« January 16, 2013 | Main | January 19, 2013 »

7 posts from January 18, 2013

January 18, 2013

NHL OPENING SATURDAY NIGHT: Carolina Hurricanes at Florida Panthers


Who: Carolina Hurricanes at Florida Panthers

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T/BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

Tickets: Close to sold out; visit floridapanthers.com or stubhub.com

Parking: $20 for non-season ticket holders

Giveaway: All fans receive a mini Southeast Division banner

The series: Carolina leads 48-39-11; Florida won 5 of 6 last season

The game: The Panthers needed to beat the Hurricanes in the final game of last season to win the Southeast Division. Florida did so and the banner from that win goes into the rafters during a pregame ceremony. Florida lost D Jason Garrison and RW Mikael Samuelsson to free agency over the summer but, aside from additions like forwards Peter Mueller, Alex Kovalev and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida looks a lot like last year's version. Carolina looked to improve itself by signing Washington's Alexander Semin as well as trading for Jordan Staal. Those two join captain Eric Staal to create perhaps the most dynamic line in the division.




Ht., Wt.: 5-11, 200
Age: 29
Hometown: Helsinki, Finland
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 8/2
Remaining contract*: 3 years @ $2.75 million
Bergenheim will miss the start of the season after getting hurt playing in Finland during the lockout. One of Florida's nice surprises last year with 17 goals in 62 games. Bergenheim is suspended without pay until he is medically cleared to play.

Ht., Wt.: 6-1, 192
Age: 28
Hometown: Koprivnice, Czech Republic
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 8/2
Remaining contract: 3 years @ $4.5 million
Florida's leading scorer last year, Fleischmann proved to be durable as he played in all 82 games as well as seven in the playoffs. His 24 goals were a career-high.

Ht., Wt.: 6-1, 205
Age: 29
Hometown: Calw, Germany
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 8/2
Remaining contract: 2 years @ $1.7 million
A strong puck moving center, Goc will start the season in the injured list after being hurt during the lockout. Florida had him pegged as its No. 2 center after getting 27 assists last year. Goc is suspended without pay until he is medically cleared to play. Goc is expected to be back practicing next week.

Ht., Wt.: 6-1, 173
Age: 19
Hometown: St. Jerome, Quebec
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 1/1
Remaining contract: 3 years @ $3.2 million
The third overall pick in 2011, Huberdeau led Florida in scoring last preseason but was sent back to junior. The Panthers expect big things from Huberdeau as he is on their second line.

Ht., Wt.: 6-3, 200
Age: 31
Hometown: Ilava, Slovakia
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 7/2
Remaining contract: 3 years @ $3 million
A two-time Cup champ with Detroit and Chicago, Kopecky was durable and dependable for the Panthers last year. Playing in 80 games, Kopecky had 32 points.

Ht., Wt.: 6-2, 222
Age: 39
Hometown: Togliatti, Russia
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 19/1
Remaining contract: 1 year @ $1 million
A member of the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team, Kovalev brings a wealth of experience to the Panthers' second line. Kovalev spent last season in the KHL.

Ht., Wt.: 6-2, 213
Age: 24
Hometown: Mississauga, Ontario
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 5/5
Remaining contract: 1 year @ $850,000
Florida's third line center, Matthias had a strong season by scoring a career-high 10 goals as he played in 79 games. Matthias should shoot more with Kopecky up front.

Ht., Wt.: 6-2, 205
Age: 24
Hometown: Bloomington, Minn.
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 6/1
Remaining contract: 1 year @ $1.7 million
A talented forward, Mueller just needs to stay healthy. Mueller, who is centering Florida's second line, has missed a lot of time with concussions. He has 55 goals in 254 games.

Ht., Wt.: 6-5, 230
Age: 33
Hometown: Washington, Pa.
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 8/1
Remaining contract: 2 years @ $938,000
One of the top enforcers in the league, Parros brings a presence whenever he is on the ice. Parros spent the past six season with the Anaheim Ducks.

