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11 posts from September 2012

September 21, 2012

QUIET WEEKEND IN PANTHERLAND: Start of Training Camp on Hold ... Panthers Head to Europe, AHL

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Friday should have been a busy day at the Panthers training facility in Coral Springs.

Yet instead of having close to 50 hockey players running around the main part of the building as training camp got under way, only an injured Kris Versteeg was spotted roaming the halls.

"Just me and a couple of rats,'' Versteeg joked. "It's a little weird.''

A number of Versteeg's teammates were on the ice Friday afternoon, doing their best to stay in shape during a work stoppage that will enter its second week on Sunday.

The players, locked out by the league for the third time since 1994, aren't allowed to have any contact with the Panthers nor use any of the facilities. The players are paying the Panthers out of their own pocket for use of the ice.

Versteeg, who is undergoing rehabilitation after needing offseason surgery, is not considered locked out and can come and go as he pleases. Versteeg has spent a lot of time catching up with his teammates.

"None of us want this,'' said defenseman Mike Weaver, the Panthers' union representative. "The players don't want this and I'm pretty sure the Florida Panthers organization don't want this. We had a good season last year and were ready to build on that. Our fans are ready to come back.''

Aside from physicals, the Panthers were scheduled to have their first practice as a team on Saturday morning. Unbelievably, the Panthers were to hold their first preseason game on Monday.

Because of the lockout, everything is on hold.

"This is the nature of the beast, something we've been talking about for months,'' veteran Ed Jovanovski said. "We're in a situation in which we need patience. I don't think we have 2004 on our hands. I'm optimistic something will get done sooner than later. As a member of the union, I believe this is a very meaningful deal that should help both sides and grow the game. Hockey is healthy right now. You wish everyone could see that.''

Although the informal workouts are scheduled to resume next week, the herd will be thinned. A handful of players are leaving for training camp in the Triple-A American Hockey League while others are looking overseas.

Center Marcel Goc was the first to leave, signing a deal with former Panthers defenseman Dennis Seidenberg to play in their native Germany. Sean Bergenheim likely left the facility Friday for the last time before the lockout ends as he is headed to his home country of Finland.

"No one knows how long this thing is going to take,'' Goc said Wednesday. "The earlier I start playing the better. We're on our own.''

Said Bergenheim: "I want to play and I have some options. I'm just looking for what's best for my family. It would be nice to go home because it's been a long time since I've played there.''

Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is also close to leaving as his agent is working on a deal in Russia. Kulikov is said to be returning to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl -- the Russian team which owned his rights when the Panthers drafted him 14th overall in 2009.

Lokomotiv was the team that suffered the tragic plane crash last summer that cost 43 lives including those of former Panthers Karlis Skrastins, Ruslan Salei and Alexander Karpovtsev.

All players who play in Europe still belong to the Panthers once the lockout is lifted; players are negotiating out clauses into their European contracts.

"I want to play somewhere and not just watch television,'' Kulikov said. "It could be nice to get experience in another league. I've only played big-league hockey in the NHL. This will be a cool challenge.''

For players like goalie Dov Grumet-Morris and Nolan Yonkman, Friday's workout was their last before the structure of training camp returns. Both players are due in San Antonio this weekend for the start of training camp with the AHL Rampage.

For Grumet-Morris, the move to San Antonio is bittersweet. While he's happy to have a job playing hockey, he knows he lost out on an opportunity. This would have been the first NHL training camp the 30-year-old journeyman would have participated in.

"Most hockey players are creatures of habit, so the guys who have been assigned to San Antonio are happy to get going,'' Grumet-Morris said. "I feel fortunate to get back to San Antonio. But the thing is, I don't have any control over anything -- I don't even have a vote in the NHLPA. I was taught long ago not to worry about things you can't control.''

-- Versteeg, who had hip surgery shortly after last season ended, skated on his own Friday morning. He said he has done light skating about six times since having surgery. He is expected to be ready to play in November.

"I'm starting to feel OK, getting my movement back,'' Versteeg said.

September 19, 2012

PRESEASON GAMES CANCELLED: Florida Panthers Lose Out on Texas Trip

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The National Hockey League officially cancelled all preseason games through Sept. 30 because of its most recent labor dispute.

The NHL locked out its players for the third time since 1994 last Sunday morning when the shared collective bargaining agreement expired after seven seasons.

The Florida Panthers were scheduled to open training camp on Friday with players reporting for physicals. The first on-ice workout was to come on Saturday morning.

The cancellations of the first week of exhibition games does affect the Panthers. Florida was set to host Nashville in a double-header at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on Sept. 24. The Panthers were then to travel to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio to play the Dallas Stars on Sept. 28 then visit Dallas the following day.

