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David Booth Close to Return ... Team USA: A Long Shot

Dc WASHINGTON -- David Booth is "close" to a return to the Panthers lineup, with it possibly coming as early as next week.

Neither coach Pete DeBoer nor Booth would put a timeline on it, but DeBoer repeatedly said Booth was close to coming back.

"Every day is a day closer,'' Booth said this afternoon. "If I can keep going in this direction, we're looking at games before the Olympic break.''

Booth seemed to agree with my theory that this weekend's games might be too soon, but Friday's game against the Calgary Jokimeesters could be the target date. That gives him a full week to get his timing and conditioning.

And DeBoer completely ruled out Booth going down to the AHL for a conditioning stint as expected. The Panthers don't want to see him get hurt down in Rochester.

DeBoer says if Booth comes back and looks good and IF he was picked for the Olympics, he would have the organization's blessing to go. The Panthers wouldn't mind seeing him play competitive hockey during the break.

Booth seems to think a spot on Team USA is a real long shot and he's OK with that. "We have a real good team,'' he said. "They're going there to win the Gold. If I can join them, I would jump at it. It's the highest honor in hockey, in sports, to represent your country. But my biggest commitment is to the Panthers. We're in a tight race. I want to get in a few games here, then get the rest and make the big push into the playoffs.''