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33 posts from September 2013

September 29, 2013

SEASON ON THE HORIZON: Panthers Take Day Off, Back on Monday ... Robak, Crabb on Waivers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Training camp ended for the Florida Panthers as soon as the team skated off the ice Saturday night in celebrating a 5-3 exhibition victory over visiting Tampa Bay.

When the team reports to practice Monday morning in Coral Springs, opening night becomes the lone focus.

Florida opens its 2013-14 season Thursday night against the host Dallas Stars.

"We felt like we accomplished things coaching-wise but there are areas we need to tidy up and keep working on,'' coach Kevin Dineen said.

With the introduction of new owners and the addition of a few new players in camp, Dineen says he "likes the vibe" around his team.

"I like the tempo, the tenor of our group,'' Dineen said. "We're all speaking the same language. We understand when things weren't going well, it wasn't one man, but it's a team effort.''

The Panthers still have some work before heading to Texas. On Sunday, the Panthers took another step in finalizing their roster by placing winger Joey Crabb and defenseman Colby Robak on waivers.

"We've had to make some tough decisions and we're going to continue to have to make them,'' Dineen said. "I believe we have some quality options and some hungry players banging on the door when they aren't in there.''

With plenty of money under the salary cap, general manager Dale Tallon could put in a claim or two and perhaps grab a couple players cut loose by other teams because of their particular cap concerns. It won't be known if Florida picked up any players off waivers until Monday afternoon.

The Panthers are expected to put five players on the injured list before the season begins. Goalie Scott Clemmensen will be one of those players and will likely start the year off in the minor leagues on a rehab assignment.

Dineen wouldn't say who his starter is right now, although it's expected veteran Tim Thomas gets the call Thursday night in Dallas.

"Tim has really established himself with our team and our organization within a short period of time,'' Dineen said. "[Thomas] is a good guy and a real solid player for us right now. He's a great option for us on Thursday night.''

-- Dineen said he liked what he saw in rookie Aleksander Barkov "in spurts" during training camp. The 18-year-old appears to be Florida's second-line center pivoting veterans Brad Boyes and Kris Versteeg.

"He's a young guy who needs more consistency to his game,'' Dineen said of the 2013 second-overall pick in the NHL draft.

"There's no doubt he's talented. The pace and level of the game is something he's continuing to adjust to. He'll be fine. But it's a real quick learning curve at this level. He's a good kid. His heart is in the right place and he really cares.''

-- The Panthers will return to practice Monday at 10:30 a.m. The workout, located at the Iceplex in Coral Springs, is free and open to the public.


September 28, 2013

PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Cats Win Preseason Finale 5-3 over Tampa Bay

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tom Gilbert, 30, was in the lineup for Saturday's preseason finale against Tampa Bay and was paired up with Brian Campbell.

Florida will likely start the season with seven defenseman, although captain Ed Jovanovski isn't expected to be one of them.

Although he's been at every practice of training camp, it doesn't appear that Jovanovski's surgically repaired hip will allow him to be on the opening night roster.


"He's still rehabbing and is getting better every day,'' Tallon said. "It's a matter of when he feels he can contribute and get into the physicality of the game. It's good to see him out there. He's getting closer. The next three, four weeks, he should be good to go.''


-- Sean Bergenheim took part in Saturday's morning skate but is still a few weeks away after having multiple abdominal surgeries last year.


-- The Panthers will take Sunday off before returning to practice Monday. The team will practice in Coral Springs Monday through Wednesday before leaving for Dallas. The Panthers' season opener is Thursday night against the host Stars.




Panthers 5, Lightning 3: Florida got a pair of goals (one into an empty net) from Kris Versteeg in the second half of the third to snap a four-game winless streak.


Erik Gudbranson and Marcel Goc both left the game in the the second period with various upper-body injuries. Dineen said both would be fine and that had this been a regular season game, they would have returned.


Thomas gave up three goals on 22 shots as he played his first complete game of the preseason. Florida went 3-1-3 in the preseason.


"It's a preseason game but it was important,'' said Thomas, who is expected to be Florida's opening night starter. "They are a division rival; there are some new guys on this team and we're looking to become a team, get some confidence to win a game when we're up in the third. We won not only with the lead, but came back after giving up one. I liked what I saw in front of me.''

PANTHERS MAKING MOVES: Gilbert, Boyes Signed; Barch Acquired

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


Dale Tallon has made up for a slow summer in a hurry.


After the financial handcuffs were taken off with new owner Vinnie Viola in place, Tallon has been busy the past few days. On Saturday, Tallon announced the signings of forward Brad Boyes and defenseman Tom Gilbert to one-year deals.


Not long after, the Panthers reacquired forward Krys Barch in a deal with the Devils. Florida got Barch, who left here after the 2011-12 season as a free agent, and a seventh round pick. New Jersey got forward Scott Timmins and a sixth round pick.


"We're trying to do the best we can in a short period of time before the season starts,'' said Tallon, who signed goalie Tim Thomas on Thursday. "We're trying to peck away at this thing, get better every day.''


Signing Boyes and Gilbert for the season wasn't much of a surprise as both players looked solid during their training camp tryouts.


Boyes, who had 10 goals and 25 assists with the Islanders last year, said he didn't want to look too far ahead with the Panthers and had yet to begin looking for housing in South Florida.


"It's nice. There's a definite sense of relief,'' Boyes said before scoring Florida's first goal in Saturday's final preseason game against Tampa Bay.


"Now I can do all the other things to get organized, bring the family down here. I have a few days to sort some things out before the season starts.''


Yet by coach Kevin Dineen pairing Boyes -- a veteran winger who has 407 points in 606 NHL games -- with Kris Versteeg and Aleksander Barkov it was apparent he would be sticking around.


"He's a scorer and he has to play with skill players, complimentary guys,'' Tallon said. "Obviously we didn't score very much last year. We need guys who can put the puck in the net and make plays. He's one of those guys who can do that.''


Said Barkov: "I like him. He's very friendly and is a good player. I like playing with him and Versteeg.''


The Barch deal did come as a bit of a surprise although the Panthers did look like they needed to get a little tougher.


Barch came to the Panthers on Dec. 11, 2011, in a deal with Dallas and ended up scoring two goals with three assists in 41 games as Florida won the Southeast Division title.


While Barch wanted to re-up with the Panthers in 2012, things didn't work out and he moved on to the Devils. Barch, 33, played in 22 games with no points for the Devils last year.


"He's a hard-nosed guy who is cut from the mold of being all about the team,'' Dineen said. "He was only here a short time, but he was effective. He can skate, is an aggressive guy on the forecheck and knows his role as a teammate. I'm excited to get him back.''


Barch, who has recorded 99 NHL fights, is expected to find minutes on Florida's fourth line and may have knocked Jessie Winchester or Drew Shore to the minors.


"When he was here, he played a good role for us and kept people honest,'' Versteeg said. "He can score goals, I remember his breakaway goal against Ottawa. So he's not just a tough guy. He can play out there and use his fists as well.''


Florida currently has 28 players on the active roster and has to be down to at least 23 by Monday afternoon. The Panthers are expected to place five players on the injured list to start the season so Winchester and Shore could stick initially.



September 27, 2013

PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Final Preseason Game Looms as Roster Is Finalized

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Preseason games are nothing but meaningless exhibitions, right?

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen seems to think otherwise.

When asked what he was looking to get out of Saturday's preseason finale against the visiting Lightning at BB&T Center, Dineen's focus was clear.

"I'm looking for a win,'' said Dineen, whose team has dropped its past four preseason games -- including two straight in overtime to the Lightning.

"I've liked some snapshots in every single game but I was really disappointed in that game [Thursday]. We played well, had some good moments. But there are differences between just going out there and working toward the regular season and finding that winning mentality. That's something we're going to demand. That was a winnable game and we didn't do it. We want to finish strong.''