The Panthers still have preseason games scheduled against the Lightning in Tampa (Oct. 2), Estero (Oct. 4) and Sunrise (Oct. 6).

With the most recent announcement from the league, many more players are expected to head to Europe to play in various professional leagues. Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said Wednesday that he'll likely be playing in Russia by next week.

Panthers' forwards Sean Bergenheim (Finland) and Marcel Goc (Germany) could go soon as well.

"My agent is in negotiations and we're close,'' Kulikov said. "I just want to play. Sitting around, that's not for me.''

September 18, 2012

BLACK TUESDAY IN SUNRISE: Florida Panthers Layoff Employees -- Including Mascot Stanley C. Panther

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: GeorgeRichards

Got an ominous text message from a former employee of the Florida Panthers on Tuesday morning.

"It's Black Tuesday,'' the text read.

The Panthers began laying people off on Tuesday, blaming the personnel moves on a lockout that is only a few days old. No one whom I spoke to would speak on the record; they hope to get their jobs back when the work stoppage is over.

The most headline-grabbing move was the Panthers laying off the man who played the role of Stanley C. Panther the past few years. As courtesy, I am not naming names on the blog.

You know things are tough when the mascot gets laid off. The Panthers also have begun letting season ticket holders know what their options are once games are cancelled. More on that later.

From the Panthers on the layoffs:

-- SUNRISE, Fla. – Sunrise Sports & Entertainment today released the following statement from President & COO Michael R. Yormark:

“Due primarily to the NHL work stoppage, but also due to changes and efficiencies in our normal business operations, SSE and the Florida Panthers instituted a number of staff adjustments today including staff reductions.

"We thank all of those former staff members for their efforts, while SSE’s human resources department has volunteered to work with these former staff members to assist them in finding new employment.

"Out of respect for both the former and current staff members, we will have no further comment at this time.”

BLACK TUESDAY IN SUNRISE: Florida Panthers Layoff Employees -- Including Mascot Stanley C. Panther

September 17, 2012

ALL WET: Florida Panthers Practice Under Lockout Conditions (minus conditioner)

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Dmitry Kulikov found out Monday that his practices during a lockout are more summer camp than training camp.

If you don't bring something yourself, you may just go without.

"We have to bring your own drinks, shampoo, everything,'' Stephen Weiss said laughing.

Kulikov was one of more than a dozen NHL players working out at the Panthers' training facility in Coral Springs on Monday on the first real day of the league's work stoppage.

Because of the lockout, players aren't allowed to use the team's facilities and have to rent the ice used for the practices. The facility, which is run by the Panthers, is also renting out side locker rooms for players to shower and change in.

Kulikov apparently forgot a towel to use for his post-practice shower in a locker room across the ice from the Panthers' locker room door.

When someone asked a Panthers' staffer if they could borrow a towel for Kulikov, the answer was no. In a lockout, a team can offer no assistance to a player -- no matter how minimal the request.

Kris Versteeg, the Panthers' top-line winger, is allowed into the locker room because he is still rehabilitating after having offseason surgery. When Versteeg found out about Kulikov's predicament, he "borrowed" a Panthers-issued blue towel and brought it over to the other side of the ice sheet.

"This is not ideal, not what anyone wants,'' said Versteeg, who isn't allowed to join his teammates in the unofficial workouts as he will still be paid during the lockout. "It's really good to come back and see everyone, talk about whats what and things going on with the lockout. Just to see everyone again has been great.''

Kulikov seemed amused by the towel incident and said he would make sure to bring his own for Wednesday's practice. And although it was a small moment, Kulikov's treatment is something players will have to get used to.

Last Friday, players were allowed to come and go as they pleased. After practice, they could leisurely head to the locker room and hang out in the players' lounge afterward.

On Monday, players found out things are a little bit different. The weight room, showers and locker room are off limits as is the parking lot. Players were seen parking in the main lot at the Coral Springs Iceplex as they hauled their gear to and from practice. The complex wouldn't allow players to store their equipment overnight.

"Today felt different, definitely,'' Weiss said. "We're over here now and carrying our gear every day makes it sink in a little bit. It's not a good feeling. We want to use our facilities and get this season going on time. It's too bad. We spent two weeks over there and now we're not allowed in. It does make you realize how good you have it. But at the same time this is part of the business. We'll be ready to go.''

The Panthers also wore plain red jerseys (the team supplied regular practice jerseys up until last week's final workout) and had their white helmets stripped of team decals and jersey numbers.

"You don't want to go through this, but we're all still working hard and hoping we'll be playing here soon,'' said Peter Mueller, signed by the Panthers in July.

