March 04, 2014

BLOCKBUSTER FROM SUNRISE: Dale Tallon Talks About Luongo Deal, Effect on Tim Thomas, Scott Clemmensen

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards



As you well know, we had some talks last year. It just didn't come to fruition.

At 3:30 [Monday] afternoon, I had a brief conversation with Vancouver about it, you know, just making calls, kicking the tires asking if they had interest in Luongo. They said we could revisit it and we continued the conversation. We talked again at night, had good conversations [Tuesday] morning.

I talked to Vinnie Viola, Doug Cifu and Rory Babich this morning about the possibility and if I should continue to pursue this. I was given the green light to see what we could get done and we eventually got it done.

And here we are. I'm excited about. I think it's great for our franchise.


On Markstrom going back to Vancouver: We're getting a great goaltender, a proven commodity. Jacob has great upside but we needed to make a statement. Luongo's numbers are terrific. He's already been in this community and is very popular in South Florida. I just like what he brings to the table brining experience and a chance for us to win.

You have to pay the price to get guys like this. You don't get Roberto Luongo for nothing. You have to pay a price and we obviously paid a big price. Jacob is a great young goaltender with a lot of potential but that's what you have to pay sometimes to get value.


Have you talked to Roberto: He's excited, just over the moon about coming back to Florida. I spoke to him very briefly, had to get him on a flight. His family is here, his wife is from here. He's excited to be a Panther again and so are we. The past is the past and we have to worry about tomorrow.


Tim Thomas and can they coexist: This all came out so quickly, I'll sit down and talk to Tim and see what he would like us to do. Goaltending is pretty solid with those two guys. We have to talk to Tim and see what he would like to do and we'll do the best we can to make this work. You can't win without great goaltending and we'll see what direction it takes us. We'll have a conversation [Wednesday] with Tim and see where it leads. This is a business decision and we felt we had to do it. It came out of nowhere, [Monday] around 3, 3:30.


Shawn Matthias: It's time for a change, he's been here for a long time. He's had some great games and not so great games. Consistency has been the issue. I think he probably is welcoming a change, kind of intimated that this year -- his agent has. He has a lot of upside, a good guy who works hard, can skate and has a big shot. But he has to develop consistency. We're giving up two good young assets to get an outstanding goaltender.


The difference on dealing for Luongo this time around: We just couldn't get a deal done. We tried. Both teams didn't think it was a fair deal. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you're the bug, sometimes the windshield. This time we got a deal done. Sometimes it takes years to get the right deal done. We've been going at it hard for a couple of years. We finally got it done.


Boyes: We agreed to terms on a two-year deal.


Canucks taking 15 percent of salary: Yes I can.


How big is that: It's part of doing business in a hard cap and it's going to happen numerous times moving forward. You do what you have to do. It's part of the deal process. It made sense.


Assessment of Luongo's game: He's still one of the elite goaltenders in the league, was on the Canadian Olympic team. Won a Gold Medal. His numbers are phenominal, took his team to the Stanley Cup Finals and got beat in Game 7. He's a solid goaltender and can play a lot of minutes. You can't win without great goaltending.


Talking to Tim on no trade: He has a big game in Boston; we'll talk after the game [Tuesday] or [Wednesday] morning.


The splash of Luongo: It's huge. He's a big name down here. It sets the tone for our franchise. Vinnie, Doug, Rory and I want to win the Stanley Cup but talk is cheap. We're acting and following up on what we said we would do. We traded for Luongo, picked up [Brandon] Pirri and resigned Boyes. We're looking to get better every day in achieving our goal of the Stanley Cup.


Scott Clemmensen?: Clemm will probably have to spend some time in San Antonio. We'll see what happens next day and a half. We won't have that answer until 3 [Wednesday].


Weaver: We're going to get a good look at Petrovic, Roback and Racine; We have good young defenseman in our organization, in junior and college. We're looking to the future. Montreal was looking for a solid defensive defenseman. We felt it was a good thing for Mike Weaver to get into the playoff picture and have a good opportunity to win in Montreal. He's a great warrior, played his butt off for us. I wish him well.














LOUIE SPEAKS: Roberto Luongo Speaks to Media Following Trade Back to Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


Well the deal is official, the Panthers are getting Roberto Luongo back. And, the Canucks are eating a portion of the salary -- as expected.


Below, in italics, is the Panthers' official release. Under than are comments from Luongo to media before he left for the airport for a flight to South Florida.


G Roberto Luongo Returns to Florida Panthers

Florida Re-Acquires Three-Time NHL-All Star & Vezina Trophy Finalist

SUNRISE, Fla. - Florida Panthers Executive Vice President and General Manager Dale Tallon announce today that the club has acquired G Roberto Luongo and F Steven Anthony from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for F Shawn Matthias and G Jacob Markstrom.

“Roberto is one of the game’s elite goaltenders and we are happy to welcome him back to South Florida,” said Tallon. “With this acquisition, we have solidified our goaltending depth with a top-tiered netminder for the next several seasons. Roberto is a three-time Vezina finalist, who has experienced tremendous success throughout his 13-year playing career, which includes six post-season appearances, including the Stanley Cup finals, two Olympic Gold Medals and three All-Star selections. We look forward to his contributions to our club on the ice as well as his continued philanthropic efforts in the South Florida community.”

Luongo, 34, has played in 789 career National Hockey League games for NY Islanders (1999-2000), Florida (2002-2006) and Vancouver (2006-2014) posting a 367-305-92 mark with a 2.51 GAA, a .919 save percentage and 65 shutouts. He ranks second among active goaltending leaders in wins (367), saves (21,487) and shutouts (65). He also places third among active goaltending leaders in games played (789).

The three-time Vezina Finalist (2004, 2007 & 2011) has played in 64 postseason games, all with Vancouver, posting a 32-31 mark with a 2.54 GAA, leading the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals during the 2010-2011 season. Luongo, was also awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2011 (the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it).

The Montreal, Quebec native currently ranks first among Panthers’ goaltender leaders in several all-time categories including career games played (317), single season games played (75), career wins (108), single season wins (35), and career shutouts (26). He also own Florida’s single season records for most saves (2,303 in 2003-2004), most minutes played (4,304 in 2005-2006) and consecutive scoreless minutes (182:37 in 2004).

Luongo has represented Canada numerous times on the international stage, appearing in the last three Winter Olympics (2006, 2010 & 2014). He won the Gold Medal at both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. During the 2010 Winter Games, Luongo posted a 5-0 mark with one shutout and a 1.76 GAA. He also won Gold at the World Championships (2003 & 2004) and World Cup (2004).