Ht., Wt.: 6-0, 189
Age: 26
Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 5/3
Remaining contract: 1 year @ $1.6 million
Santorelli had a disappointing season last year after scoring 20 goals in 2010-11 and getting a two-year deal from the Panthers. Florida plans to use Santorelli as its 13th forward at least for now.

Ht., Wt.: 6-1, 205
Age: 25
Hometown: Madison, Wisc.
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 5/3
Remaining contract: 1 year @ $825,000
Skille missed big chunks of last season with shoulder injuries, the final one costing him the final 15 games of the regular season. Skille had four goals in 46 games last year.

Ht., Wt.: 6-3, 210
Age: 33
Hometown: Vernon, British Columbia
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 10/2
Remaining contract: 1 years @ $800,000
Smithson came to the Panthers in a late-season deal with Nashville and scored a goal with two assists in 15 games. The Panthers have him centering their fourth line.

Ht., Wt.: 6-0, 200
Age: 29
Hometown: Fort McMurray, Alberta
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 8/2
Remaining contract: 3 years @ $3.5 million
A sports hernia cost Upshall all but 26 games last season as he scored a career-low two goals with three assists. Upshall was better once healthy and had a goal with two assists in the playoffs.

Ht., Wt.: 5-10, 180
Age: 26
Hometown: Lethbridge, Alberta
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 6/2
Remaining contract: 4 years @ $4.4 million
Versteeg has seemingly found a home with the Panthers as he secured a long-term deal after having a career-high 54 points. Versteeg also scored 23 goals on Florida's top line.

Ht., Wt.: 5-11, 180
Age: 29
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 11/11
Remaining contract: 1 year @ $3.1 million
A free agent after this season, Weiss finally made the playoffs last year as he scored 20 goals with 37 assists. Florida's all-time leader in games played, Weiss had three goals in the postseason.

Ht., Wt.: 6-4, 200
Age: 22
Hometown: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 2/1
Remaining contract: 2 years @ $650,000
A fourth-round pick of the Lightning in 2008, Wright has played in 49 NHL games -- all with Tampa Bay. Florida picked him up in a trade last year and he has five goals with AHL San Antonio this year.


Ht., Wt: 5-11, 185
Age: 33
Hometown: Strathroy, Ontario
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 11/2
Remaining contract: 4 years @ $7.14 million
The first defenseman to win the Lady Byng Trophy since the 1950s, Campbell led the league in ice time with just three penalties. Campbell played in all 89 games and finished second among d-men with 53 points.

Ht., Wt.: 6-2, 190
Age: 24
Hometown: Mississaugua, Ontario
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 1/1
Remaining contract: 1 year @ $600,000
Now in his sixth season with the Panthers organization, Caruso may get his chance because of injuries on Florida's blueline. Caruso had four points in 32 games at AHL San Antonio.

Ht., Wt.: 6-4, 200
Age: 23
Hometown: Strathmore, Alberta
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 4/4
Remaining contract: 1 year at $700,000
Florida's seventh defenseman much of last season, Ellerby could see more playing time this year. As it was, Ellerby played in 40 games last season and notched five assists.

Ht., Wt.: 6-4, 195
Age: 20
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 2/2
Remaining contract: 2 years @ $900,000
Gudbranson injured his shoulder wakeboarding in over the summer and was suspended by the team during the lockout. Gudbranson had a strong postseason -- and led Florida in hits during the regular season. Gudbranson is practicing with the team and could start the season on a rehab assignment with AHL San Antonio.

Ht., Wt.: 6-1, 183
Age: 22
Hometown: Lipetsk, Russia
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 4/4
Remaining contract: TBA
Kulikov may play in Saturday's opener against the Hurricanes if he gets everything cleared with his contract. Kulikov spent the lockout playing for his youth club in Russia.

Ht., Wt.: 6-3, 218
Age: 36
Hometown: Windsor, Ontario
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 17/6
Remaining contract: 3 years @ $4.15 million
'JovoCop' played in 66 games last season after missing time with a broken hand. Jovanovski had a strong postseason for the Panthers and had seven hits and three blocked shots in Game 2.

