BY GEORGE RICHARDS
Because of a lockout currently in its fourth month, the Panthers haven't played at all this season.
Their players are scattered around North America and Europe. Some have decided to remain in South Florida as they practice three times a week in an effort to stay in game shape should this thing end anytime soon.
For the most part, head coach Kevin Dineen and his staff have remained in town, dutifully going into the office each morning.
"I have enough fishing stories,'' Dineen says, "to last a lifetime.''
Some days are spent breaking down video of opponents, others spent evaluating players who are with the team's minor league affiliate in San Antonio.
And some days are dedicated to golf. Or the day there was a pick up game on the ice just steps from their desks in Coral Springs. Or even, in assistant Craig Ramsay's case, a nice trip with the grandkids to Disney World.
"This is different, that's for sure,'' Ramsay said. "But we have a great training staff who are around, the coaches are around. There are enough guys where you can come in, grab a coffee, chat with the boys and get a workout in. I've found ways to stay busy. I've repeated some of the video for sure.''
So although the Panthers were supposed to be in Boston last Saturday night, kicking off a four-game road trip that would have stopped in Washington, New York and Ottawa, their coaches were home in South Florida.
Instead of facing the Bruins, Dineen was in bed early Saturday night as he was on the road at 6 a.m. on Sunday to drive across to Florida's west coast for a pair of youth hockey games in Estero featuring sons William and Declan. Daughter Emma, 15, also had a soccer game on Sunday.
"I've seen more of her games this year than I have in the last three years combined,'' Dineen said.
Ramsay didn't seem to miss chilly Boston as he took in the Winterfest boat parade in Fort Lauderdale. Gord Murphy, another of Dineen's assistants, watched his son Connor play a Canadian junior game on his computer at home.
With Christmas coming, the Panthers offices will be a little quieter than usual as the coaching staff uses this rare downtime to spend with the family.
Dineen is leaving for New England on Wednesday morning and will finally be on the ice running a practice that afternoon. Dineen says he's excited to run the practice at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire where daughter Hannah is a senior forward.
Dineen has stayed in ice shape as he skates some mornings with William, a sixth-grader on the North Broward Prep middle school team.
"I've really enjoyed that. It's awesome'' Dineen said. "I'm in the office at 6:50 a.m. and they skate at 7:30. It's right here, so it works out great. I've really been able to spend some quality time with the kids. I have taken advantage of the down time.''
If Connor Murphy makes the U.S. junior national team roster -- and the lockout is still ongoing -- Gord Murphy plans to travel to the World Junior tournament in Russia later this month to watch him play.
"This is a roller coaster of emotions we're all riding,'' said Gord Murphy, who has been part of four lockouts as a player and coach.
"You think things are going to be settled and get excited. Then you hear other things and you are down again. There are a lot of peaks and valleys. You would think over the years you would get used to it. But you don't.''
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went through the same uncertainty last year when the NBA locked out its players.
Spoelstra said he had plenty of work to do -- the Heat were coming off a loss to Dallas in the NBA Finals -- but still needed to find the motivation to come in and work day after day.
"The toughest part about it was not knowing when or if it was going to end,'' Spoelstra said. "We burned through double-digit plans because things kept getting pushed back. There is no real way to prepare for it. Thankfully we had a team that had been together. There was familiarity when we came back.''
Like Spoelstra, Dineen says he'll be ready if/when his lockout ends. Sitting on Dineen's desk is a folder with each day of training camp mapped out.
If the lockout ends Wednesday -- which is extremely unlikely -- Dineen would buy a plane ticket home and be back at work Thursday.
"We're keeping busy but we're not coming in here every day and staring at each other,'' said Dineen, whose dry erase board in his office at the BB&T Center is frozen in time as it still lists the lineups from Game 7 against the Devils -- Florida's final game of 2012.
"We'll be ready to go. We're more than ready to go. We are impatiently waiting for our next move.''