Luongo was drafted by the NY Islanders with their first choice (fourth overall) in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft.

Anthony, 22, was drafted by Vancouver in the seventh round in 2009 NHL Entry Draft. A Hailifax, Nova Scotia native, Anthony played his junior hockey with the Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL). He most recently spent time playing for the Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL) and St. Charles Chill (CHL).

Roberto Luongo’s Career Statistics:

Season Team Lge GP Min GA EN SO GAA W L T Svs Pct


1995-96 Val d'Or Foreurs QMJHL 23 1199 74 0 0 3.70 6 11 4 534 0.878

1996-97 Val d'Or Foreurs QMJHL 60 3305 171 0 2 3.10 32 21 2 1571 0.902

1997-98 Val d'Or Foreurs QMJHL 54 3046 157 0 7 3.09 27 20 5 1390 0.899

1998-99 Acadie-Bathurst Titan QMJHL 22 1342 74 2 0 3.31 14 7 1 690 0.903

1999-00 Lowell Lock Monsters AHL 26 1517 74 1 1 2.93 10 12 4 733 0.908

1999-00 New York Islanders NHL 24 1292 70 2 1 3.25 7 14 1 660 0.904

2000-01 Louisville Panthers AHL 3 178 10 0 0 3.38 1 2 0 111 0.917

2000-01 Florida Panthers NHL 47 2628 107 6 5 2.44 12 24 7 1226 0.920

2001-02 Florida Panthers NHL 58 3030 140 4 4 2.77 16 33 4 1513 0.915

2002-03 Florida Panthers NHL 65 3627 164 7 6 2.71 20 34 7 1847 0.918

2003-04 Florida Panthers NHL 73 4251 172 7 7 2.43 25 33 14 2303 0.931

2005-06 Florida Panthers NHL 75 4305 213 4 4 2.97 35 30 9 2275 0.914

2006-07 Vancouver Canucks NHL 76 4490 171 3 5 2.28 47 22 6 1998 0.921

2007-08 Vancouver Canucks NHL 73 4233 168 3 6 2.38 35 29 9 1861 0.917

2008-09 Vancouver Canucks NHL 54 3181 124 5 9 2.34 33 13 7 1418 0.920

2009-10 Vancouver Canucks NHL 68 3899 167 4 4 2.57 40 22 4 1748 0.913

2010-11 Vancouver Canucks NHL 60 3590 126 3 4 2.11 38 15 7 1627 0.928

2011-12 Vancouver Canucks NHL 55 3162 127 2 5 2.41 31 14 8 1450 0.919

2012-13 Vancouver Canucks NHL 20 1197 51 0 2 2.56 9 6 3 500 0.907

2013-14 Vancouver Canucks NHL 42 2418 96 0 3 2.38 19 16 6 1061 0.917


Steven Anthony’s Career Statistics:

---Regular Season --- ---- Playoffs ----

Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM


2007-08 Saint John Sea Dogs QMJHL 55 6 8 14 38 10 1 1 2 2

2008-09 Saint John Sea Dogs QMJHL 67 19 29 48 47 4 1 2 3 4

2009-10 Saint John Sea Dogs QMJHL 61 18 23 41 28 5 0 0 0 6

2010-11 Saint John Sea Dogs QMJHL 61 23 37 60 23 14 5 7 12 12

2011-12 Kalamazoo Wings ECHL 34 8 12 20 28 -- -- -- -- --

2012-13 Kalamazoo Wings ECHL 41 3 8 11 10 -- -- -- -- --

2013-14 St. Charles Chill CHL 33 4 10 14 10



I was not expecting it. Go figure, right? I'm really out of words right now. This caught me off guard. This is good for myself and my family, but I'm a little sad to be leaving Vancouver.


It's nice, it's home. It's going to be a little tough to get in this season but we'll have to deal with that. The new ownership there is committed to winning and there are some good young players there. This is a good opportunity for me.


I didn't know what was going on at all. I was actually taking a nice pregame nap getting ready to play. It was kind of weird.


Listen. I thought my contract was untradable. It hurt I didn't play in that game but I was ready to play tonight. I moved on, was ready to go. I wasn't expecting this to happen especially not today.


Things happen and I've had to deal with them. To be quite honest, I felt really good today, felt like I was going to have a good game. I think I did a good job of putting things behind me and moving on.


Obviously a lot of great things happened here. We had a great run and unfortunately fell a little short. That's the one that's going to hurt me for a while. I wish we could have done more to win that game. All in all, it was a great run. There was a lot that happened in between, but nothing but good things to say about the fans who were really supportive -- especially at the end. It didn't go unnoticed. This organization took me to another level. It's all positive stuff.


On Tim Thomas: Yeah I did. We'll see how that goes, right?


It's tough for everyone, involved in this process. They had tough decisions to make. I can understand that. I understand management has tough decisions to make. When they were made, I tried to handle them as best I could. And right when I let my guard down, what do you know, a trade happens. That's the way it goes.


I spoke to a few guys, but obviously I have a flight to catch. They play in Florida in a few weeks, so I'll see you there.


I haven't had a chance to think about it but it's going to weird for sure. I don't know how else to put it. It's going to be weird. I've played with a lot of these guys for seven, eight years. To be playing against them will be weird.


Nothing out of the ordinary. It really caught me off guard.


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Things just got real for the Florida Panthers

Roberto Luongo is coming home.

Luongo has confirmed that the Canucks have traded him back to the Panthers. Luongo, who continues to reside a few miles north of Florida's training facility in Coral Springs, had been working on coming back to the team for some time.

Under Mike Keenan, the Panthers traded Luongo to the Canucks in a lopsided deal on the eve of the 2006 NHL Draft being held in Vancouver. Florida got Bryan Allen, Todd Bertuzzi and Alex Auld in that deal.

The Panthers reportedly are sending Jacob Markstrom -- long considered their goalie of the future -- to Vancouver.

Luongo and Tim Thomas, who famously battled it out in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, are now teammates. Scott Clemmensen, put on waivers on Tuesday, may be headed to San Antonio.

More as we move along....


BOYES IS STAYING: Panthers Sign Leading Goal Scorer to Two-Year Deal

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- The Panthers traded Mike Weaver on Tuesday afternoon but kept one of their top unrestricted free agents in the fold later in the day.

Brad Boyes, who came to the Panthers on a training camp try out, signed a two-year deal with the Panthers worth an average of $2.65 million.