As in the NFL, the final preseason game is one last shot for a number of players on the bubble to show they belong on the opening day roster. Unlike in football, a good number of starters will play the entirety of Saturday's game.

As far as roster battles go, a few spots have already been lost. On Friday, the Panthers sent forward Quinton Howden to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio and placed forward Bobby Butler on waivers. If Butler passes through, as expected, he will be assigned to San Antonio as well.

With the moves, Florida now has 27 players on its roster with at least four moves to be made by next week. The Panthers are expected to place defenseman Ed Jovanovski, goalie Scott Clemmensen, center Nick Bjugstad and winger Sean Bergenheim on the injured list -- meaning theoretically Florida's 23-man roster is set.

Only there will be plenty of players coming across the waiver wire in the coming days and the Panthers may do a little shopping over the weekend.

"We're going to take a look and see what's available,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "We're going to pursue whatever is out there that will make us a better team. I'm looking everywhere. We want to get better.''

-- Goalie Tim Thomas said he felt good after playing 30-plus minutes on Thursday night in Estero. Thomas gave up one goal on 10 shots against the Lightning. It was Thomas' first game action since a Boston playoff loss to Washington on April 25, 2012.

Thomas is expected to play Saturday as well.

-- Forward Brad Boyes, Thomas' one-time teammate in Boston, said he hopes to have a deal with the team done in the coming days. Tallon said something would likely be completed by the weekend.

Boyes, who has 407 points in 606 NHL games, is in camp on a try out.


When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

Radio: WQAM-560

The game: The Panthers and Lightning meet for the third time in a week with Tampa Bay winning the first two in overtime. Florida is 2-1-3 in the preseason; the Lightning has won five of six.


TAKING OVER IN SUNRISE: Vinnie Viola Purchases Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Vincent Viola said he met with the NHL commissioner for lunch a few weeks ago to discuss buying one of Gary Bettman's hockey teams. The Florida Panthers, Bettman said, were a perfect fit.

Viola's pursuit of the Panthers didn't take long as he was introduced as the new owner of the franchise at a press conference at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on Friday morning.

Bettman, who flew in from Los Angeles after his outdoor game press conference at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, said Viola's purchase of the team would put to rest any talk of the Panthers leaving South Florida "forever."

The Panthers have a lease with Broward County through 2028 although the team's struggles on and off the ice over the past decade-plus has led to talk the Panthers could be on the move. That, Bettman said, was never the case.

"The rumor and speculation about the franchise has been overdone,'' Bettman said. "The fact is, Vinnie comes in with an energy and an excitement and a commitment of resources. He wants to take this club to another level.

"This is great news for the fans of the Florida Panthers. People should not be worried about the future of the Panthers being anywhere but here in South Florida. People should be focused on the commitment to winning.''

Viola, 57, is a native of Brooklyn and a graduate of West Point. There was a color guard presenting colors before the introductory press conference with Viola singing the Star-Spangled Banner loudly from the dais. It didn't take Viola long to snap an Army pin onto his new Panthers jersey.

The chairman and CEO of Virtu Financial, Viola said he and his family will soon take up residence in South Florida. He and his family -- which include wife Teresa and sons John, Michael and Travis -- have long vacationed in the area.

Viola's three sons are all hockey fans and will be active within the franchise.

"We are very blessed and understand the stewardship of ownership of a sports franchise,'' Viola said. "We don't really own anything. The players' sweat, sacrificing their health in later years to provide the right feeling for the fans. It's about the players and the fans and our service to those respective groups will determine our success.

"We are firmly committed to South Florida. My wife has commanded we move here, so we are moving here.''

The $230 million pricetag includes everything under the Florida Panthers umbrella including: The NHL team; the operating agreement with the Broward County-owned BB&T Center; the three-sheet Iceplex in Coral Springs; and the rights to develop nine acres surrounding the arena.

Michael Yormark, who was promoted to CEO of the organization, continues to work in trying to land a "destination" casino on the arena land. The team had previously announced a partnership with Boyd Gaming to work on expanding gambling in Florida.

Viola wouldn't go into specifics about the future development of the arena land saying he was going to concentrate on making the hockey team more successful on the ice.

"We're all about hockey and are very singularly focused people,'' Viola said. "That's what we're about, the Florida Panthers. We will do everything we can and we will win here. We're excited about that.''

General manager Dale Tallon and coach Kevin Dineen both spoke of how having Viola willing to spend money on the Panthers made their jobs a little easier. Florida's management team is expected to remain in place at least for now.

Dineen and the rest of his coaching staff are signed through the end of this season.

"It's a great day for us,'' Dineen said. "[Viola] was able to go in and talk to our players and I think he made an immediate impact. It's a real positive. It's a new day and there's a lot of excitement around the franchise.''

The affects of the new ownership has already been felt.

On Thursday, the Panthers signed goalie Tim Thomas to a one-year deal with a base salary of $2.5 million after not spending much money during the summer as the team was up for sale. Florida is also expected to sign Brad Boyes and Tom Gilbert to new contracts in the coming days.

Viola said Friday that he was committed to give the Panthers "the resources needed to win the Stanley Cup.'' That brought a smile to Tallon's face.

"I believe in what he believes in,'' said Tallon, the architect of Chicago's 2010 championship team.

"He's committed to putting a winning team out there on the ice. That's all I can ask for. We're going to get terrific commitment from him and that's exciting. The fact I can go to them and say 'this is what we need, what are your thoughts?' is important. That's the support we need to fix whatever we need fixed.''

The Panthers were controlled by Cliff Viner and a multitude of minor partners including local heavyweights H. Wayne Huizenga, Alan Cohen, Mike Maroone and Jordan Zimmerman. They were all bought out by Viola.

Viola owns a majority of the franchise now, with only longtime business partner Douglas Cifu joining him. Cifu is the new Vice President and alternate governor of the Panthers.

"He has an aura about him,'' said Thomas, who joined a handful of teammates at Friday's press conference. "He breeds confidence. He's a leader and I'm very happy to be coming into the organization as he is. It's awesome. It's one of the things I'm excited about. I'm excited about the whole direction of what's going on around here.'


H. Wayne Huizenga was awarded an NHL expansion team on Dec. 10, 1992 for $50 million. The team, which played at Miami Arena from 1993-98, has changed hands a few times with Huizenga holding onto a small piece of the team throughout.

Huizenga, along with the rest of Florida's ownership team, was bought out by Vinnie Viola on Friday.

On June 5, 2001, a group of eight investors -- led by Alan Cohen -- purchases the team from Huizenga's Boca Resorts. Cohen would control the team until 2009 when Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel become co-managing partners of the team.

On July 23, 2010, Viner becomes the sole managing partner of the team -- a role he holds until selling the team to Viola.


September 26, 2013

GOOD START: Tim Thomas Makes Florida Debut, Cats Lose in OT (Again)

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

ESTERO, Fla. -- The Panthers will not only go into their 20th anniversary season with a new owner, but with a new goalie as well.

Stanley Cup champion goaltender Tim Thomas made his Florida debut on Thursday by starting a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Lightning a few hours after signing a one-year deal with the team.

Thomas, 39, started and played half the game across Alligator Alley from the arena he will, for now at least, call home. The Panthers lost 3-2 in overtime to the Lightning.

"It felt good for being the first time in a game-like atmosphere for 15 months,'' said Thomas, who made nine saves and left midway through the second with the Panthers holding a 2-1 lead at Germain Arena.

"I think it was a necessary step for me. I thought it was good not to wait. We're running out of preseason games."

The one-year contract -- which carries a base salary of $2.5 million but a cap hit closer to $4 million based on incentives -- was approved by the NHL a few hours before Thomas took the ice.

"He battles on every shot, every drill,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "This is great for our team, great for him and great for our goalies. They get to watch how he works, how he prepares. You see how he's a champion. That's a very important thing.''

