Spoke with Panthers assistant general manager Mike Santos on Tuesday afternoon and have a number of updates regarding the Panthers.
The biggest news is that Santos has refuted various reports that say prospect Erik Gudbranson isn't happy with the Panthers, saying Brian Skrudland talks to him “regularly.''
That said, the Panthers and Gudbranson's camp don't appear close to having a contract done.
“We've had some discussions with his representatives off and on this summer. I can't say we're close. It's really up to his people. I spoke to his agent in the past week. It's nothing bad on either side. We're just trying to get the right deal done. Sometimes it takes longer than you would like.
“But he's coming to camp regardless of whether he's signed or not.''
-- Restricted free agent Mike Santorelli is not close to signing, although the Panthers don't seem all that concerned.
But how about this: “There have been no discussions with him or his agent since the end of the season. I contacted them in January to see if we could get something done. There has been no movement, no communication. I don't know what's going on.''
Santos adds he doesn't care whether Santorelli files for arbitration or not.
“If he wants to file, at least I know I'll get a deal done. Sometimes that's a good thing. Of course, I would hope we could negotiate a deal. So far, that hasn't happened.''
Santos has been Santorelli's biggest fan (Santos worked the deal to get Santorelli out of Nashville for a low draft pick last year) and seems confused by the lack of communication.
“We acquired him, gave him an opportunity he never had before. He played well, and the expectations for him aren't completely fulfilled. He needs to get out there and keep playing. He could be a very good player in the NHL. He's had one decent year.''
-- Santos said Gord Murphy was retained after the Pete DeBoer firing because he had one year left on his contract. Whether new coach Kevin Dineen keeps Murphy is up to him.
“We always said it was up to the new coach whether he wants to keep [Murphy],'' Santos said. “I don't know if they've talked. It's up to Kevin and I don't know if he's started looking to fill his staff. I don't think he's in any hurry. The draft is a convenient place to look for guys. I would like to have things filled by the first week of July.''
-- Santos said he hasn't heard anything regarding a possibility of former Thrashers GM Rick Dudley helping the Panthers out during the draft – or beyond. Dudley, the Panthers former GM and coach, worked closely with GM Dale Tallon on Chicago.
-- The worst kept secret among the Panthers? The future of Byron Bitz and Steve Bernier. Both are restricted free agents. For now. They'll be free to sign anywhere else soon enough. “You can assume that's true,'' Santos said. “I'm not expecting them back.''
-- Santos said there is interest in bringing Tomas Vokoun back and thinks the veteran goalie wants to return to South Florida.
“We're going to try to do the best we can at the goaltender position,'' Santos said. “At the end of the day, it could be Tomas Vokoun. That would be terrific. He's a guy we know. But we're going to get the best goalie we can. And it may just be him.
“We haven't spoken in a few weeks, maybe even a month. And that meeting was nothing real involved, just a general discussion. And none of us talked about July 1. If we were going to do something, it would be before July 1, though. You never know. It wouldn't be a long term deal, no longer than three.''
-- On Mark Cullen: “It's a two-way contract, same he had last year. Unfortunately he had the injury that kept him off ice until February. He played well when he came back. He can be a good depth guy.''
-- By signing Cullen, you have to assume the Panthers will have their own AHL team next season. It won't be in Rochester, but I'm hearing places like Portland, Maine, and Norfolk, Va., could be in play for the Panthers.
“We're expecting to have an AHL affiliate, I just don't know where it will be,'' Santos said. “I am confident we'll have a place of our own, and I wasn't confident of that earlier this summer. There are many things in play right now.''
-- Pete DeBoer is still under contract to the Panthers, but don't expect to see him doing any side work for the franchise.
“He was let go without cause,'' Santos said. “We're just paying out his contract.''
-- And finally, the red jerseys. Santos, Tallon and Bill Torrey aren't fans of the alternate JetBlue uniforms although they'll be around this year.
The Panthers have to wear them for another season to fulfill their contract with Reebok and the NHL. After that, they will likely disappear into the night.
Santos is excited about the return of the red.
“If you look through the history of this organization, every time the Panthers made the playoffs, they wore red,'' he said. “Look through the history of the NHL. You will see that more teams have won the Stanley Cup with a red sweater than any other color.
“Think of it this way: Tiger Woods used to wear red on Sundays. He didn't wear blue.''