Bitz was acquired by the Panthers at the deadline last year and played in seven games before getting hurt. Then he suffered the sports hernia during training camp.
-- Will have more after I go through the tape. Writing on McCabe's impact on the Panthers is bigger than anyone had previously thought.
He wants to stay with the team – and they think hard about making that happen.