Boyes, who leads the Panthers in goals and is second in points, said last Saturday after the loss in Columbus that he was hoping to be able to swing a deal and stay in South Florida.

Done and done.

More later.


MIKE WEAVER: Off to Montreal (via California) as Florida Panthers Make Move

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Mike Weaver shook hands and said goodbye to a few teammates before leaving Boston Garden after Tuesday's morning skate, then went back to the team hotel and saw most of them anyway.

Weaver, in his final year of his second two-year contract with the Panthers, was traded to Montreal not long after Florida's workout at the Garden. The Panthers got a fifth round pick in the 2015 draft for Weaver.

Weaver went back to the team hotel to gather his belongings and tie up little things like turning in his team-issued iPad. Weaver apparently left the charger for it at home in South Florida.

Montreal is currently on a west coast swing so Weaver, 35, was catching a flight out of Logan on Tuesday evening and meeting his new team in Anaheim. The Canadiens lost the opener of the trip Monday in Los Angeles.

"I'm still trying to wrap my mind around things, still kind of in shock,'' said Weaver, who was in his fourth season with the Panthers and one of their team leaders.

"I'm meeting the team in Anaheim and going on the west coast trip we were supposed to be going on later in the month. I'm excited about the opportunity. We have a great team.

"This could be fun. The energy inside the building in Montreal is just amazing. Being a part of the Montreal Canadiens really is amazing. It's Original Six. The tradition behind that jersey is amazing. The nerves are going to be going, but they'll be good nerves.''

Yet leaving Florida was bittersweet for Weaver.

"I loved it here, this is a great place to play,'' he said. "Florida has great weather, great facilities. I wish I could have been part of the new ownership moving forward. I wish them all the best. I had a great time in Florida.''

Before the trade, it looked like the Panthers were going to make Weaver a healthy scratch as he and Scott Gomez -- who was put on waivers at noon -- did the post-practice bag skate.

Weaver then came into the room and spoke to a few reporters before being pulled aside and told about the deal to Montreal.

"This is the first time I've ever been through this. We'll see what happens,'' Weaver said after the morning skate. "This is all new to me. When I first came here, I was part of the rebuild. And we're still rebuilding. It's part of the business.''

When asked if he had thought about Sunday's game on Long Island being his last with the Panthers, Weaver smiled.

"I'm not really thinking about anything right now,'' Weaver said. "If it happens, it happens. If not, everything is the same. I've had a great time here but we only made the playoffs once in four years. I would have liked a few more shots at that, won some more games. I wish we had a better penalty kill this year. But things happen. Either way, I'll deal with it.''

Gomez wasn't the only Florida player to find his way onto the waiver wire as goalie Scott Clemmensen was waived as well. If both clear -- or are picked up -- that frees up roster spots for the Panthers going into Wednesday's trade deadline.

"You're a professional so you just go out and play, whether it's with this team or another,'' Clemmensen said. "You don't worry about what may happen in the future. You worry about today.''


March 03, 2014

FINAL ACT: Michael Yormark Leaves Florida Panthers, Rory Babich & Dale Tallon to Split Duties

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- After a tumultuous decade of running the Florida Panthers and its related companies, team president Michael Yormark left the organization on Monday.

Yormark is now president and Chief Strategy Officer for Roc Nation, an entertainment and sports marketing firm headed by Jay-Z. Yormark begins his new job Wednesday in New York although his family will remain in Boca Raton.

The Panthers made the playoffs once since he joined the franchise in 2003, although the Broward County-owned BB&T Center became a top entertainment venue and helped keep the hockey team financially afloat.

"I'm thrilled,'' Yormark told the Miami Herald on Monday evening. "At the end of the day, I've been here 11 years. I've had a lot of opportunities come my way during that period of time. But I've done everything I can do here.

"Based on what I controlled and what I could impact, I did everything I could. This opportunity really puts me on a global platform. This takes me to a completely different level in my career. I had to go for it, I really did.''

Rory Babich, a New York-based attorney, has been advising new owner Vinnie Viola since he bought the franchise in September. Babich becomes the team's new CEO and president.

Babich will work with general manager Dale Tallon on both the hockey and business side of the organization. Both were named alternate governors of the franchise on Monday.

Tallon and Babich have been working together since Viola and Doug Cifu took over the organization.

"We're incredibly optimistic,'' Babich said. "Vinnie and Doug bought the team with the belief it can be very successful in South Florida. Dale and I certainly share that vision. That's why we're both here today.''

Said Tallon: "We've developed a good relationship in a short amount of time. We're going to be partners in all these initiatives on and off the ice. I'm excited about it. I think it's going to be great.''

Viola has said the Panthers will increase their payroll significantly next season and be closer to the salary cap ceiling ($71 million) than its floor.

With the NHL trade deadline coming Wednesday, Florida has the lowest payroll in the league but is expected to be busy.

Tallon is shopping a number of pending free agents who he doesn't feel fit with the Panthers' future plans. Tallon could also bring in players to help finish this season and return next year.

"We're building for the future obviously, but that's a whole different process,'' Tallon said. "This is another stepping stone.''

The departure of Yormark didn't come as a complete surprise as rumors had been circulating since last month following his appearance at a Broward County Board of Commissioners workshop in which the Panthers are requesting to restructure their contract and lessen (or completely erase) their financial obligation for use of the Sunrise arena.

Yormark has been at the forefront of the team's dealings with the county over the past decade and secured funding for a $4.2 million scoreboard and video command center last summer.

The commission appears poised to help the Panthers shed a good portion of their financial obligation to the county on a lease that runs through 2028.

Babich will join Cifu in working with the county as Yormark moves on.

"Having a strong hockey franchise here in a county-owned arena that brings in all of the top acts really does benefit the city of Sunrise, Broward County, right from the beaches to the Everglades and all of South Florida,'' Babich said. "We're looking to be cooperative and continue discussions with the commissioners.''

Brett Yormark, Michael's twin brother, is CEO of the Brooklyn Nets and the new Barclays Center and a business associate of Jay-Z.

Roc Nation as well as concert promoter Live Nation have had a close relationship with Yormark and Sunrise Sports & Entertainment over the years. Two of Yormark's closest employees with the Panthers recently took jobs in New York with Roc Nation.

When Viola and Cifu bought the team last summer, Yormark was promoted to CEO and allowed a small financial stake in the organization from stock options. Yormark will not take any ownership in the team moving forward.