Although players knew this day was coming -- the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players expired on Sunday -- it didn't mean there wasn't some bitterness.

This is the third time the NHL has locked out its players under commissioner Gary Bettman's watch.

The first lockout cost the league half of the 1994-95 season. The second cost the entire 2004-05 season -- the first time a North American professional sports league lost an entire season to a work stoppage.

How long will the impasse last? No one knows.

What is known is there is plenty of time for a deal to be done so teams can hold a training camp and a full 82-game schedule. Training camp wasn't going to open until Friday -- and it hasn't officially been called off as of Monday.

Florida's opening game against the Lightning is still scheduled for Oct. 13.

"To me, it was obvious how hard it was going to be to get a deal done,'' said Tomas Vokoun, the former Panthers goalie who signed a two-year deal with the Penguins earlier this summer.

"With the way Gary Bettman has handled every negotiation, this is no surprise to me. There is a race for public opinion on who is right and who is wrong, but the NHL grew revenue by 40 percent in seven years. There isn't a company anywhere, not even Socialist countries, who would ask their employees to take a pay cut after that. It makes no sense. They run this league. This is their business. .-.-. We all suffer from this. The players, fans and owners. Everyone except for Gary Bettman.''

ALL WET: Florida Panthers Practice Under Lockout Conditions (minus conditioner)

September 16, 2012

NHL REACHES OUT TO FANS: An 'Open' Letter

From the NHL:

Despite the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the National Hockey League has been, and remains, committed to negotiating around the clock to reach a new CBA that is fair to the Players and to the 30 NHL teams.

Thanks to the conditions fostered by seven seasons under the previous CBA, competitive balance has created arguably the most meaningful regular season in pro sports; a different team has won the Stanley Cup every year; fans and sponsors have agreed the game is at its best, and the League has generated remarkable growth and momentum. While our last CBA negotiation resulted in a seismic change in the League's economic system, and produced corresponding on-ice benefits, our current negotiation is focused on a fairer and more sustainable division of revenues with the Players -- as well as other necessary adjustments consistent with the objectives of the economic system we developed jointly with the NHL Players' Association seven years ago. Those adjustments are attainable through sensible, focused negotiation -- not through rhetoric.

This is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room. The League, the Clubs and the Players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible. We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans.

LOCKED OUT: Florida Panthers, Champion Kings with Most to Lose?

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The general consensus is there are two teams who will be most negatively affected by a prolonged NHL lockout: The Los Angeles Kings and Florida Panthers.

The Kings' successful run to their first Stanley Cup championship in their 45-year history captivated Southern California and a lengthy wait to raise that banner could affect their ability to capitalize on the moment.

In South Florida, the Panthers were retaking their spot in the marketplace. After a decade of futility and turnover, the Panthers are definitely trending north -- and fans are taking notice.

At midnight on Sunday, however, the NHL put the Panthers and Kings plans on hold for a little while by locking out its players for the third time since 1994. The last time there was a lockout, the entire 2004-05 season was lost -- and the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to build on its Stanley Cup win in 2004.

The Panthers may not have won it all like their rivals across the state, but there is definitely excitement surrounding this Florida team. Last year the Panthers won their first division title in franchise history and took the eventual Eastern Conference champion Devils to seven games in the opening round of the playoffs.

Florida helped itself last year by getting off to a good start as the Heat were locked out and the Dolphins and Hurricanes struggled. The Heat, the defending NBA champs, are back next month.

Any concern the Panthers will lose the momentum they gained? Oh yeah.

"We had a fun team to watch,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said last week. "Anytime you are dealing with professional sports, it's hard for most people to see the logic in these kind of negotiations. We're no different from the fans -- management, players, coaches. We have a great passion for the game, we care for the game. We want to keep stoking the fire and the enthusiasm we had for this team.''

Said goalie Jose Theodore: "We did accomplish a lot of things as a team. We did some things people didn't expect. We know what our potential is. We can't take a step back. Teams will be ready for us, but we know what we can do. We want to take things to the next level.''

In 2004-05, the battle with the players was systematic; the league argued that a salary cap was needed so small-market (and non-traditional market teams like Florida and Tampa Bay) could compete with the heavies. A salary cap was instituted and salaries rose.

The Panthers, a franchise which operates in the red, could actually be helped financially by a short-term work stoppage.

If the lockout wiped out the opening month, the Panthers would lose just three home games and would save big bucks by not paying salary nor paying for a long scheduled road trip Long Island, Winnipeg and Minnesota.

October is traditionally a tough sell for NHL teams around the league -- and especially in Florida.