Thomas comes to the Panthers with plenty of expertise, hardware and some baggage that most of his teammates say they couldn't care less about.

"I think this is exciting,'' goalie coach Robb Tallas said. "He walks around with a confidence but he also enjoys the game. He always has a smile on his face. He makes big saves at the right time. The players here are excited about that.''

In 2011, Thomas had a season to remember. Not only did he lead the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup championship in almost 40 years, but he was named the MVP of the postseason in doing so. Thomas also won his second Vezina Trophy -- given to the NHL's top netminder -- that season.

Thomas played well the following year although his stay in Boston suddenly ended after a tumultuous 2011-12 season. The problems all started after Thomas skipped the Bruins' trip to the White House citing a personal conflict with how the government was being run.

The attention given to Thomas' snub -- as well as political posts through social media -- was said to be a distraction in the Boston locker room. When the Bruins were knocked out in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, Thomas said he would sit out the next season.

Thomas reported to Panthers' training camp on Sept. 16 in good shape and could be Florida's opening night starter in Dallas on Oct. 3.

"I feel ready now,'' Thomas said.

Florida is expected to start the season with Thomas and Jacob Markstrom as its two goalies to start the season with Scott Clemmensen going to the minors on a rehab assignment. After that, however, the Panthers have to decided who Florida's second goalie will be.

Clemmensen will be paid $1.2 million this season whether it's in Florida or with the Panthers' AHL affiliate in San Antonio. Markstrom, 23, has spent parts of the past three seasons in San Antonio but took over the starting duties in Florida when Jose Theodore was hurt last March.

"We want the best goalies,'' Tallon said. "Inner-competition is great for the success of a team. Let them battle it out.''

Thomas and the rest of his new teammates will be back at the BB&T Center in Sunrise for practice Friday morning. That workout will follow the introductory press conference of new owner Vinnie Viola.

Viola is spending at least $230 million for the franchise and the operating rights to the Broward County-owned BB&T Center in Sunrise. The Panthers have a lease with the county to occupy the arena until 2028.

According to sources close to the deal, Viner -- who had been the Panthers' sole general partner since 2010 -- will not continue to own a piece of the team but will remain involved with the Panthers' charitable organization.

Viner was praised by both Tallon and coach Kevin Dineen as a hands-off owner. Despite being a huge fan of the team, Viner hired Tallon and assistant general manager Mike Santos in 2010 and allowed them to do their jobs.

Florida's multitude of local investors -- which include the likes of H. Wayne Huizenga, Alan Cohen, Bernie Kosar, Mike Maroone and Jordan Zimmerman -- are also said to have been bought out.

Viner, who declined comment via e-mail until the sale is complete, isn't expected to attend Friday's press conference.

"Cliff leaves the franchise much better than how he found it,'' Dineen said. "He leaves us on solid ground and heading in the right direction. Tomorrow is a new day but you have to acknowledge where you've been. He made a commitment to step up and put people in place he thought could get the job done.''

Thursday's game -- Lightning 3, Panthers 2 (OT): Jonathan Huberdeau's two goals weren't enough as Tampa Bay got one from Nikita Kucherov with 55 seconds left in overtime to send the Panthers (2-1-3) to their fourth straight exhibition loss. Three of those four losses have come in overtime.

THOMAS SIGNS, PANTHERS SOLD: Sunrise has New Goalie and New Owner

TWITTER: @ GeorgeRichards

ESTERO, Fla. -- The Panthers officially added Stanley Cup champion goaltender Tim Thomas by signing the 39-year-old to a one-year deal on Thursday.

Thomas was in camp on a professional try out which expired on Wednesday with the two sides negotiating the contract -- which the NHL approved on Thursday afternoon.

Thomas started Florida's preseason game at Germain Arena later that night, making saves on all five shots faced in the opening period against the Lightning.

Thomas led the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup championship in almost 40 years in 2011 -- winning postseason MVP honors as well as the Vezina Trophy as the league's top netminder.

After a tumultuous 2011-12 season, one in which Thomas skipped the Bruins' trip to the White House, Thomas left the Bruins and didn't play last season.

Thomas reported to Panthers' training camp in good shape and will likely be Florida's opening night starter in Dallas on Oct. 3.

Tallon said that Thomas' contract is "incentive laden." Thomas will get a base salary of $2.5 million although his cap hit is closer to $4 million because of various incentives.

Thomas was scheduled to make $3 million in the final year of his deal with the Bruins last year -- although he would have made closer to $2 million had he played because of the NHL's lockout-shortened season.

"I loved watching him practice every day,'' Tallon said. "He battles on every shot. This is great for the team, great for him and great for our goalies. They see how he works, how he prepares. You can see why he's a champion. That's a very important thing."

-- The Panthers will introduce Brooklyn's Vinnie Viola will be introduced as the team's owner at a press conference Friday morning at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

Viola is believed to have spent $230 million for the franchise and the operating agreement for the Broward County-owned BB&T Center. Florida has a lease with the county through 2028.


September 25, 2013

GONE FISHING: Panthers, Lightning to Play Across Alley in Estero

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


Florida's two NHL teams will meet in the middle Thursday night for a preseason game in Estero.

Germain Arena, located off Exit 123 on Interstate 75, will play host to the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. Home to the popular and successful Florida Everblades of the ECHL, Germain Arena seats over 7,000 for hockey.

The arena is about a 90 minute drive from the BB&T Center in Sunrise and about two hours south of the Tampa Bay Times Forum with fans from that area driving in both directions for NHL games. Thursday, it is being brought to them.

"It's great,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "I love it there. It's a great facility in a great part of Florida. They have a really strong hockey base there that [Carolina Hurricanes owner] Peter Karmanos has developed by having a quality minor league team there. This is a good fit for both teams. I expect cheers on both sides.''


When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; Germain Arena, Estero, Fl

Tickets: Visit www.germainarena.com

The game: Florida has lost three straight preseason games (two in shootout) after sweeping a doubleheader against Nashville. Host Tampa Bay won the previous meeting 5-4 in a shootout Saturday. The two teams close the preseason Saturday in Sunrise.


KRIS IS BACK: Versteeg Returns Thursday v. Lightning

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For the first time in over seven months, Kris Versteeg will play in a regulated NHL game on Thursday night. The opponent will be a familiar one.

Versteeg was sidelined after injuring his knee in a game against Tampa Bay on March 12. The Panthers' front-line right winger, Versteeg has worked his way back and was medically cleared by Dr. John Uribe after a meeting Monday.

When Uribe signed off on Versteeg's health on Tuesday, Versteeg said he took of a photo of the clearance form and sent it over to some family members.

"I actually get nervous before any kind of game, get those butterflies,'' said Versteeg, who added he would be in Florida's lineup Thursday night against the Lightning in Estero.

"After what I've been through in the months after surgery, this is icing on the cake. Being able to go out and play is easy because I know I've done everything I can to be strong.''

The rehabilitation process has been a long one for Versteeg. A few weeks after the surgery, he said he didn't think he would be back with the Panthers until November at the earliest.

Then, he says, four months into rehab he saw hope he would be ready for the beginning of the season. Versteeg has been practicing with the Panthers since the start of camp.

Versteeg was a third of Florida's top-scoring line when the team won the division championship in 2011-12 by scoring 23 goals with 31 assists. Versteeg was limited to 10 games last year because of a variety of injuries -- including the knee injury that ended his season.

"Kris had a long six months,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "I think he's coming back 100 percent.''

-- Florida placed veteran Mike Mottau on waivers Wednesday and if he clears, Mottau will be assigned to AHL San Antonio. Forward Vincent Trocheck was also sent to San Antonio on Wednesday.

-- John Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and center on Florida's playoff team two years ago, has joined the team as a pro scout

-- Center Nick Bjugstad is still being treated for a concussion suffered Sept. 8 against Tampa Bay in a prospects game tournament and briefly skated just once during that time.