"I'll still catch games when I can,'' Yormark said, "catch concerts and shows here when I can -- especially when we have our artists here. I'll be around. I wish Vinnie and his family the best of luck. I hope they can take this thing to the next level. That's what our fans want to see. I'll be cheering for them.''


MICHAEL YORMARK TALKS: Takes Pride in Keeping Florida Panthers Alive

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Below is the transcipt from an interview I did with former Florida Panthers president Michael Yormark on Monday evening.

There is some pretty good stuff in here.

And regardless of what you think of Yormark or how he ran the organization these past 11 years, you have to give him credit for continuously and tirelessly working to make things work down here. The guy just never stops.

Anyway, here you go:

I'm thrilled. At the end of the day, I've been here 11 years. I've had a lot of opportunities come my way during that period of time. But I've done everything I can do here.

I came here to build a first-class organization, to put this building on the map, to help this arena, to make the hockey team relevant in South Florida. Based on what I controlled and what I could impact, I did everything I could.

This opportunity really puts me on a global platform. This takes me to a completely different level in my career.

I had to go for it, I really did.

The easy thing would have been to stay, continue to do the same thing I did for 11 years. But I'm in the prime of my career and this opportunity opens up numerous doors. I'm working with such talented people at Roc Nation. It's one of the leaders in entertainment space on a global level. I'm just excited to be part of it.

This was once in a lifetime and it allows me to integrate entertainment with the sports side. It's really never been done before. I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to miss being down here, but I'm going to stay in South Florida, my family is still living in Boca Raton. I'll still catch games when I can, catch concerts and shows here when I can -- especially when we have our artists here. I'll be around. I wish Vinnie and his family the best of luck. I hope they can take this thing to the next level. That's what our fans want to see. I'll be cheering for them.


When I look at my legacy here, I look back and I helped keep hockey alive here in South Florida.

If you think about it, we had one playoff experience in 11 years. Yet the team is still here. We have a thriving arena, a thriving entertainment business. The team is hopefully about to turn the corner. Will all of that we kept moving the business forward. We built a brand that was revelant in the market and I'm proud of that. I can't tell you how many e-mails I got from people today, from fans to partners to business associates who said 'Michael, we appreciated your 24/7 effort. You did it against all odds.'

Think about it. And I told my staff this today, since I've been here, we've had multiple owners, coaches and general managers as well as two work stoppages. And, the Heat have won three championships -- and working on a fourth -- the Marlins won a championship. And on the entertainment side, there is all kinds of new places that have opened in the past 11 years. Case in point, the Hard Rock. Despite all that, we survived. We continued to move the business forward.

When I look back, I'm proud of what I accomplished. We didn't get a lot of help, but we perservered and worked our butts off every single day. I will tell you, we always had the hardest working staff in America. Every person who worked for this organization over the past 11 years worked 24/7 to build this brand and help keep this business alive. That's what I'm most proud of, I really am.

The difference from where I am and where I'm going is here, the challenge was to keep it alive. Where I'm going, the challenge is to build something great. I have an opportunity to really build something with Roc Nation, Jay-Z and the senior management team here. Where I've been the past 11 years, I was focused every day on surviving in a very competitive market. We did.


NEW MANAGEMENT: Rory Babich, Dale Tallon Meet the Media

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Here is the Panthers' official release on their new management team with Michael Yormark leaving the team for a gig with Roc Nation. My conversation with Michael comes up next.

Below the italicized press release is the transcript from Rory and Dale's teleconference with the South Florida media on Monday night.



SUNRISE, FLA - The Florida Panthers and its parent company Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, LLC announced today that Rory A. Babich has been promoted to Chief Executive Officer and President. Michael R. Yormark, the former CEO and President, announced today that he is resigning to accept an offer to join Roc Nation. In his capacity as CEO and President, Mr. Babich will be responsible for all business and hockey operations, where he will partner with Dale M. Tallon, currently the Executive Vice President and General Manager, who will also have his responsibilities expanded to include business operations. Both Mr. Babich and Mr. Tallon have also been named as Alternative Governors to the National Hockey League’s Board of Governors.


Panthers owner Vincent Viola said, “We appreciate Michael's many years of hard work and service to the organization and wish Michael much continued success in his new role. While we are sorry to see Michael leave, he has received an offer for a tremendous opportunity and we are fortunate that we will be able to continue working with him in his new role. Rory has been working with us throughout our acquisition of the team and has been partnering with Michael on the business side and Dale on the hockey side since he joined us. Rory and Dale have developed an extremely close working relationship and we look forward to having them continue our mission to develop a team that makes Sunrise, Broward County and South Florida proud on and off the ice and continues to attract sports-loving tourists from all over the world to Broward County. We will continue to focus on bringing the Stanley Cup to Broward County and South Florida while also offering the best entertainment and biggest names at BB&T Center in Sunrise."


Panthers co-owner Douglas Cifu said, “I have known Rory for nearly 25 years. He is an experienced senior business executive with an incredible knowledge of sports in general and hockey in particular. Together with Dale Tallon, who led the effort to build the foundation of the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks and is building a similar model here with our young guns, the two of them will pool their talents as we advance on our journey to bring the Stanley Cup to South Florida."


Growing up in the sports world with a father who was a college baseball coach and doubled as a sportswriter, Babich, who was born in NY, NY, has been working with the owners of the Panthers since they started exploring buying the team last summer. Before launching his consulting business, Babich was a senior executive responsible for running the day-to-day business of a division of Fortress Investment Group, a financial services company listed on the NYSE. Babich also has over 20 years of experience as a leading international corporate attorney. Babich said, “I am very excited about this opportunity to help take the team and the organization to the next level as we build a successful hockey team while also strengthening our bonds with our many supporters throughout Sunrise, Broward County and South Florida and having hockey-loving fans from Europe who vacation in South Florida adopt our team as their team. I could not ask to work with a better partner than Dale, and we are very optimistic about the future.”


Tallon, originally from Noranda, Canada, has been an Executive Vice President and the General Manager of the Panthers since May 2010. After helping build the Chicago Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup winner, Tallon is now in the process of working with Babich to replicate that success through careful drafting and development of young players with additional players added through trades and free agency. During his tenure, Tallon has led the Panthers to their first Southeast Division title during the 2011-2012 season and was selected as a finalist for the National Hockey League’s 2011-2012 Executive of the Year. Tallon said, “In the time we have been working together, Rory has become a trusted partner on the hockey side for me and I look forward to working with Rory on all parts of our business. Vinnie has given us the authority to become a cap team and we look forward to adding the right pieces and building the team the right way to ensure long-term success.”