Ht., Wt.: 6-4, 226
Age: 36
Hometown: Ostrava, Czech Republic
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 13/3
Remaining contract: 2 years @ $4 million
Kuba played in parts of two seasons with the Panthers -- who drafted him in 1995 -- before trading him in 2000. Kuba is a strong veteran player who will initially be paired with Campbell.

Ht., Wt.: 6-4, 206
Age: 20
Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 1/1
Remaining contract: 3 years @ $870,000
Petrovic made his pro debut last spring during the AHL playoffs and could see playing time with the Panthers early on this season. Petrovic had 12 points in 35 games with San Antonio.

Ht., Wt.: 6-3, 215
Age: 28
Hometown: Melfort, Saskatchewan
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 4/2
Remaining contract: 1 year @ $600,000
Strachan did a good job on a fill-in basis for the Panthers last season to earn a spot on this year's team. Strachan spent the lockout playing in San Antonio.

Ht., Wt.: 5-9, 186
Age: 34
Hometown: Bramalea, Ontario
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 11/3
Remaining contract: One of the Panthers most dependable defensemen, Weaver played in all 89 games last season. Weaver, whose 16 assists were a career-high, led the team in blocked shots.


Ht., Wt.: 6-3, 205
Age: 35
Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 11/4
Remaining contract: 2 years @ $1.2 million
Clemmensen helped the Panthers out numerous times last season -- most especially during the playoffs when he was forced into service. Clemmensen went 14-6-6 and signed a new deal in the summer.

Ht., Wt.: 5-11, 181
Age: 36
Hometown: Laval, Quebec
NHL seasons/With Panthers: 15/2
Remaining contract: 1 year @ $1.5 million
Theodore had a strong bounce-back year for the Panthers as he notched three shutouts -- not including one in the playoffs against the Devils. Theodore went 22-16-11 with a 2.46 GAA.

(*) Salary numbers are based on cap hits (average over length of contract) and not actual money paid out by the Panthers with exception of rookie (Gudbranson, Huberdeau) contracts which have higher cap hits. Contract money is also based on a full season, not an abbreviated 48-game slate like in 2013.

READY FOR MORE: #FlaPanthers Go on Defensive, Try to Repeat in the Southeast

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The last time the Panthers hoisted a banner to the ceiling to celebrate an on-ice accomplishment, those rafters belonged to the Miami Arena.

Florida hasn't been able to celebrate much of anything since winning the Eastern Conference finals and heading to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals. On Saturday, the Panthers add a second banner to the rafters as the 2011-12 Southeast Division championship flag is flown for the first time.

The Panthers, who ended a decade-long drought by winning their first divisional title last year, enter this abbreviated 48-game season as the hunted. To say the franchise isn't used to this role is understated.

"We won the division in Washington and teams within the division mention it. They want to knock off the champions,'' goalie Jose Theodore said.

"Teams come prepared. In the first half last year, I think we surprised some people. In the second half, we didn't. Teams played us much harder. They will from the start this year. We need to be ready. It's not going to be easy. There are no days off.''

The Panthers come into the 2013 season looking much like they did in 2012. The Panthers' season ended last year when New Jersey ended a classic first-round series by winning Game 7 in double overtime.

Florida didn't lose much from that team save for the booming slap shot of defenseman Jason Garrison (left for Vancouver) and the gritty play of Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit).

The Panthers bring back their two goalies (Theodore and Scott Clemmensen), potentially added some scoring punch in 39-year-old Alex Kovalev, Peter Mueller and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau as well as replaced Garrison with veteran Filip Kuba.

"Look around this room,'' Mueller said the other day. "I'm telling you, we have some talent here.''

Yet the Panthers aren't picked by many to repeat as Southeast Division champions.

"If you watch some of the preseason shows, which I do, you can get a feel for where other teams are,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "I don't think we're looked upon too highly around the league. That is fine. We're used to that. We're going to start in Game 1 and move forward from there.''

The Panthers played a gritty style of hockey last season as they took the third overall seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs despite ending the season ranked 27th in goals and lost more overtime games (18) than any other team in the league.