September 21, 2013

STARS 4, PANTHERS 1: Dallas gets Florida Again, This Time in San Antonio

Slow start plagues Panthers

By John Whisler
San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO - Two days after losing to the Dallas Stars in a shootout, the Florida Panthers were done in by a low start this time.

Dallas scored a goal in each of the first two periods and cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Panthers in front of 7,762 fans at the AT&T Center in the first NHL preseason game in San Antonio since 1995.

Florida outshot the Stars 29-28 but couldn’t take advantage of five power plays and numerous scoring opportunities in falling to 2-1-0-1 in the preseason.

“We’ve got to get off to better starts,” center Drew Shore said. “They outworked us a good portion of the game.”

Left wing Antoine Roussel had two goals and an assist for the Stars.

Defenseman Tom Gilbert, in camp on a tryout, scored the lone goal for the Panthers.

The AT&T Center is the home of the San Antonio Rampage, AHL affiliate of the Panthers.

Goaltender Michael Houser recorded 24 saves in 28 chances for Florida, which was without many of its frontline players.

Goalies Jacob Markstrom, Scott Clemmensen and Tim Thomas, all vying the No. 1 job in the crease, were not in uniform.

Houser played last season at Florida’s ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati, where he went 17-10-2 in 29 starts with a 2.55 goals against average and .917 save percentage.

The only other goalie to suit up for the Panthers was AHL veteran Dov Grumet-Morris, who will play for the Rampage this season.

“I thought he played really well,” Shore said of the 21-year-old Houser. “He battled and bailed us out a couple of times. We didn’t help him much.”

Dallas did not play many of its top performers, either.

The Panthers played Wednesday night in Dallas, losing 3-2 in a shootout.
Florida’s only goal came at of the third on the power play. Gilbert scored on a wrister from the left faceoff circle with assists from Brian Campbell and Marcel Goc.

But Dallas, behind backup goaltender Dan Ellis, controlled the action.

After two prime scoring chances by Panthers center Jesse Winchester came up short early in the game, the Stars took a 1-0 lead moments later when Roussel redirected a shot by Trevor Daley past Houser.

Dallas made it 2-0 just 45 seconds into the second period when Roussel struck again.

Center Chris Mueller, skating behind the net, found him with a pretty pass out front that the 23-year-old Frenchman promptly buried.

Florida went on the power play a minute later, but came up empty, failing to get a single shot on goal.

In all, the Panthers were 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

“We’ve been working on some systems things and we saw some snapshots of good things tonight,” Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. “We looked a little disjointed out there. But you saw some hard-working kids tonight.”

Roussel assisted on Dallas’ third goal, scored by Colton Sceviour at 2:37 of the third. Chris Mueller scored off a Florida turnover at 14:10 of the third for the final tally.

And this is from our good friends with the San Antonio Rampage:


Florida Falls to Dallas, 4-1, in First NHL Game at AT&T Center

SAN ANTONIO (September 20, 2013) – The NHL made its return to San Antonio on Friday night, as 7,762 fans watched the Dallas Stars skate to a 4-1 victory over the Rampage’s parent club, the Florida Panthers, in the first NHL game held in the 11-year history of the AT&T Center.

Friday’s game marked the third NHL preseason game played in San Antonio. The Dallas Stars faced off against the Los Angeles Kings in back-to-back seasons (1994-95) at the Alamodome.

Dallas forward Antoine Roussel tallied two goals and an assist in the Stars victory. Peter Mueller also picked up a goal and an assist for the Stars. The lone Panthers goal was scored by defenseman Tom Gilbert.

Roussel opened the scoring for the Stars at 4:25 of the first period when he tipped in a point shot from defenseman Trevor Daley. Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic, who played in 55 games with the Rampage last season, had the best opportunity to knot the game, but rang a shot off the left post with just over a minute left to play in the first period.

Roussel gave the Stars a two-goal lead only 45 seconds into the second period with Mueller and Patrik Nemeth collecting assists. Panthers goaltender Michael Houser made a strong glove save on forward Colton Sceviour with 3:20 left in the period to keep it a two-goal game.

But Sceviour got his revenge and gave the Stars a 3-0 lead at 2:37 of the third period while on the power play. Gilbert answered with a power-play goal for the Panthers only 1:06 later when he fired a wrist shot through traffic that snuck past Dallas goaltender Dan Ellis.

The Stars lit the lamp for the final time on the night at 14:10 after Mueller corralled a bouncing puck in the slot and wristed a shot past Houser.

Houser turned aside 24 shots on the night, while Ellis made 28 saves. The Panthers went 1-for-5 on the power play and Dallas was 1-for-3 with the man-advantage.

The Rampage open the 2013-14 season on Friday, Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. against the Chicago Wolves at AT&T Center on a Dollar Drink Night.

September 19, 2013

GOALIE UPDATE: Clemmensen Back on Ice; Markstrom v Lightning on Saturday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Goalie Scott Clemmensen was one of three players Florida left behind to work out in Coral Springs while the team is in Texas.

Clemmensen had minor knee surgery two weeks ago and was back on the ice Wednesday.

Clemmensen could practice when the team returns Monday. Nick Bjugstad (concussion) and Sean Bergenheim (abdominal) also stayed back.

"It's been two weeks from the surgery so I'm right there with the game plan,'' Clemmensen said on Wednesday. "Unfortunately I've been here with the knee before so I know what to expect. We're right on track.''

Clemmensen, about to begin his fifth season with the Panthers, says he cannot concern himself about the team signing Tim Thomas to a professional try out and said he won't rush back onto the ice because he feels pressured to.

"This is nothing new for me,'' Clemmensen said. "I've been through just about everything you can think of in my career. You just play the best you can; I don't make the decisions so I can't worry about it.''

Coach Kevin Dineen said Thomas won't play Friday in San Antonio nor Saturday in Tampa.

Thomas could make his debut with the Panthers in Thursday's preseason game against the Lightning across Alligator Alley in Estero.

Michael Houser will start Friday in San Antonio with Jacob Markstrom playing the entire game Saturday.

"I'm going to be real patient with Tim,'' Dineen said. "I like the way he's looked in practice and the way he's approached things here. I think it's prudent for him to get his feel for the game with our practice group instead of throwing him out there in an exhibition game.

"I can tell you, I won't be judging Tim Thomas on one look in an exhibition game. That's not a make-or-break deal.''

GOALIE UPDATE: Clemmensen Back on Ice; Markstrom v Lightning on Saturday

PANTHERS A HIT IN TEXAS: Florida to Host Stars in San Antonio on Friday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Miami Heat may not be welcomed in San Antonio after last summer's NBA Finals, yet the Florida Panthers feel right at home deep in the heart of Texas.

The Panthers, whose AHL affiliate plays in San Antonio, have brought NHL hockey to the city for the first time in the 10-year history of the AT&T Center. After holding two practice sessions at the Spurs' arena on Thursday, the Panthers will play host to the Dallas Stars on Friday night.

The lower bowl of the arena is sold out and a crowd exceeding 10,000 is expected to watch Friday's game. The Panthers were supposed to play the Stars here last year, but that game -- like many others -- was wiped out because of the NHL lockout.

"We get treated so well here,'' said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, who spent a lot of time during the lockout in San Antonio watching the Rampage. "This really is a great affiliation. The Spurs have one of the best-run organization in all of sports. We are enjoying our time here on the Riverwalk.''

The Rampage, which is owned by the Spurs, will hold its training camp in San Antonio starting Sunday. That means Friday's game is perhaps the last chance a good number of players in training cam will have to impress the Panthers' brass.

The Panthers are expected to leave around 20 players in San Antonio when the team leaves Texas on Saturday for their preseason game later that night in Tampa.

Dineen expects to have around 35 players for Monday's practice in Coral Springs. Florida's current roster, including injured players, is at 59.