We're very optimistic about the future here. Dale and I have been working together for a number of months and have built up a very close working relationship. Dale and I, together, will be partnering on all aspects of our business. Hockey, business and entertainment as we work on growing the business in Sunrise, Broward County and South Florida.


I've been involved in different sports throughout the years in the New York/New Jersey area. In terms of baseball, basketball, hockey -- there have been different roles over the years. Hockey is a sport I have loved ever since I've been a child. I was a longtime New York Rangers fan, have been a season ticket holder for over 20 years. I've followed the sport very closely. Since joining the Panthers, I've been working with Dale working on our strategy moving forward.


As everyone is aware, Vinnie and Doug purchased this team in September. Really, the vision of this franchise comes right from the top. We've been working closely with Dale since the new owners came in. Me stepping in as CEO doesn't change the vision of the owners or their commitment to build a successful franchise down here, make ourselves a cap team and continue the disciplined mind that Dale has instituted.


On Broward County: Obviously the owners have been part of this process and I'll be stepping in. Doug has met with the commissioners and will continue to interact with them as I get involved. As we look at the situation, I think it's always important to remember, when Vinnie and Doug bought the team and took the approach on going to the county commissioners with their request to help build a stable long-term franchise here, committing their own money as well as asking for additional support from the county to help support these initiatives, everything is meant to be supportive as we deal with the county and local residents. Having a strong hockey franchise here in a county-owned arena that brings in all of the top acts really does benefit the city of Sunrise, Broward County, right from the beaches to the Everglades and all of South Florida. We're looking to be cooperative and continue discussions with the commissioners. Any time something goes before the county in the States, there's always healthy debate. That's part of being in a democracy. We recognize that and welcome healthy debate around the issues and continuing the discussion.


We're incredibly optimistic. When Vinnie and Doug bought the team -- and we've seen this in other areas where franchise have been moved or various commitments made before owners purchased -- Vinnie and Doug bought the team with the belief it can be very successful in South Florida.

Dale and I certainly share that vision. That's why we're both here today.

We really do believe in building a successful franchise both on and off the ice, attracting the top talent and building that supportive fan base. People ask if hockey can really make a go of it in South Florida in a non-traditional market. The reality is South Florida is an incredible sports market. People like exciting sports. The team will be improving and building the bonds with the community. We're looking at a lot of community outreach either youth hockey or other areas where the Viola family and the Panthers can support the community. On all fronts, success on and off the ice, we believe the sky is the limit here.




I think this is an exciting time for us. Rory and I have been together since December and have developed a close relationship in a short amount of time. We have the same philosophy. We're partners in this and we're excited about what we're going to do and how we're going to do it. We're going to work together as a team to bring a Stanley Cup to the Florida Panthers and their fans.


On Bill Torrey: He'll have the same role he's had since I've been here; that's right there beside us at all time. He's involved in all decisions. I rely on him heavily because of his great knowledge and experience. He's a champion. Nothing is changed as far as that concerned.


Trade deadline: I think it's a different thing. We're building for the future obviously, but that's a whole different process. This is another stepping stone. First we look at the deadline to see what suits the franchise as far as the future is concerned. Then we'll focus on the draft and after that, free agency. We'll be aggressive in all those areas. Every move we make in the next day-and-a-half will be with regard for what's best in regard for this franchise in winning Stanley Cups.


Brad Boyes: We're still in negotiations. We've made an offer, had discussions today with his agent. We're hopeful we can get something done.


On meeting Rory: I wasn't apprehensive. We've been on the same page since the first day we met. I like Rory's personality and his approach to things. We're very similar in a lot of ways. We agree to disagree on some things, but we're very civil. We've developed a good relationship in a short amount of time. We're going to be partners in all these initiatives on and off the ice. I'm excited about it. I think it's going to be great.


Dale booking concerts?: Why not. A little bit of country, little bit of rock and roll. A little bit of this, a little bit of that.


HOCKEY STUFF: Pirri Could Play vs. Bruins; Jimmy Hayes Getting Islanders Goal?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Coach Peter Horachek said center Brandon Pirri was expected to join the team Monday in Boston. The Panthers didn't practice on Monday prior to Tuesday's game against the Bruins.

Pirri, acquired Sunday from Chicago for two draft picks, could play on Tuesday although that decision hasn't been made yet.

Horachek did talk about Pirri to Panthers forward Jimmy Hayes who played with Pirri in the Blackhawks' organization.

"I don't know much about him,'' Horachek said. "I've seen his stats, a couple of our guys played with him. It may be a little strange throwing him in there, but that could just be a good thing. We'll see what happens after the morning skate.''

-- Horachek said he would look into having the league review Florida's fifth goal from Sunday's 5-3 win over the Islanders. The goal was credited to Scottie Upshall, but the puck clearly went off Hayes' skate and into the net.

"What's right is right,'' Horachek said. "If it goes in, he did it. I think we should get things right.''



When, Where: 7 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Boston leads 39-32-6

Scouting report: The Bruins, coming off Sunday's 6-3 win at the Rangers, have beaten the Panthers six straight times. Tim Thomas is expected to make his second start at the Garden as a member of the Panthers.


OPEN LETTER: Michael Yormark Says Goodbye to Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Here is an email that Michael Yormark sent out this afternoon.


It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that after 11 years of incredible memories, moments and relationships, I am departing Sunrise Sports & Entertainment to open an exciting new chapter in my career.

I am honored and humbled to be joining Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports as President & Chief Strategy Officer. Roc Nation represents a wonderful new adventure for my family and me, and I am thrilled to join an exciting, innovative organization led by Desiree and Juan Perez.

Roc Nation Sports is poised to grow in to one of the most influential companies in the industry and I am looking forward to taking on this new challenge.

That said, I will always remember the wonderful moments and relationships that I had during my tenure as President & CEO of the Florida Panthers and the BB&T Center. I had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people including our staff, partners and fans and I will never forget some of the great memories and challenges that we shared together.

I believe strongly that new owner Vinnie Viola, his partner Doug Cifu and new CEO Rory Babich have the organization headed to even greater heights and I have no doubt they will continue to steward this company in a professional and first-class manner, and become significant leaders in our community.

Clearly, they are committed to winning on and off the ice and being a great partner to Broward County and I will always be available to support them on their journey.

Moving forward, I will be working out of Roc Nation’s New York City offices while maintaining my residence in South Florida. I look forward to staying in touch with you and all of my dear friends.