Although Opening Night against the Lightning on Oct. 13 is expected to be a sellout, the Panthers would struggle to fill their cavernous arena against the New York Islanders, Columbus, Winnipeg and Ottawa in October/early November.

An NHL return by November would work out pretty good for the Panthers -- since that is the time of year when their attendance begins an upward trend.

Snowbirds usually bring better crowds in Sunrise -- and the Panthers have their annual Thanksgiving week homestand stacked with traditional draws the Rangers, Red Wings, Capitals and Flyers.

The Panthers are scheduled to raise their first team-related banner since 1996 on Opening Night against the Lightning. Florida's division title banner is expected to hang near its 1996 Eastern Conference championship flag originally raised at Miami Arena.

Before winning the division championship last season, the Panthers had missed the playoffs for an NHL-record 10 consecutive seasons over a span of 11 years.

"We had some sort of success last year and we're anxious to get back and start where we left off,'' said center Stephen Weiss, who was drafted by the Panthers in 2003.

"It is disappointing. But that's the nature of this business sometimes. These things need to be done and we'll be patient and make sure we'll get a deal that makes sense for both sides so we don't have to keep doing this every four or five years.''

The NHLPA came up with a unique proposal, one that caught the NHL by surprise. The players' union would reduce its share from NHL revenues with that money being put into a franchise-assistance fund which commissioner Gary Bettman would be in control of.

That money could help out franchises which need a little extra financial boost. While there is revenue sharing -- the Panthers are thought to have cashed league checks in each of the seven years of the CBA -- it is a complex system which teams cannot count on to be there from year to year.

The NHLPA's plan, however, would let teams know that money -- as much as $25 million per season -- would be there for them in the future. Teams would then know they could spend more money on player salaries and try and improve their lot.

The NHL, which has rejected the NHLPA's proposals outright, says the union's projections for continued revenue growth at 7 percent is too high and says teams like the Panthers will be fine if only from paying less salary.

The union feels there should be a better revenue sharing system with the big money franchises sharing more of the wealth. Teams like the Rangers and Bruins don't seem keen on helping out the likes of the Panthers and Hurricanes anymore than they already are. That, the union says, is a problem.

"Our proposal is for us to partner with the high-revenue teams to help out the teams which are hurting financially,'' said Mike Weaver, the Panthers' defenseman who serves as the team's union representative.

"Giving them a little help financially and from a business standpoint gives the whole league structure. We gave up some concessions to do this. We're not telling the high-revenue teams to foot the entire bill. We're partners. We're willing to help out.''

SUNDAY NO FUNDAY: NHL Locks Out Players for Third Time since 1994

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

There was no last second deal as the National Hockey League locked out its players for the third time since 1994 at midnight on Sunday.

The NHL and its players' association have had little to talk about the past few days as the proposals both have offered for a new collective bargaining agreement are far apart.

Although representatives from both sides spoke over the phone on Saturday, no formal negotiations took place.

"It takes two to negotiate. If [the owners] don't care what we have to say, a deal will never get done,'' Florida forward George Parros said on Thursday afternoon. "We need two parties to get something done. If it's falling on deaf ears, we're in trouble.''

Players are now barred from having any interaction with their clubs and, unless they are rehabilitating injuries suffered while playing, aren't allowed to use team facilities.

When a number of Panthers arrive at their training facility to continue their offseason workouts on Monday, they will likely find the key cards that get them into the rear parking lot and into the complex have been deactivated.

"We're going to be on our own,'' defenseman Tyson Strachan said with a smile. "We're professional athletes and it's on us to stay in shape as long as we're out. And we will.''

Players will still skate at the Coral Springs Iceplex on Monday morning, but they will do so without the use of their locker room or workout facilities. Players will likely come in side entrances and use locker rooms normally used by youth teams and beer league players.

"I think disappointment is the biggest feeling. We want to be playing, but we need an agreement that's strong for us and strong for the league,'' Strachan said.

"We're moving forward as a strong union for what we think is best for the league. Look at the other sports and how they negotiated. I can't say I'm surprised we've come to this yet there are record revenues being reported. We want to help grow the sport but we need a deal that helps us both.''

There are a number of differences in both proposals, but money is the issue here.

The NHLPA feels it made a number of concessions when the last CBA was signed in 2005 -- after the entire 2004-05 season was lost to a lockout -- and doesn't want to take many more.

The NHL, which rolled salaries back 24 percent and got a hard salary cap instituted in 2005, argues the players are taking too big of a cut from its revenue and wants to pare the players' piece of the action down considerably.

Players received about 57 percent of revenues created by the league; last year, the NHL brought in a record $3.3 billion in revenue as this season's salary cap was expected to be around $70 million.