Florida opens its regular season Oct. 3 in Dallas; the Rampage opens at home the following night against Chicago.

"It's going to be a really tough cut,'' Dineen said. "It's going to be some hard conversations between myself and Dale [Tallon] because I'm trying to be merciless to have a workable, manageable number. Yet for some guys, the decision haven't been made. There is opportunity here for those willing to grab it.''


There weren't many goals scored in Wednesday's preseason game at Dallas although what scoring the Panthers and Stars did came in bunches.

Dallas scored its two goals within a 30 second span in the second; Florida got its two goals (Quinton Howden and Scottie Upshall) within 14 seconds late in the third. Dallas won 3-2 in a shootout as Florida dropped to 2-0-1 in the preseason.

"I really liked our first period, it was our best out of all of them,'' Dineen said. "[Dallas coach] Lindy Ruff had his A-squad out there and we stayed with them. Then they scored bang-bang, and the way we played in the final seven minutes of the second, they deserved it. But we showed some good push back and got some timely goals. It was an entertaining game.''

Friday: Preseason game vs. Stars, AT&T Center (San Antonio), 8 p.m.
Saturday: Preseason game at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
Sunday: Off
Monday: Practice, 9 a.m. (Iceplex)
Tuesday: Practice, 9 a.m. (Iceplex)
Wednesday: Practice, 9 a.m. (Iceplex)
Thursday: Practice, 9 a.m. (Iceplex); Preseason game v Tampa Bay (Estero, Fl.), 7:30 p.m.
(*) All workouts at the Coral Springs Iceplex are free and open to the public. Starting times subject to change.

PANTHERS A HIT IN TEXAS: Florida to Host Stars in San Antonio on Friday

September 18, 2013

NEW OWNER IN SUNRISE? Vinnie Viola Working on Buying Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Vincent “Vinnie” Viola, a prominent New York businessman and former minority owner of the NBA’s Nets, is leading a group in finalizing a deal to purchase the Florida Panthers from Palm Beach businessman Cliff Viner, an industry source said Wednesday.

Letters of intent have been executed, but the transaction still needs to be signed and approved by the NHL. The source said it’s conceivable the deal could fall through, but both sides want to make it happen.

The Panthers are expected to remain in South Florida; the team’s lease with the Broward County-owned BB&T Center runs through 2028.

Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, which operates the arena, is the profitable arm of the Florida Panthers family of companies and is said to be part of the transaction.

The team had no comment after the New York Post first reported a group of New York-based investors were buying the team.

A source close to the team confirmed the sale was in the works and said general manager Dale Tallon has been telling players interested in coming to the Panthers -- such as former All-Star goalie Tim Thomas -- that a new owner would be in place soon.

An announcement could be coming in the next few weeks.

Captain Ed Jovanovski, who said he heard reports of a new owner on a "weekly" basis while with the Phoenix Coyotes, said word of a new owner shouldn't affect the team at all.

"For the most part, you have a bunch of guys who just want to play hockey,'' Jovanovski said. "Whatever happens on the ownership side will be taken care of by the executives in place. I think for us, we just wait and see. We're trying to be in the right frame of mind for the start of the season.

"But someone new coming in must be eager to take over the team. You have to look at that as a positive. We'll see. Anytime you have an ownership group that wants to win and wants to spend money, that's exciting for a player.''

Viola is a successful commodities dealer who previously was chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange and is now chairman of Virtu Financial, an electronic commodities trading company.

He was a minority owner of the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets -- of which Brett Yormark, twin brother of Panthers' president Michael, is CEO -- several years ago but is no longer, according to the team.

Viola was born in Brooklyn in 1956, graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1977 and served as an officer in the 101st Airborne. He transferred to the Army Reserve in 1982, before leaving the Army Reserve as a major in 1993.

Viola and his wife, Teresa, now live in Manhattan after raising three sons in New Jersey.

According to the Nets’ media guide, Viola joined the New York Mercantile Exchange as a local trader after leaving the army. He became a member of the exchange in 1982, the same year he graduated from New York Law School. He was the company’s chairman from 2001 to 2004 and helped the exchange through the turmoil of the 9-11 attacks.

Leah McGrath Goodman’s 2011 book, “The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the World’s Oil Market,” offers details about Viola and the New York Mercantile Exchange when he was chairman there.

“Viola was perhaps the handsomest of all the exchange chairmen, but beneath the spit and polish he was still a tough guy from Brooklyn,” Goodman wrote. “…After becoming a local in the NYMEX gasoline pit, he finally found his niche. He compared trading to being in an army platoon.”
Goodman wrote Viola “had a nasty temper, but [predecessor chairman Lou] Guttman says he didn’t lose control of his emotions easily.”

In the book, Guttman said Viola “exuded leadership. His personality was amazing. He drew people in. He was a phenomenal speaker. Even if he didn’t know what he was talking about, he sounded like he knew what he was saying. He was an astute businessman and an extreme opportunist.”

Viola has received numerous awards for his philanthropy. He gave $2 million to Fordham University to establish the Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Chair in Catholic Theology. After the 9-11 attacks, he financed the Counter-Terrorism Center at West Point. Viola has received numerous awards for his philanthropy.

He also co-founded the National Children's Educational Reform Foundation, which is dedicated to the improvement of inner-city education with an emphasis on bilingual programs in immigrant communities.

Viner, who has helped the Florida Panthers foundation raise a considerable amount of money for charity, took over the Panthers along with Stu Siegel from Alan Cohen in 2009. Viner became the sole general partner a year later.

Aside from Viner, Florida's minority owners include Cohen, H. Wayne Huizenga, Mike Maroone, Bernie Kosar and Jordan Zimmerman. Some or all of Florida's current ownership group could retain a piece of the franchise when the new group comes in.

The Panthers would be the latest NHL franchise to change hands in recent months as Phoenix and New Jersey -- both struggling financially -- have new ownership groups.

"I'm going to hold off right now,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "I'm going to let this play out. Nothing has been finalized or anything like that. Like everyone else, I'll wait and see what happens.''

NEW OWNER IN SUNRISE? Vinnie Viola Working on Buying Florida Panthers

September 17, 2013

TIM THOMAS READY FOR FRESH START: Goalie Looks to Start Anew in Florida with Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tim Thomas met the media after his first practice with the Panthers on Tuesday morning and said he was more than ready for a fresh start in South Florida.

The 39-year-old goalie was a hero after leading Boston to its first Stanley Cup in almost 40 years -- yet walked away from the Bruins a year later.

After taking a season off to reconnect with family and get involved in some new business, Thomas was apparently reenergized after watching the playoffs last spring. He said he was "proud" of his former teammates for advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.

"I have a new found appreciation to being able to play the game at this level and being part of a team again,'' said Thomas, who has not played in an NHL game for anyone but the Bruins.

"My time in Boston was great, I was very fortunate to have the personal and team success I did. I had great teammates .-.-. This is a new start. I'm excited about the future.''

Thomas said he began working out in Michigan in July -- not long after Boston lost in the Finals to Chicago -- and accepted Florida's offer of a professional try out (PTO) on Monday.

If Thomas earns a contract with the Panthers (thought to be a foregone conclusion) he hopes to help Florida make a run at the playoffs. Thomas said the Panthers are "on the verge of a turnaround and a big bounce back."

General manager Dale Tallon, Thomas said, "convinced me of a direction the Panthers are headed in. That helped me make my decision easier.''

Thomas was a huge part of the renaissance in Boston. After the team finished last in its division in the two years following the 2004-05 lockout, the Bruins returned to the playoffs in 2008 and haven't missed them since.

"When I first came to Boston, it was a low point for the Bruins,'' said Thomas, who will wear the No. 34 first worn in Florida by popular goalie John Vanbiesbrouck. "I was able to see the rise in the organization and with the team. I think the Florida Panthers are in a similar situation.''