Thank you once again for everything you have done for me over the years and I will see you again soon.

Best Regards,





MICHAEL YORMARK OUT: Longtime Panthers President Leaving Organization; Rory Babich In

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
BOSTON -- After more than a decade of running the organization, team president Michael Yormark is leaving the Florida Panthers.
Sources close to the situation say Rory Babich will take over for Yormark and be introduced to the media on Monday afternoon.

Yormark is leaving the Panthers to run the business side of Roc Nation -- a sports and entertainment agency headed by Jay-Z. Two former Florida employees with close ties to Yormark already left for Roc Nation over the past few weeks.

Yormark was given a small financial stake in the team when Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu bought the franchise in September. He will not be retaining it when he leaves.

Babich is a New York-based attorney who has been working closely with Panthers general manager Dale Tallon since the beginning of the season.

Tallon, whose job is said to be "100 percent" secure, pushed for the Panthers to hire Babich in some capacity.

Although Yormark has had little to no say in the hockey side of the organization at least since the new ownership came on, that will not be the case with Babich. Sources say the two will continue to work closely together as Babich works both sides of the business.

The Panthers, who say they are going to significantly increase salary next season, are trying to transform their standing in the local marketplace and hope finally putting a winning product on the ice will bring fans back to Sunrise.

Under Yormark's watch, the Panthers went through seven coaches, five general managers and four different ownership groups. Yormark was hired from the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003 by then-owner Alan Cohen. Florida had three different coaches that season.

Florida made the playoffs once since Yormark joined the franchise.

Attempts to reach Yormark on Monday morning were unsuccessful.


March 02, 2014

PANTHERS MAKE SOME MOVES: Acquire Pirri From Blackhawks, Deal Selleck

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers were busy on the trade front Sunday, making two different deals.

Florida acquired former second round pick (2009) Brandon Pirri from Chicago for Florida’s third round draft pick in 2014 and its fifth-round selection in 2015.

Pirri is expected to join the team in Boston for Tuesday's game against the Bruins.

The 22-year-old has played in 35 games over parts of three seasons with the Blackhawks, scoring six goals with seven assists. Pirri was with Chicago's AHL affiliate in Rockford, Ill., at the time of the deal and is a past winner of the AHL scoring title as well as its All-Star Game MVP.

Florida also dealt AHL winger Eric Selleck to St. Louis for forward Mark Mancari. The Panthers sent Doug Janik to the AHL's Chicago Wolves for future considerations.

Mancari, 28, had nine goals and 22 assists for the Wolves this season. Mancari has played in 42 NHL games for Buffalo and Vancouver; his last NHL action came over six games with the Canucks in 2011-12.


ON AN ISLAND: Panthers Rally with Four in the Third, Drop Islanders 5-3 ... Panthers Make Minor League Deal

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers have made a habit of falling behind early in games.

On Sunday, they finished their comeback.

Florida, which hadn't won a road game since beating Detroit on Jan. 26, scored four unanswered goals in the third period to beat the host Islanders 5-3 on Sunday afternoon at the Nassau Coliseum.

The Panthers got two goals from Shawn Matthias as the winger now has three goals in his past two games. Matthias had 11 goals in March last season; he has three in the first two days of March this year.

Florida trailed 3-1 going into the third after the Isles scored late in the second. But Marcel Goc got Florida going in at 3:16 of the third to make it 3-2. Matthias got his second of the night a few moments later to tie it.

Scottie Upshall gave Florida its first lead since he scored to make it 1-0 on Detroit on Feb. 6; Upshall was credited with his second goal to make it 5-3 although it appeared Jimmy Hayes knocked the puck in with his skate off Upshall's shot.

The two teams combined for 25 penalties with the Panthers being called for 13 of them. The Islanders scored on their first power play chance yet the Panthers' beleaguered penalty kill was good on Sunday. Florida killed off five of six including a full two-minute 5-on-3 chance for the Islanders in the first down 2-0.

The Panthers also got a power play goal on Sunday, going 1-for-4 with the advantage.

Florida concludes this three-game road trip -- which started with Saturday's 6-3 loss in Columbus -- on Tuesday at Boston.

-- The Panthers made a minor move on Sunday afternoon, acquiring minor league winger Mark Mancari from the St. Louis Blues for Eric Selleck.

The Panthers also sent Doug Janik to the AHL's Chicago Wolves for future considerations.

Mancari, 28, had nine goals and 22 assists for the Wolves this season. Mancari has played in 42 NHL games for Buffalo and Vancouver; his last NHL action came over six games with the Canucks in 2011-12.


March 01, 2014

BOYES STAYING?: Florida's Leading Scorer Says He Wants to Remain with Panthers, Agent Talking with Tallon

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Brad Boyes is one of Florida's top trading chips as the NHL deadline fast approaches.

On Saturday, Boyes said he would like to stay with the Panthers and he confirmed that his agent has been in talks with general manager Dale Tallon about a new contract.

Boyes, who got a one-year deal from the Panthers after a training camp tryout, leads Florida in goals (17) and points (28).

Tallon didn't travel to Columbus and apparently is working back in South Florida.

"I would like to stay,'' Boyes said. "There have been talks back and forth. We'll see what happens.''

Defenseman Mike Weaver, also a pending free agent, could be moved by Wednesday as well. Weaver was scratched from Saturday's lineup not because a deal was in the works but because coach Peter Horachek didn't like Weaver's play from Thursday.

"Everyone has to be accountable in certain situations,'' Horachek said. "We have to make decisions each night."


RUN OVER IN C-BUS: Panthers 'Special' Teams Don't Do Much in 6-3 Loss to Blue Jackets

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Panthers' special teams have been problematic all year. Saturday, it was ridiculous how bad things got.

Florida surrendered three power play goals before the Blue Jackets scored a shorthanded one for good measure in a 6-3 win over the Panthers at Nationwide Arena.

The Panthers, last in the league in both power play and penalty kill percentages, have lost eight of 10 dating to Jan. 24.

Florida's penalty kill has been successful once in six tries since the Olympic break; the power play is a anemic 1-for--10. Columbus' final two goals of the day came into an empty net.

"Special teams stink,'' coach Peter Horachek said afterward. "Those guys aren't taking responsibility for the penalty killing. That was not very good. The power play, to give up a shorthanded goal in that situation .-.-. there has to be some sense of desperate play.''