Florida hope it helped its shootout problems by adding specialists Kovalev and Mueller while expecting similar production from players like Tomas Fleischmann, Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg as all three put up career offensive numbers.

The Panthers also hope for more from Scottie Upshall and Jack Skille as both spent big chunks of last season on the injured list.

On Saturday, last year gets put in the past. The Panthers are going to enjoy the pregame ceremony for a second -- then reality will hit them square in the jaw. Carolina, a team the Panthers beat five of six times last season, has a revamped roster in hopes of making sure the Panthers don't repeat.

"We don't have the elephant in the room that we did in previous years and that can free you up a little bit,'' Stephen Weiss said referring to the Panthers' NHL record for postseason drought.

"We will enjoy on the ceremony for a minute, reflect on last season and then we move on. We're going to focus on this season and the challenges of this season. We want to do it again.''

#FlaPanthers Friday Notebook: Kulikov Signed, Could Play in Place of Weaver v Hurricanes ... Versteeg Questionable, Santorelli In? ... Cats Lose Wright to Jets ... Hello Michael Caruso

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a two-year deal and will likely use him in Saturday's home opener.

Kulikov's contract was submitted to the NHL before Friday's 5 p.m. deadline and should be approved Saturday.

Dineen said he's not worried about Kulikov's physical shape and says Kulikov knows the Florida system well enough that he can be thrown into game action at a moments notice.

"I'm taking every option I have to help us win,'' Dineen said.

Mike Weaver, Dineen said, suffered a slight concussion during Wednesday's scrimmage and is questionable for Saturday. That allowed Mike Caruso to make Florida's 23-man roster to start the season. Rookie Alex Petrovic was sent back to San Antonio.

"I've been thinking about this day for a long time,'' said Caruso, who is in his fifth year within the Panthers organization but has yet to make his NHL debut. "I've worked hard at it, have been putting in the time. This would be a dream come true. I've felt ready for this. It's just a matter of getting my foot in the door.''

-- Center Mike Santorelli cleared waivers Friday and could be in the lineup against the Hurricanes. Winger Kris Versteeg left the ice during Friday's practice and is questionable.

Florida did lose winger James Wright -- who has a one-way deal for next season -- to Winnipeg as the Jets claimed him off waivers. The Panthers planned to assign Wright to AHL San Antonio.

-- Veteran winger Alex Kovalev signed a one-year deal with the Panthers worth around $600,000 after being pro-rated because of the lockout. Kovalev spent last season in the KHL after splitting the 2010-11 season with Ottawa and Pittsburgh.

The 39-year-old Kovalev is the last remaining active player from the 1994 Stanley Cup champion Rangers.

"It's been a long time. I didn't think I would get another chance to play in the NHL after I left for Russia,'' Kovalev said. "I kept my hopes alive and this is where I want to finish my career. I'm glad this organization gave me a chance.''

CAPTAIN JOVO COP: #FlaPanthers Name Ed Jovanovski 7th Team Captain

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Ed Jovanovski came into the locker room after Friday morning's practice, an issue of The Hockey News from 1994 was plastered on the team's dry erase board.

Jovanovski, then just two days past his 18th birthday, was featured on the cover squeezing an orange -- celebrated by the magazine as the top pick of the 1994 NHL draft by the Panthers.

Now 36, Jovanovski has come far since that photo was taken.

On Friday, he was named captain of the team that drafted him 19 years ago.

"I think it's every kid's dream at some point to captain a team,'' said Jovanovski, who becomes Florida's seventh captain in franchise history and first since Bryan McCabe was traded to the Rangers in 2011.

"I've been very fortunate to be an assistant captain throughout my career. To be a captain here is special. This is the team that drafted me, I began my career here. This is the team I'm looking to finish with.''

Florida played without a captain last season as coach Kevin Dineen decided to go with four alternate captains in Jovanovski, Stephen Weiss, Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky. Dineen said he chose Jovanovski over Weiss. Campbell and Weiss will serve as assistant captains.

Dineen announced the captaincy when he gathered the team around him at the end of Friday's workout at BB&T Center. Jovanovski's teammates banged their sticks on the ice afterward and surrounded him to offer their congratulations.