Thomas, coach Kevin Dineen said, will travel with the team to Texas on Wednesday but will not play in either of the two preseason games against the Dallas Stars. Thomas probably won't play against the Lightning in Tampa on Saturday either.

"He came in as advertised,'' Dineen said. "He has a high compete level and works on every shot. Everything I had heard about him I saw today. It was good. But I don't think you step into a lineup after taking the time off Tim has. I'm willing to give him that time. I'm excited. Everything is a process.''

Thomas spoke at length about his departure from Boston, saying he didn't think skipping the Bruins' Stanley Cup celebration at the White House because he didn't agree with the Obama administration was going to draw the attention it did.

There were rumors Thomas had become a distraction to the Bruins. With Tuukka Rask emerging as a star in net, Thomas took his leave with a year remaining on his contract.

"I didn't go out of my way to bring up politics in that situation. I didn't think in good consciousness that I could go to the White House and I had to give a reason,'' Thomas said.

"I didn't want to lie and say I was sick. I thought I gave a pretty succinct and, from my viewpoint, a very honest assessment of the situation. I just tried to leave it at that. We've given it some time to rest. I'm here to play hockey.''

In Florida, Thomas said he and Jacob Markstrom can most definitely coexist saying "I definitely came here to play,'' but said he is not competing against Markstrom.

"I'm competing against myself,'' Thomas said, "and if I play the best that I can, then I'm going to get the results that I want and the playing time that I want. .-.-. We're pulling for each other and only thinking about the best we can be as individuals. .-.-. We're on the same team and we have the same goals."

Markstrom played well in Monday's preseason opener and said he expects to learn a lot with Thomas around. But Markstrom isn't handing the veteran the starting job no matter what his resume says.

"This is the best league in the world and it's not supposed to be easy,'' Markstrom said. "It will be a fun experience. I'm excited. Competition is part of the game. I still want to play most of the games. My goals haven't changed.''

-- Thomas hopes to be in the mix when it comes to being on Team USA at the Sochi games. Team USA and Nashville GM David Polie told SiriusXM Radio on Tuesday that Thomas was eligible for play at the Olympics and will be watched closely. Tallon, perhaps not coincidentally, works with USA hockey as part of the advisory board.

-- Former Edmonton and Minnesota defenseman Tom Gilbert reported to the Panthers on Tuesday morning and was on the ice with the late group after accepting Florida's PTO offer. Gilbert has played in 447 games over parts of seven NHL seasons.

-- Dineen said center Nick Bjugstad (concussion) will not travel with the team on its four-day trip to Texas and Tampa.

Wednesday: Practice, 9 a.m. (Iceplex); Travel to preseason game at Dallas, 8 p.m.
Thursday: Practice in San Antonio, TBA
Friday: Preseason game vs. Stars, AT&T Center (San Antonio), 8 p.m.
Saturday: Preseason game at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
Sunday: Off
Monday: Practice, 9 a.m. (Iceplex)
(*) All workouts at the Coral Springs Iceplex are free and open to the public. Starting times subject to change.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KELSEY HINDS/Special to the Miami Herald

TIM THOMAS READY FOR FRESH START: Goalie Looks to Start Anew in Florida with Panthers

September 16, 2013

PANTHERS SWEEP PREDS: Florida Wins Preseason Doubleheader in Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers played a lot of hockey on Monday yet needed a little extra time to finish off a preseason sweep of Nashville at the BB&T Center.

In Game 1, Florida got a 6-3 win thanks in part to two-goal games from Erik Gudbranson and Scottie Upshall.

Later that night, Tomas Fleischmann's goal with 46.2 seconds left in overtime served as the winner as the Panthers won 3-2.

In the opener, the Panthers scored five unanswered goals kicked off by back-to-back markers from Gudbranson within a four-minute span in the second.

Florida, playing in a nearly empty arena, trailed 3-1 in the opening period before Gudbranson's first goal with 5:46 left in the second brought Florida within one. After that, Brad Boyes -- in camp on a pro tryout -- scored for the Panthers' first lead.

Upshall, who scored Florida's first goal, got his second of the game with 6:37 left before Quinton Howden closed out the scoring 2:16 later.

Rob Madore, who earned a tryout after a good showing at prospect camp against the Predators, stopped all five shots faced in the third. Goalie Dov Grumet-Morris, who plays for Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio, gave up three goals on 16 shots.

Florida outshot Nashville 41-21 in the opener.

"Once we tied it up, we continued to push and that was huge,'' Gudbranson said.

In the second game, Florida trailed 2-1 in the second period but tied it when Tomas Kopecky took a feed from rookie Aleksander Barkov and threw it at goalie Cody Reichard on a power play chance. The puck hit Reichard's skate and bounded into the net.

Barkov, the second overall pick, had a chance to win Game 2 but hit the post with less than two minutes left in overtime. Fleischmann, who played on a line with Barkov, scored the winner not long afterward.

Florida was outshot 30-27 in the second game with Michael Houser getting the win in relief of Jacob Markstrom.

-- Assistant general manager Mike Santos said that Florida has offered a PTO to former Minnesota and Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert.

The Panthers would like to have Gilbert in camp before the team leaves for Texas on Wednesday. Gilbert has played in 447 games over parts of seven NHL seasons.

-- Rookie forward Vince Trocheck picked up a pair of assists and was named third star of the first game.

Tuesday: Practice, 10:30 a.m. (Iceplex)
Wednesday: Practice, 9 a.m. (Iceplex); preseason game at Dallas, 8 p.m.
Thursday: Practice in San Antonio, TBA
Friday: Preseason game vs. Stars, AT&T Center (San Antonio), 8 p.m.
Saturday: Preseason game at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
Sunday: Off
(*) All workouts at the Coral Springs Iceplex are free and open to the public. Starting times subject to change.

PANTHERS GOALIE JOB WIDE OPEN: Tim Thomas Joins Panthers, Will Battle Markstrom

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers landed one of the biggest names in goaltending on Monday when former Boston All-Star Tim Thomas agreed to a tryout with the team.

Thomas, who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie in 2009 and '11, will be on the ice with the Panthers for practice Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs.

Because he is in on a professional tryout (PTO), Thomas does not have a contract with the Panthers. If Florida likes what it sees from Thomas, it has the right to offer him a deal for the 2013-14 season. The Panthers have plenty of room under the salary cap.

The 39-year-old led Boston to the Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and was named MVP of those playoffs.

"All I know is he won a Stanley Cup .-.-. and was a big reason for it,'' general manager Dale Tallon said after Thomas officially agreed to join the Panthers.

"We need goaltending and need someone get to where we need to go. Right now, it's Tim Thomas. He's going to get an opportunity. He's in good shape and is eager to go. He's very strong mentally and physically.''

Thomas, 39, looked around the league for a new home after leaving Boston following the 2011-12 season. Thomas left the Bruins after a controversial season and sat out last year's lockout-shortened season despite having a year left on his contract.

The Bruins traded Thomas' rights to the Islanders who kept the contract on the books -- without paying Thomas -- to stay above the salary cap floor. That allowed Thomas' final year to expire and make him a free agent.

With Scott Clemmensen out for the first few weeks of camp after having minor knee surgery, the Panthers made it clear they were looking for goaltending. In Thomas, Florida gets one of hockey's most decorated netminders of recent years.

Thomas could play in his first game with the Panthers either Wednesday at Dallas or Friday against the Stars in San Antonio.

"This is good. The guy is a proven winner,'' said Brad Boyes, who is also in Florida camp on a PTO and played with Thomas from 2005-07 in Boston.

"He's one guy out of every goalie I've played with who is the hardest worker. He doesn't let guys score on him. It's impressive. A guy with his stature coming in here is big.''

A number of Florida players worked out before Monday's exhibition double-header against visiting Nashville when news of Thomas' impending arrival spread.