The team left the Ohio capital soon after Saturday's loss and flew to Long Island. The Panthers visit the New York Islanders -- who were embarrassed 6-1 at home by the Devils on Saturday -- on Sunday afternoon before wrapping up this three-game road trip Tuesday in Boston.

"They beat us on special teams,'' said Nick Bjugstad, who tied the score at 2 in the second. "We had a good fight back and it was a close one. We had our chances but we need a better start.''

Florida fell behind 2-0 as the Jackets scored on consecutive power plays before Shawn Matthias picked off an errant pass deep in the Columbus zone and walked in on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and roofed a shot with 6:10 left in the first.

Bjugstad tied the score at 2 less than seven minutes into the second, backhanding a shot past Bobrovsky for his 14th goal of the year.

Florida's Erik Gudbranson got called for cross-checking midway through the second and that meant bad news for the Panthers. Florida, which allowed Washington to go 2-for-2 on the power play on Thursday, watched David Savard make it 3-for-3 for the Blue Jackets as he scored with a second left in Columbus' third power play attempt.

"We didn't play well,'' Brad Boyes said. "I thought we were turning the corner with the power play in the last game. But this is a broken record. It's killing us.''

The Panthers wouldn't be down long, however, as 40 seconds later, Tom Gilbert's long shot clipped Sean Bergenheim camped down low and the puck somehow found its way past Bobrovsky.

Florida tried to take its first lead of the game late in the third when Derek MacKenzie popped Dmitry Kulikov with his stick Instead, Artem Anisimov bulled Jonathan Huberdeau in the corner and took the puck away from him.

Anisimov spun and took the puck directly to the net, beating Scott Clemmensen with 10 seconds left before the second break.

"There are individuals who let everyone else down,'' Horachek said, not naming Huberdeau specifically.

-- Horachek went with Clemmensen in net with Tim Thomas expected to get the call Sunday. Clemmensen, who made 31 saves, hadn't started since Jan. 30.



When, Where: 3 p.m.; Nassau Veterans Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 40-34-8

Scouting report: This is a battle of two teams going nowhere fast. The Islanders, who lost 6-1 to the Devils on Saturday, are just three points ahead of the Panthers in the standings. Florida won the first meeting 4-2 in January.





February 27, 2014

ONE MOMENT IN TWINE: Ovechkin Scores Soon After Thomas' Big Save as Caps Top Panthers 5-4

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

In hockey, a game can be won or lost in a matter of seconds.

On Thursday, the Panthers were on the wrong side of that equation as Alex Ovechkin scored late to lift Washington to a 5-4 win at BB&T Center.

Ovechkin's goal came moments after Tim Thomas kept Florida in the game with a spectacular glove save he made on Mike Green while lying on his back.

Thomas made the save look a little tougher as he fell skating backward into position, but his snap reflex with his glove will be remembered.

"I got caught on the ice, caught on a rut,'' Thomas said. "It turned into a nice highlight-reel type of save. It was like, I have to make some way to make this save or I'll look like an idiot.''

The Panthers rallied from not one but a pair of two-goal deficits on Thursday yet fell a bit short as they tried to come out of the Olympic break with a win.

Florida, which has lost seven of nine, trailed 2-0 before tying things up only to see the Caps make it 4-2 by the end of the third.

The Panthers got back into the game when they scored a power play goal 8:01 into the third as 6-foot-6 Jimmy Hayes blocked goalie Braden Holtby's view as Drew Shore's point shot sailed through.

Just over a minute later, Brad Boyes tied the score by getting his second goal of the night by following up on his own rebound to make it 4-4.

Florida kept pushing but couldn't get that fifth goal. Washington, eventually, did.

"We've been able to come back in the past this season, come back in the third,'' said Boyes, whose wife gave birth to his second child on Monday. "But we talk about a 60-minute game. The resilience is there, but we give teams opportunities. We give them a lot. We gave up power plays, turnovers. If we cut those out, we're better off.''

Thomas, who made 30 saves, watched Green shoot out of the penalty box with 4:42 left and pick up a pass in the neutral zone unopposed. Thomas began working his way back to the cage when he caught his skate, falling to his back. Green couldn't get the puck high enough to avoid Thomas' leather, the save stunning Green and the Capitals.

Moments later, Ovechkin took a cross-ice pass from Brooks Laich and lit into it, scoring the winner. Ovechkin, fresh off his Russian Olympic disappointment, set up two other Washington goals.

"The last thing you want to give up .-.-. after that type of save is a 2-on-1 opportunity for them,'' Thomas said afterward.


Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio were forced into an almost month-long road trip because of the annual rodeo and stock show. It was quite the successful trip.

On Wednesday, the Rampage ended its 10-game sojourn with a seventh win -- a 3-0 win in Utica, N.Y. Goalie Jacob Markstrom recorded his second shootout of the trip.

"This year, I think, was the longest one because we never went home,'' said Panthers center Drew Shore, who spent the Olympic break on the road with the Rampage. "It was fun. We had a few days off, went to Niagara Falls, had some team dinners and won a lot of games. That makes things fun.''

The successful trip helped pull San Antonio within two points -- as of early Thursday -- of the AHL's final playoff spot in the Western Conference. San Antonio missed the postseason last year.

"A month out of your building but they knew it, it was planned,'' said Peter Horachek, who coached the Rampage before replacing Kevin Dineen in Florida. "They did a great job, bonded, came together.''

-- The Panthers' first goal Thursday came as Tomas Fleischmann broke his long drought by scoring his first goal in 23 games by one-timing a slick feed from Jesse Winchester with 4:33 left in the first.

Fleischmann has been Florida's leading scorer the past two seasons but hadn't scored since Dec. 17.


February 26, 2014

POWERED DOWN: Panthers Power Play Trying to Avoid History

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Panthers coach Peter Horachek spent a big portion of Wednesday's practice working on Florida's woeful power play.

The Panthers have scored on 9 percent of their power play chances this year; the NHL record for worst power play percentage belongs to the 1997-98 Lightning which scored on 9.35 percent of its chances.

The franchise record for power play futility is a comparatively robust 13 percent (2000-01).

"I don't know the stat, won't look it up and don't care about it,'' Horachek said. "Someone telling me a stat doesn't change anything.''

Well, wait, there's more.

Florida is also on pace to obliterate its franchise record for fewest power play goals.

The Panthers have scored 17 power play goals in 58 games this year; last year, despite playing just 48 games, the Panthers had 29. Florida is on track to score 24 this year. Florida's fewest power play goals in a full season: 35 (2010-11).