The first salary cap in 2005-06 was $39 million -- less than what the current salary floor was last season. The Panthers, with a few moves left to make, already have $54 million committed to contracts for this coming season.

The current offer from owners gives players less than 50 percent of revenue.

"Hockey is poised to really move over the next few years to a fundamentally different place than it's been before," NHLPA boss Donald Fehr said Thursday.

"The question is whether the dispute we're having is going to screw that up. If so, that's bad and that's unfortunate. We ought to be doing what we can to avoid it."

The last time players were locked out, there was plenty of dissension among players as they scattered to play around the globe. Some players went off to Europe while others opted to stay home and play in lesser North American leagues.

There doesn't seem to be any sense of desperation on the players' part this time around for a number of reasons.

First, many think the two sides aren't as far apart as things appear. Secondly, thanks to an escrow payment plan instituted by the NHL in the previous CBA, players have money waiting for them. Unlike in 2005, decent sized checks will be arriving soon enough.

Sometime next month, players will be receiving escrow checks which equal eight percent of last year's salary.

"It's unfortunate that this had to happen what with the success the league is having,'' said former Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, now with Calgary. "You hate to see [the owners] go back to that well. It's another give-back and it doesn't solve anything because we'll be in the same spot a few years down the road. We're trying to fix the system so we have some stability.''

And, although the CBA expired Sept. 15, training camps weren't scheduled to open for another week. Teams around the league have cancelled rookie camps because of the lockout, yet training camp could theoretically open on time if a deal is struck this week.

Florida players such as Stephen Weiss and Dmitry Kulikov have spoke about finding a place to play if the lockout goes on for an extended period of time, yet others say they will continue to work out on their own and with other teammates who live in South Florida.

"If we're not going to start camp on time, it's disappointing, for sure,'' Weiss said. "We're all training all summer to be ready to play and if we don't get that opportunity, it's disappointing. But I'm optimistic that we'll get a deal done sooner than later. .-.-. There's smart enough people involved in this thing that I don't think it'll take too long.

"We just have to make sure whatever deal they do agree on, it makes sense for both sides and it will be lasting."

September 14, 2012

NOT READY ANYWAY: Versteeg, Gudbranson Would Have Missed Start of Training Camp with Injuries ... Kulikov Wants New Deal

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK -- Even if the Florida Panthers opened training camp as scheduled next week, they may have been missing a handful of regulars as Erik Gudbranson and Kris Versteeg is hurt and Dmitry Kulikov is still unsigned.

Kulikov's situation seems to be the easiest one to deal with.

The Panthers, who are scheduled to open camp with an on-ice workout on Sept. 22, can just sit back and hope Gudbranson and Versteeg get healthy again.

Versteeg, who is expected to get treatment from the Panthers during the lockout, said Thursday that he is still a few months away from being ready to play. Versteeg had hip surgery following Florida's exit from the postseason and he says doctors told him the recovery process would take four to six months.

Although both Versteeg and Gudbranson are injured, both will be treated differently if the lockout comes down as expected Sunday morning.

Because Versteeg was injured during the season, he won't technically be locked out.

Versteeg will be paid and will be allowed to use the Panthers facility until it is determined that he is healthy -- which won't be a problem if the work stoppage is short as some think it will be.

Versteeg says he will be at the Panthers' practice facility in Coral Springs on Monday but he isn't expected to skate.

Gudbranson, because he suffered a "non-hockey related injury," will be treated as any other player. Gudbranson is expected to be out for four months.

"I need to get myself ready and I'm not there yet,'' Versteeg said from the NHLPA meetings in New York.

"They say it's a four-to-six month process after the surgery and I'm getting there. I feel strong, but I am not ready for training camp. I'm just not. I am a few months away from being there.''

Kulikov spent his summer in his hometown of Lipetsk, Russia, and says he will join the Panthers' informal skate on Monday morning.

It has been an interesting offseason for Kulikov as what was thought to be normal contract negotiations with the team went awry.

Kulikov, 21, recently finished his third season with the Panthers after being the 14th overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Panthers own his rights for the next four years, so contract talks were thought to be little more than a formality.

Yet the two sides haven't been able to come to an agreement -- and with the new CBA coming, the Panthers haven't been in much of a hurry to get something done.

Kulikov said he would like to sign a new deal with the Panthers and expects to do so not long after the lockout ends.

"I was hoping to sign my deal pretty quick, as soon as the season was over,'' said Kulikov, who is entertaining the notion of playing in Russia during the lockout. "It doesn't concern me that it's taken this long. Florida may be taking its time because of the CBA. Maybe they are looking at other options. I don't know. I'm just waiting with them. But there's no concern.''