Brian Campbell, who played with Thomas during the lockout of 2004-05 in Finland, said it would be hard to find a player who worked harder than Thomas does.

Thomas, who played collegiately at Vermont, didn't become a full-time NHL starter until he was 31. Thomas spent almost a decade toiling the North American minor leagues as well as playing in Finland and Sweden yet never gave up on his dream to make it to the NHL.

In parts of eight NHL seasons -- all with the Bruins -- Thomas has played in 378 games, going 196-121-45 in stopping 92 percent of shots faced. Thomas is also 29-21 in 50 postseason starts, stopping 93 percent of his shots.

"I enjoyed my time playing with Tim,'' Campbell said. "He's a great goalie, a great battler and a great person. Him coming here is a bonus for us. We feel we have two strong goaltenders here but if you can add a piece like this, it's not going to hurt you.''

The Panthers are a little more crowded in net and may have to make a tough decision in the coming weeks.

If Clemmensen comes back from his knee surgery before camp ends -- and Thomas looks good enough to keep -- the Panthers would have to choose between sending Clemmensen (who will make $1.2 million this year) or 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom to the minors.

Markstrom could keep the starting he held after being called up from the Panthers last season.

"Competition is great and the more you have internally for spots, the better off you will be,'' Tallon said. "It's wide open. May the best man win.''

Said Boyes: "He's very competitive and wants to win. He'll want to be in there and play. He's going to be a guy who pushes other guys. As a goalie, he'll give us a chance to win. That's huge. You win in this league with goaltending.''

Thomas made headlines in 2012 when he refused to join his teammates at the White House, citing differences of opinion with President Barack Obama.

Thomas' play slipped a bit after that as rumors of him not participating in the team event didn't sit well in the Boston locker room and it was reportedly a distraction.

"Everyone has their opinions and that doesn't hurt anyone,'' Campbell said. "The whole White House thing, well, maybe you would like him to go but he cares about his country. If that's his biggest fault, well, lets move past it. He strong views about everything not just politics.''

TIM THOMAS TO PANTHERS: Florida Nets Veteran Goalie, Will Join Team on Tuesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers landed one of the biggest names in goaltending on Monday as Tim Thomas agreed to come to camp on a tryout basis.

Thomas, honored as the league's top goalie in 2009 and '11, will join the Panthers for Tuesday's practice at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs on a professional tryout.

The 39-year-old led Boston to the Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and was named MVP of the playoffs that spring.

"No one works harder than he does,'' said Florida defenseman Brian Campbell, who played with Thomas in Finland during the 2004-05 lockout season.

"I enjoyed my time playing with Tim. He's a great goalie, a great battler and a great person. Him coming here is a bonus for us. We feel we have two strong goaltenders here but if you can add a piece like this, it's not going to hurt you.''

Thomas made headlines in 2012 when he refused to join his teammates at the White House, citing differences of opinion with President Barack Obama. Thomas' play slipped a bit after that as rumors of him not participating in the team event didn't sit well in the Boston locker room.

Thomas took last season off with the Bruins trading his contract to the New York Islanders. The Islanders used Thomas' $5 million cap hit to stay above the salary cap floor.

"I don't know why he didn't play last year,'' Campbell said. "Timmie has strong political views and I think that's great. I've learned a lot from him. You can ask him questions about things.

"Everyone has their opinions and that doesn't hurt anyone. The whole White House thing, well, maybe you would like him to go but he cares about his country. If that's his biggest fault, well, lets move past it. He strong views about everything not just politics.''

If Thomas earns a spot on the Panthers, Florida would have to find a place for Jacob Markstrom or Scott Clemmensen. Markstrom could stay up with the Panthers -- and even remain the starter.

If that's the case, Florida would try and trade Clemmensen or send him to the minor leagues. Clemmensen will be paid $1.2 million regardless of where he plays this season. Clemmensen is expected to miss the next couple of weeks after having minor knee surgery.

September 15, 2013

PANTHERS KICK OFF PRESEASON: Preds in Sunrise for a Exhibition Doubleheader

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Last year's training camp was a complete rush job as practices were jammed in to accommodate a tight schedule after the NHL's lockout ended.

There is no such hurry this season, although by looking at the Panthers schedule, it sure doesn't look that way.

The Panthers will open their preseason Monday afternoon with a pair of exhibition games against Nashville at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

One group will play the Predators at 2:30 p.m., with a second group taking on a different batch of Nashville players at 7.

The Panthers, who didn't play a single preseason game last year because of the work strife, will play five games this week.

After the two games Monday, Florida travels to Texas and will play the Dallas Stars twice. The hectic week ends Saturday night in Tampa against the Lightning.

"We want to win them all, especially the ones at home, but we know there are reasons why we put things together,'' coach Kevin Dineen said.

"The first ones are easy because this is a great opportunity to get some kids in the game who may not have the opportunity to play in a preseason game. It's a little hard on us as coaches, sure, but we have a wide range of players in these games.''

Having two games in one day -- and three in three with Wednesday's game in Dallas -- affords Dineen a chance give players fighting for a roster spot a chance to shine against an opposing team.

For players whose spot on the team is secure, these games is a chance to get back into game speed, to go all out and get used to the tempo of the game once things count for real.

That's an experience the Panthers, and the other 29 teams in the league, didn't get last year.

"You are getting your bearings in the first couple of games so I like to play in as many as possible,'' Shawn Matthias said. "Your timing is a little off and you can work out as much as you want. But games are at a different level. It's good we have a lot of games. Guys can get their legs."

The Panthers currently have four goalies in camp with Jacob Markstrom the only one with NHL experience.

Although Markstrom is expected to split time in net during his one game Monday, the Panthers should give him extended minutes as the preseason winds down.

"You get to see the speed get in. I love the preseason because it's great practice and it tells you the real season is around the corner,'' said Markstrom, who will play in the second game.

-- Dineen said that Ed Jovanovski, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Bergenheim and Nick Bjugstad will not play in either of the two preseason games Monday.

Huberdeau and Jovanovski took part in Sunday's full workout.

"We'll see how he reacts after a test like that,'' Dineen said of Jovanovski.

-- Aleksander Barkov, the second overall pick of the past draft, will play in the second game. Defenseman Seth Jones, whom the Panthers passed to take Barkov, will also play in that game as he makes his debut for the Predators.


When, Where: 2:30, 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: None.

Scouting report: The Panthers and Preds will play a doubleheader at BB&T Center with one ticket good for both games. Florida will not play at home again until hosting Tampa Bay in the preseason finale next weekend.

PANTHERS KICK OFF PRESEASON: Preds in Sunrise for a Exhibition Doubleheader

PANTHERS KICK OFF PRESEASON: Preds in Sunrise for a Exhibition Doubleheader

September 12, 2013

FIGHTING BACK: Ed Jovanovski Back for More After Hip Surgery

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Surgery on his ailing hip was the only option left. At 36-years-old, Ed Jovanovski knew if he had any chance at playing in the NHL with the Florida Panthers again, a major operation needed to be done.

Jovanovski underwent hip surgery in April after radical treatments in Germany didn't help with the pain. On Thursday morning, five months after being operated on, Jovanovski -- who turned 37 in June -- was back on the ice with his teammates for the first day of training camp.

Just being suited up and participating on the opening day of camp seemed out of the question to Jovanovski a few months ago.

"It's been a long summer,'' he said. "You always have those doubts, I would be lying if I said I didn't. I had a major surgery done, I had no options. I'm happy where it is right now, my quality of life is much better.''

Now, however, the battle for Jovanovski is to see if he can get back to game speed and help the Panthers on the ice.

"I'm skating right now and it's pretty much pain free,'' Jovanovski said. "But that's skating where pretty much everything is controlled. Getting into a game-like situation, we'll see what happens.

"My goal is to be an every day player, to lead these guys. It's been tough but I think I've been happier lately. I can do everyday things again like playing with my kids.''

