BY GEORGE RICHARDS
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.''