Kulikov has heard the internet chatter that question whether he wants to remain with the Panthers. Some have speculated that Kulikov would rather play in Russia than South Florida. He says that is far from the truth.

"There has never been a thought in my head that I would leave Florida. Never,'' Kulikov said. "I don't want to leave the NHL to play in Russia just because I don't have a deal. Anything can be discussed on both of our parts.

"We want some things and they want some things. There are no secrets. We can talk this out. There is plenty of time, especially since the season isn't starting when it was supposed to.''

-- Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has watched some of his players' informal workouts from the executive suite near the practice ice. Friday was the last day he'll be able to do that.

When the lockout is instituted, neither Dineen nor any of his assistants or staff members are allowed to have contact with the players. Those players are expected to skate on their own again Monday.

"The good part about our hockey team is we have that quality leadership,'' Dineen told reporters on Friday. "Ed Jovanovski and Stephen Weiss are out there and play such a prominent role on our team and know that players like that will have our team ready to go when the puck gets dropped.''

September 13, 2012

LOCKOUT COMING: NHL, Players Stand United In Split ... Deadline is Midnight on Saturday

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK -- Not long after nearly 300 players stood behind hockey union boss Donald Fehr in a show of solidarity did NHL commissioner Gary Bettman disclose all 30 of his owners are firmly behind the path he is taking.

Definitely not good news to those few hockey fans still hoping NHL players won't be locked out come Sunday morning.

Although Bettman repeatedly said he hoped a deal between the NHL and its player's association could be worked out by Saturday's midnight deadline, he sure didn't sound optimistic when he closed his comments to the media at a Times Square hotel by saying "I hope to see you soon and I hope it's with better news.''

The collective bargaining agreement the two sides have lived under the past seven seasons expires Saturday at midnight; Bettman has said the league will lockout its players for the third time since 1994 if a deal isn't reached by then.

No meetings between the two sides are scheduled.

The Panthers plan on having their first practice of training camp on Sept. 22. If the lockout goes through as expected, the Panthers -- as well as all other teams -- will be banned from having any contact with their players.

"We're standing behind our proposal and we want a fair deal. We're standing behind each other,'' said Florida Panthers winger Kris Versteeg.

"You can't predict anything. We have to take it day-by-day. But we're adamant about getting a deal done so we can play hockey. We have crazy support. The support we have in the NHL is pretty amazing.''

Said Fehr: "The players want to reach an agreement, provided it's one that is fair, equitable and treats them appropriately. .-.-. The subject of their possibly being a lockout coming at 12:01 Sunday morning has come up. We had a discussion about that. That is a choice being made. No one has to do it.''

On Thursday, Bettman said a show of hands from the 30 team representatives at the Board of Governors meeting was called in support of Bettman.

Bettman said the vote, which he noted wasn't necessary for a lockout to be called, was unanimous. The NHLPA has said a season could start on time under the old CBA giving the two sides more time to negotiate. Bettman, who criticized the union for there "not being any urgency to get a deal done,'' said that will not happen.

"No one wants a deal and to play hockey more than I do,'' Bettman said when asked what he would tell fans about yet another lockout under his watch. "This is what I do, what my life is about as far as how I spend most of my waking hours. This is really hard. .-.-. I feel terrible about it.''

The two sides sound far apart in their negotiations, yet not as dire as it was in 2004 when an entire season was lost. Then, the NHL drastically cut players' pay and instituted a salary cap. Although the players appeared to have lost badly in the previous deal, things have worked out pretty good for both sides over the course of the pact.

The first salary cap for the 2005-06 season was $39 million; it was expected to be $70 million in 2012-13. The average player made $1.4 million in 2005-06. Last year, the average NHL player made $1 million more.

"The thought then was they got slammed,'' Bettman said. "We made a fair deal, one that ended up being more fair than it should have been.''

The NHL was in bad financial shape during the last lockout, yet things have improved.

Not only has the NHL grown in popularity -- which led to a new 10-year television deal in the U.S. -- but the league had record revenues of $3 billion last season. Players received 57 percent of hockey-related revenue in the previous CBA, a cut of the money the league wants to significantly reduce.

The NHLPA says the league is growing its revenue at about seven percent per season, a number it bases its proposals on. Bettman said Thursday that number is inflated as it relies too heavily on the rapid growth of the Canadian dollar, the wildly successful relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg and the new television deal.

The initial offer from the league was that the two sides flip, with the league taking 57 percent of the revenue and players getting 43 percent. Although players called that offer comical, Bettman defended it on Thursday.

Bettman not only compared the NHL's first offer to those of the NFL and NBA, but added the owners take all the risk in running their teams as well as covering things like travel and equipment for players and should have a higher percentage of the hockey revenue pie.