"It would certainly generate some confidence and get things jumping,'' Horachek said.


FLORIDA FIRE SALE?: Panthers Could Stay Largely Intact Moving Forward

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When the Panthers take the ice Thursday against Washington, it could be the last home game for a number of players who have spent varying degrees of time in South Florida.

With the NHL's trade deadline less than a week away, the Panthers could undergo another massive roster overhaul.

For a team miles out of a playoff spot, that may not be a bad thing.

Yet general manager Dale Tallon hasn't given off the vibe of someone planning a major fire sale.

Do the Panthers have some assets available for the right price? Sure. Will the Panthers have a complete veteran purge? Probably not.

"We're going to do what's best for the Panthers to build a championship team,'' Tallon said during the recent Olympic break. "We're not blowing this thing up. If we can sell some assets to get better, we'll do that. It depends what happens in the next few weeks. We'll be aggressive either way.''

Although Tallon and and the Panthers have moved NHL players for prospects and draft picks in the past, they may not do that as much as in years past despite a similar spot in the standings.

Coach Peter Horachek said he hopes the Panthers don't ship off his key players with only draft picks returning.

He has a vested interest in this.

As the interim coach, Horachek knows the more wins that come in the final 24 games, the better his chances of returning next year are.

"I don't really want any draft picks. They don't do me any good,'' Horachek said. "I want to win these games, I want the guys to care about winning these games. I want the guys to put it on the line whether we have an opportunity or mathematically out. I want to make sure we care about winning these games.''

Of Florida's biggest 'available' pieces, Tallon he had interest in keeping all of them. Goalie Tim Thomas, winger Brad Boyes and defenseman Tom Gilbert all came to Florida during training camp on try-outs and signed one-year contracts.

Tallon said all three deserve to stick around if they so wish.

"Performance is important and desire [to stay] is as well,'' Tallon said, adding that Thomas -- perhaps Florida's biggest trade chip since Jay Bouwmeester -- has expressed an interest to return next year.

"Those guys have had good years and deserve the chance to stay. .-.-. I'm happy with the way they've played, happy with their professionalism.''

Other free agents the Panthers could offer other teams include center Marcel Goc, defenseman Mike Weaver and restricted free agent Dmitry Kulikov.

When the Panthers return to the BB&T Center next Friday, they could look drastically different than they do on Thursday.

Or not.

"Management is going to look to do what they think is right long-term,'' Horachek said.



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

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Washington leads 57-44-9

Scouting report: The two teams split the first two games with each winning at home in overtime/shootout. The Caps had won two straight heading into the break. Nicklas Backstrom returns after being banned from the Gold medal game in Sochi for taking allergy medicine.


February 25, 2014

SEAN BERGENHEIM: Feeling Good, Made Right Decision to Skip Sochi

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Sean Bergenheim said he has no regrets for turning down Finland's late offer to join its national team in Sochi. Bergenheim said before the break that he needed the additional time off after missing all of last year and part of this one due to numerous surgeries relating to his groin and abdomen.

Finland won Bronze by beating the U.S. national team 5-0.

"I feel really good, not a question in my mind that I made the right decision,'' said Bergenheim, who has 13 goals and six assists in 43 games.

"I want to play for the Florida Panthers down the stretch -- and I was thinking about last year. I'm really happy about the progress I've made.''


NICK BJUGSTAD: Center of Attention

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers' top line had a new look once again as Drew Shore -- recently recalled from the minors -- joined the fray for Tuesday's practice.

Brad Boyes, who along with Aleksander Barkov and Sean Bergenheim has served as Florida's top trio the past few months, was out as his wife Elissa was in labor with the couple's second child.

When the Panthers return from their Olympic hiatus Thursday against the visiting Capitals, Florida's top line will continue to have Boyes and Bergenheim -- only rookie Nick Bjugstad replaces the injured Barkov at center.

"It's unfortunate that we lost Barkov but this is a great opportunity,'' Bjugstad said. "It's a tough loss but we have to fill roles, step it up. I have to take this opportunity and see what happens.''

Barkov is out indefinitely after apparently re-injuring the knee that cost him four games with the Panthers before the break.

Barkov, 18, was hurt representing Finland in Sochi.

"It's always fun to play with great players and Barkov was there and it's fun to see how Bjugstad has evolved as a player,'' Bergenheim said. "It's going to be fun but things are going to change a bit. These are two different players. We have to find chemistry, do new things.''

Coach Peter Horachek said promoting Bjugstad to Florida's top line is a natural progression.

Bjugstad, 21, is enjoying a fine second rookie season of sorts as he played in 11 games at the end of last season following his departure from the University of Minnesota.

Florida didn't necessarily want to rush Bjugstad and play his at the NHL level so soon, yet that small window with the Panthers seems to be paying dividends now.

Bjugstad, who scored his first NHL goal in his final game of last season, has 13 goals and 10 assists in 52 games this season.

"You can't teach size,'' Horachek said. "His reach, his skating ability is so good, I've been surprised when he's come out of the corners with the puck. He has great strength, real ability. To do that against the best players in the world is a big thing. He really wants to get better.''

Horachek was the coach of Florida's AHL team in San Antonio at the beginning of the season and it was thought Bjugstad would start his season there.

After missing all of training camp and the first two weeks of the season because of a concussion, Bjugstad started with the Panthers as then-coach Kevin Dineen felt Florida would be better off using his offensive skill.

Bjugstad, who still lives at the 'vacation village' the team uses as temporary residence, never did end up in San Antonio. And although Horachek says he feels Bjugstad may have hit the so-called rookie wall a few weeks back, the nearly three week break has rejuvenated him.

"I missed a whole month and all I did was watch hockey,'' Bjugstad said. "I was fortunate to recover as quick as I did. It all worked out. I'm not glad I got the concussion, but it did make me realize what a privilege it is to play. It makes you realize how much you love the game.''

-- Horachek wasn't happy with his team's lackluster effort at practice on Tuesday -- the fifth workout of the Olympic break. Florida will practice in Coral Springs again on Wednesday.

According to a Panthers' spokesman, all practices at the IceDen in Coral Springs will start at 11 a.m. through the end of the season.

I always try to update the practice schedule on my Twitter feed so check it out.

Gameday skates -- and those off days sandwiched between home games -- are usually closed at the arena.

-- Aside from Barkov and Tomas Kopecky (concussion), the Panthers appear to be pretty healthy coming out of the break. Both of those aforementioned players were hurt at the Olympics.