Jovanovski was the first overall pick of the 1994 NHL draft by the Panthers and played from 1995-99 in Florida before being traded to Vancouver as part of the Pavel Bure deal.

Jovanovski returned and signed a four-year deal with Florida in 2011 and was named the seventh captain in Panthers history on the eve of last season's opener.

Although he had dealt with the pain in his hip over the past few years, things really got bad at the start of last season.

When Jovanovski was knocked out of a game in Tampa five games in, the pain in his hip was becoming unbearable. In a desperate effort to find relief without having surgery, Jovanovski went to Germany for advanced Platelet Rich Plasma therapy, something a number of athletes are turning to in trying to heal without surgery.

How bad was his pain?

"It got to the point where I couldn't bend down to tie my laces anymore,'' he said.

He came back to Florida and worked his way back into the lineup, returning after missing 22 games. Jovanovski didn't last long as he left Florida's game against the host Islanders after the second period. He made the decision to have surgery soon afterward.

"I exercised every single option,'' he said. "I needed to get it fixed. So that's what we did.''

Some would ask why Jovanovski is putting himself through this, through trying to come back from such a debilitating injury. Money isn't what drives Jovanovski, at least not in this case as he has two years left on his contract with $8.25 million guaranteed.

Jovanovski says that just being able to continue playing the game he loves is his motivation. Being there and trying to help the Panthers win is right there as well.

"I just love the game, love being around it,'' he said. "I don't know anything differently. My passion is hockey, it is everything. It's the competition, the opportunity to be able to compete day in and day out. And there's the camaraderie. Most guys say that is the biggest thing they miss when it's over. I'm just driven to play.''

Jovanovski's work through the pain hasn't gone unnoticed.

"That's why he's our captain. He's our leader and he's our frontman,'' said Erik Gudbranson, Jovanovski's defensive partner for much of his rookie year in 2011-12.

"His will to play is inspiring to all of us. This is a guy who wants to win and there's nothing else driving him to play. To see him back on the ice .-.-. He's put his body through so much. And here he is battling after such a major surgery. We need to jump behind him.''

The question now is whether Jovanovski can make it all the way back.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen knows the type of drive that is fueling Jovanovski, saying Thursday that when it came to the end of his career, "they had to boot me off the ice.''

Dineen, who was 39 when he retired four games into the 2002-03 season, is definitely rooting for the guy he named captain of the Panthers last January. Dineen will, however, be watching the situation closely.

"I got around November and knew the pace wasn't going to stay where I was at,'' Dineen said. "In saying that, he's made a heck of an effort to come back. He's a hockey player. This is what he does, this is what his life is about. We're hoping surgery worked for him, although that hasn't been answered yet.''


Center Nick Bjugstad was the only player to not participate in Thursday's opening day of work after sustaining a concussion in Sunday's prospect tournament finale against Tampa Bay.

Dineen said Bjugstad is being monitored as part of the league's concussion protocal and will be evaluated over the next few days.

-- Goalie Jacob Markstrom left near the end of his on-ice session after taking a slapshot off his mask. Dineen said Markstrom was fine.

September 11, 2013

GOALIE FLAKES?: Panthers Looking at Tim Thomas, Ilya Bryzgalov to Shore Up Goaltending

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

There were a few new faces as the Panthers reported to training camp in Sunrise on Wednesday.

Most of the focus, however, were on a few names who may or may not be at camp in the coming days.

General manager Dale Tallon said he was continuing to look at ways of strengthening Florida's goaltending situation.

With Scott Clemmensen out for a few weeks after having knee surgery, only 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom has any NHL experience among Florida's four goalies at camp.

Tallon confirmed the Panthers have spoken to veteran free agents Tim Thomas, Ilya Bryzgalov and Jose Theodore -- Florida's starter for much of the past two seasons -- to gauge their interest in trying out for the team.

Theodore has reportedly turned down the Panthers' invitation to a professional tryout (PTO) during camp. Theodore, instead, is looking for a contract from the Panthers and not just a 'shot' at making the team

"We had a great conversation [Tuesday],'' Tallon said.

As far as Thomas and Bryzgalov goes, Tallon hopes to hear an answer back soon.

The Panthers open practice Thursday morning in Coral Springs with Markstrom working in net alongside Michael Houser, Dov Grumet-Morris and Rob Madore.

"[Thomas and Bryzgalov] have experience and history," Tallon said. "They are veteran guys who have won. We're looking at everything and we're not in position not to look at everything. We want to get better. It's important we investigate every scenario to make our team better.''

Both Thomas and Bryzgalov come with some baggage, although Tallon doesn't seem to be bothered by any of it.

Thomas, who led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011, took last season off (and lost out on the final year of a contract) after a controversial follow-up season in 2011-12.

Thomas refused to join his teammates at the White House for their Cup celebration as he cited opposition to the policies of President Barack Obama and there were reports that his public display of his politics was a distraction to his team.

The Bruins traded his contract to the Islanders last year as that team kept Thomas on the books soley to pad their salary cap number. Thomas, who won the league's top goalie honors twice, said he took last season off to focus on his faith and his family as he holed up in Colorado.

Bryzgalov signed a nine-year, $51 million deal with Philadelphia in 2011, but his popularity quickly started to fade after making a number of off-the-wall comments on the HBO series 24/7 as well as to the local media.

Bryzgalov didn't help himself as he play suffered and he not only fought with the local media but distanced himself from teammates. This summer, Philadelphia cut ties with Bryzgalov to the tune of $23 million over the next 14 years.

Bringing either of those two goalies would create media interest not only locally but throughout the league. Tallon only cares about them helping the Panthers win.

When asked if he cared about how "flaky" both Bryzgalov and Thomas are considered to be, Tallon -- who is pretty colorful himself -- didn't miss a beat.

"The puck doesn't know they are flaky,'' Tallon said. "I don't care about that. Goalies are a little unique to begin with so I'm OK with it. We've done our homework. We're investigating and we'll do what's best for all involved.''

Although both Thomas and Bryzgalov says they want to start -- "I certainly don't want to sign a goalie who says he wants to be a backup,'' Tallon said -- Markstrom goes into camp holding that distinction for the Panthers.

"We told everyone they have to compete for a job,'' Tallon said. "Everyone is competing to help us win. There is no guarantee for anyone.''

Markstrom has long been touted as Florida's 'goalie of the future,' and last year he took the reigns when Theodore tore his groin midway through the lockout-shortened season.

Clemmensen, who had surgery last week, reported to camp as well. He's expected to be out until at least Florida's final round of preseason games later this month.

"I'm here to be the starting goalie and that's nothing to be shy about,'' Markstrom said. "For me, I can't affect what Dale or the people upstairs are doing. They are doing their job and my job is to play goalie the best I can."

-- Tallon said Florida's long list of injured players is shrinking as everyone, save for captain Ed Jovanovski after his major hip surgery, is expected to be ready for the start of the season.

Jonathan Huberdeau, last year's rookie of the year, said he will likely start things slowly after having hip surgery.

Tallon said he wants players to be ready for the season and isn't worried about players not being 100 percent for the start of camp.

"We'll have guys working in, we'll be cautious,'' Tallon said.

Thursday: First practice, 9 a.m.; Group 2, 10:30 a.m. (Coral Springs Iceplex)
Friday: Practice starts at 9 a.m. (Iceplex)
Saturday: Practice starts at 9 a.m. (Iceplex)
Sunday: Practice starts at 9 a.m.; scrimmage at 9:30 a.m. (Iceplex)
Monday: Preseason doubleheader vs. Nashville, 2:30/7 p.m. (BB&T Center)
Tuesday: Practice starts at 10:30 a.m. (Iceplex)
Wednesday: Practice starts at 9 a.m. (Iceplex); preseason game at Dallas, 8 p.m.
(*) All workouts at the Coral Springs Iceplex are free and open to the public. Starting times subject to change.