"The NBA's first offer was 40.5 percent and the NFL -- coming off 60 percent -- their first offer was 45,'' he asked. "So we were within range of what other unions bargained against and ultimately resolved. If you think 43 percent is unfair, remember [itals] we [itals] have been getting 43 percent to run everything and pay the expenses.''

The two sides are a little closer these days, although it doesn't look like much has happened to bridge the remaining gap.

At 1:30 on Thursday afternoon, the large group of players gathered in New York filed into a fifth floor ballroom at the Marriott Marquis. Then Fehr came in and answered questions from the large media throng. Just under two hours later and two blocks away, Bettman met with the same media at the Crowne Plaza.

Both Fehr and Bettman have spun the issues but the bottom line is: money will be the deciding factor. How much the union decides to surrender from its last pact with the league probably weighs heaviest on how long this impasse will last.

"We're all on the same page and I feel great about that,'' said George Parros, the enforcer Florida signed away from Anaheim in July. "We all want a deal done so we can play hockey. And we're going to stay strong until that happens. We're willing to talk and negotiate to get a deal done.''

-- The Panthers were represented at the NHLPA meetings by Versteeg, Parros, Dmitry Kulikov and Tyson Strachan.

-- With the lockout looming, the Panthers assigned eight more players to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio after they cleared waivers. Those players included Mike Caruso, Casey Wellman and Nolan Yonkman.

September 12, 2012

Where Will Luongo Land? Former #FlaPanthers Goalie Heads Back to Vancouver

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

With his large Vancouver Canucks hockey bag slung over one shoulder, goalie Roberto Luongo walked out of the Panthers facility Monday morning.

"See you next week,'' Luongo told a member of the Coral Springs Iceplex's staff before heading out the door.

Luongo flew to Vancouver on Tuesday to participate in the Canucks' charity golf tournament and continue his informal offseason workouts with his teammates.

If the NHL owners lockout their players as expected come Saturday night, Luongo plans to continue his workouts back in South Florida.

So, once Luongo leaves Vancouver, will he return?

"I have no idea what is going to happen,'' he said.

Luongo, who played with Florida from 2000-05, wants to return to the Panthers. It appears there is mutual interest. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon spoke to the Canucks about a potential trade in June, but talks have cooled.

The Canucks are said to want a number of Florida's top young players in return for Luongo; the Panthers aren't interested in parting with any of their future building blocks. Nothing will happen on the trade front until labor issues are settled.

For Luongo, it appears his time in Vancouver is over.

Once one of the Canucks' most popular players, Luongo's reputation has taken a beating over the past few years. Luongo struggled in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals -- one in which Boston won with a 4-0 Game 7 victory in Vancouver -- and that carried over into last season.

Luongo was replaced by backup Cory Schnieder in last season's opening round loss to the Kings. Schnieder then signed a three-year deal worth $12 million all but making him the Canucks' starting goalie. There really isn't room for both. Luongo will likely move on.

"This is a business. You see these things happen when you are in the game long enough,'' Luongo said.

With a no-trade clause in a monster contract that has 10 years left at a cap hit of $5.3 million per, the Canucks just can't trade him anywhere.

There had been reports Luongo told general manager Mike Gillis he would accept a trade to the Panthers, Toronto or Chicago. Luongo denied that, saying that Gillis has not asked him for a list of teams he would play for.

Luongo did say he told Gillis, without prompting, that he would prefer a trade back to the Sunshine State.

"You never want to be traded. You want to have success with the team you are with,'' Luongo said. "I have some control but I'm not a free agent by any means. At some point I'm going to have to make a decision. Of course, Florida is a spot I would like to end up. But there will be options out there. I have to be careful to make the right decision.''

Luongo, a Montreal native, has made his home in South Florida after meeting wife Gina while playing for the Panthers. Their oldest daughter is currently enrolled in school down here as Luongo is uncertain what will happen with the lockout and his status with the Canucks.

"I don't know what to expect. I'm just treating this as a regular start to a season,'' Luongo said. "For me, things are the same. I'm going back to Vancouver and I'm going to work hard. There are things I don't control. But I'm going to make the best of it.

"Of course this is strange. I don't know what the future holds. You don't know when a trade will happen or whether it even will. There have been some stressful moments. But I'm still here, doing the job I love.''

Florida traded Luongo to the Canucks on the eve of the 2005 NHL Draft which was being held in Vancouver.

It was a trade in which the Panthers got fleeced. While the Canucks got a goalie who helped lead them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011, Florida got a solid defenseman in Bryan Allen and not much else. Todd Bertuzzi, the cornerstone of the deal in then-GM Mike Keenan's mind, played just seven games with the Panthers because of a back injury. Goalie Alex Auld spent just one season here.