"We're definitely happy for Jovo. He deserves it,'' Weiss said.

CAPTAIN JOVO COP: #FlaPanthers Name Ed Jovanovski 7th Team Captain

#FlaPanthers Thursday Notebook: Kulikov Deal Reportedly Done ... Santorelli Waived, Kovalev In ... Open Practice at the Arena

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers are on the verge of signing restricted free agent Dmitry Kulikov to a two-year deal as reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Assistant general manager Mike Santos said Thursday evening that a deal was not done as of yet.

"There are a lot of hoops to jump through,'' he said.

Kulikov, 22, is expected to take his physical on Friday and could be added to the active roster and play Saturday against Carolina.

Without Kulikov, Florida could be looking at starting the season shorthanded.

Although Ed Jovanovski was back at practice Wednesday after missing two days, Mike Weaver was out after apparently pulling something during Wednesday's scrimmage. "He's a question mark on the very short-term,'' Dineen said.

The Panthers are also looking at starting the season without Erik Gudbranson as he recovers from shoulder surgery performed in Sept.

Rookie Alex Petrovic could stick around as the seventh defenseman in case Kulikov or Weaver isn't ready to go.

-- The Panthers trimmed the roster by sending five players (Quinton Howden, Jacob Markstrom, Jon Rheault, Colby Robak and Drew Shore) back to AHL San Antonio.

Florida also released veteran Marek Svatos from his try out and placed Mike Santorelli on waivers.

The Panthers have to be at 23 players by 3 p.m. but could have Gudbranson, Marcel Goc and Sean Bergenheim start the season on injured reserve.

Florida will sign 39-year-old Alex Kovalev to a one-year deal on Friday.

-- Florida will hold its final workout of the abbreviated training camp Friday -- and will do so at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. The public is invited to attend the free event at the arena.

The Panthers haven't been in their locker room since losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to the Devils in April. Dineen still has the Devils' lineup written on the dry erase board inside his arena office.

"It's been a long time. I went to a boxing match [at the arena], saw Neil Diamond,'' Dineen said. "But it will be good to see our guys on that ice.''

-- The Panthers said less than 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday's season opener against Carolina.

-- When, Where: Friday, 10 a.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
-- Admission: Free
-- Directions: The BB&T Center, formerly the BankAtlantic Center, is located on 136th Ave. across from the Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise.
-- Season Opener: Saturday vs. Carolina; BB&T Center, Sunrise, 7:30 p.m.

LINE DANCE: #FlaPanthers Hope for Big Things From New Fourth Line

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The New Jersey Devils showed just how valuable a fourth line can be as the trio of Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta combined for 10 goals and 21 assists to help Pete DeBoer's squad reach the Stanley Cup Finals last summer.

The Panthers can only hope to have such success with an all-new fourth unit this season as newcomer George Parros joins center Jarred Smithson and left winger Jack Skille.

Coincidentally, Carter played for the Panthers before being waived last season; Bernier was let go by the Panthers after the 2010-11 season.

Although Skille and Smithson were with the Panthers last year, they never played together as Skille was out with a shoulder injury when Smithson came over in a trade with Nashville.

Despite the newness of the group, the trio looks like they've been playing together for a long time.

"They are big bodies and they all can skate,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "They give us some heftiness which you like to have. You can have a lot of big guys, but if they can't skate, you're going to be in trouble. I like that each of them can play a specific role and they've developed a little chemistry.''

Said Skille: "We all play north-south hockey and don't take too many risks. We want to be an energy line and keep things simple. We're going to use our body, amp the team up.''

Last season was a frustrating one for as he was shelved three different times due to a shoulder injury and was limited to 46 games. The final injury, which came on March 9, knocked him out for the rest of the season and cost him trip to the playoffs.

Skille said Thursday that the shoulder felt good as he played a little during the lockout in Norway to test it out. Skille also worked out at the University of Wisconsin and came into camp in excellent shape.

"I was ready to go but I used the [lockout] time to my advantage,'' Skille said. "I really gave my shoulder a good test in Norway. Then I worked on things I need to be better at.''