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FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES: Panthers In a Familiar Position Heading into Break

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Panthers head into this Olympic break in a familiar place.

Hopes of making the playoffs this season are all but dead, with Florida needing a lot of wins and even more help.

So, there's really no reason to even talk about the postseason as Florida came into Saturday a healthy 13 points out of the final spot with 26 games remaining. Florida has lost six of eight.

A Detroit win in Tampa on Saturday will put the Panthers 15 points back.

"We're really disappointed. This was not the way we wanted to go on the break and I don't think anyone in this locker room is feeling too good,'' Sean Bergenheim said.

"But when we come back, we have to be positive and work harder than we have. I don't think we should look at how much we have to climb. Lets just win games, play the best we can every single night. That's something we all can do better.''

What the Panthers should expect once they return from this 20-day hiatus on Feb. 27 is more of the same.

The trade deadline is March 5 and the Panthers are expecting to be sellers once again. Florida has plenty of pending free agents, some of whom other teams may want for their playoff runs.

General manager Dale Tallon has been told by new owner Vinnie Viola that he has the "green light" to spend toward the salary cap ceiling this offseason, but that is months away.

Right now, Tallon is looking to take advantage of expiring contracts and continue this endless rebuild.

One of the biggest names Tallon has to dangle is forward Brad Boyes, who has a team-leading 15 goals (most for him since 2009) and would make any team's shootout better as points become harder and harder to get down the stretch.

Defenseman Tom Gilbert also came via the try-out route and is having a pretty solid season. He would also be a candidate to move.

Goalie Tim Thomas -- yes, he tried out in camp as well -- has a no-trade clause and has indicated that if Florida wants him back next season, it's something he would consider.

Thomas started out in Boston when things weren't going very well following the lockout season of 2004-05. The Bruins got better -- much, much better -- and Thomas says that helps his thought process today.

"If anything it is helpful because I’ve been there and seen the other side,'' Thomas said last week. "If anything it gives me a better perspective looking into the future because I know it can change. .-.-. It’s baby steps at times, but we have a lot of young talent here, and that’s obviously one very positive thing to look at.''

Florida could also move Marcel Goc, Mike Weaver, Scott Clemmensen, Krys Barch and Scott Gomez depending on the marketplace.

Moving players such as Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky would be tougher to do since they are all signed through next year. If a team wants them, however, they're available. Upshall has a no-trade clause as well.

Interim coach Peter Horachek says he's not going to worry about what Tallon has to do when the season restarts.

"Guys are playing for jobs, but should play for pride,'' said Horachek, whose status remains up in the air as well despite improved play under his watch.

"I think pride is the biggest, most important driving factor. If you don't feel that in your stomach, something is missing. Something is wrong.''

This isn't a strong class of free agents coming up although there are certainly some quality players whom Tallon is watching closely.

Some of the big name free agents Florida could target include Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, David Legwand and Matt Moulson.

The Panthers are expected to be active around draft time as Florida could improve its roster through trades. In 2011, Tallon started off his roster makeover by acquiring Brian Campbell from Chicago before trading for Kopecky.

Tallon's work that offseason led to Florida's first playoff appearance since 2000.

This year will most likely mark the 12th time in 13 seasons that Florida didn't make the playoffs.

-- The Panthers split up from Raleigh following Friday's 5-1 to the host Hurricanes with some heading back to their homes for a few days while others (Kopecky, Aleksander Barkov and broadcaster Steve Goldstein) took off for Russia.

Florida will have almost two full weeks away with the first practice scheduled for Feb. 21 in Coral Springs. The Panthers return to the ice Feb. 27 when they play host to the Capitals in Sunrise.

 

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