The Panthers traded Bertuzzi to Detroit for prospect Shawn Matthias, who has blossomed into a strong bottom six center for Florida. Ironically, Matthias' name has come up in the Luongo trade rumors as one who may go west if a trade does go down.

The trade cost Keenan his job as he was fired on Labor Day 2005 and replaced as GM by then-coach Jacques Martin. When asked by the Miami Herald's Dan LeBatard in 2007 whether the Luongo trade was "the worst trade in the history of your sport,'' Martin laughed and agreed.

For now, the Panthers plan to go into the season with the same goaltending that helped win them the Southeast Division championship last year.

While Luongo has been working out on the opposite side of the facility with amateur players, Scott Clemmensen and Jose Theodore have been on the ice with past and current members of the Panthers -- including former Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun -- preparing for the season.

Although Luongo would be welcomed at the informal workouts, he has avoided the awkwardness that might bring. Luongo has worked out earlier in the morning, leaving just as the Panthers are taking the ice.

Theodore and Clemmensen have heard the rumors. It doesn't seem to bother them. Theodore, like Luongo, has a no-trade clause in his contract. Theodore has one year left in his deal and it doesn't seem like he would waive it to be a part of a potential deal for Luongo.

Clemmensen, however, has no such protection. Even though he recently signed a two-year deal with the Panthers, if the Canucks need a goalie in return, Clemmensen could be headed west.

"There are always rumors and you understand that when you sign a pro contract, we don't have the luxury of job security,'' Clemmensen said. "You want stability and don't want those question marks. But it's part of the job.''


Where Will Luongo Land? Former #FlaPanthers Goalie Heads Back to Vancouver

September 10, 2012

#FlaPanthers Notebook: Gudbranson Has Shoulder Surgery ... Lockout Plans for Panthers, Luongo ... Another New Name for The Billboard

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Just a few news and notes from the Panthers on the final week in which players are welcome at their training facility in Coral Springs.

The lockout is expected to be official come Sunday -- and players who want to work out in South Florida will have to do so on their own.

Word is, informal practices will continue next Monday with three day a week schedules through the lockout.

Players will rent the ice from the Panthers but will not be allowed to use the team's locker rooms, weight rooms, etc. Players will also not be allowed to have any contact with coaches or team staff.

The Panthers will be back on the ice Wednesday and Friday at 10 a.m. this week.

Today's attendees included Jack Skille, Jose Theodore, Scott Clemmensen, Mike Weaver, Tyson Strachan, Tomas Kopecky, Stephen Weiss and a handful of others.

-- The big news today was that defenseman Erik Gudbranson was injured during offseason training and had surgery on his shoulder on Thursday. The Panthers aren't saying how Gudbranson got hurt or how long he will be out.

Expect it to be for quite some time, however. Skille told me he was off the ice for 3 1/2 months after his surgery.

Am trying to reach out to Erik to get his thoughts on things.

Word is, the Panthers were planning on having Gudbranson start the season with their AHL affiliate in San Antonio. With eight NHL defensemen on the roster -- including the unsigned Dmitry Kuikov -- it's very possible Gudbranson may have spent part of the regular season (at the end of the lockout) with the Rampage.

And that still may happen. According to the Skille timetable, Gudbranson probably won't be ready to play again until January. We should be playing NHL hockey by then.

-- Roberto Luongo held his final workout of the pre-Lockout offseason at Coral Springs. He flies to Vancouver tomorrow. Luongo is expected to be back in South Florida next week. Whether he returns to Vancouver after that, however, still remains to be seen.

The Panthers are still considered the favorite to land the All-Star goalie once the lockout ends. Nothing will happen until then.

Luongo has not given the Canucks a list of the five teams he would accept a trade too because he said GM Mike Gillis has not asked him for one. Luongo did say he told Gillis that coming back to Florida is his preferred option.

Panthers goalie Jose Theodore has one year left under contract and has a no-trade clause in his contract. It's doubtful he would waive it to go back to Vancouver in a potential trade.

Scott Clemmensen, who signed a two-year deal with Florida on July 1, has no such clause.

-- The Panthers arena has another new name -- but this should be the last change for some time.

While everyone knew BB&T would take over the naming rights after acquiring BankAtlantic, the Panthers announced today that the bank signed a 10-year deal with the team for the naming rights.

So, get used to the BB&T Center.


#FlaPanthers Notebook: Gudbranson Has Shoulder Surgery ... Lockout Plans for Panthers, Luongo ... Another New Name for The Billboard