Panthers

Florida Panthers players learn to adjust as NHL lockout begins

 

With team facilities and equipment off-limits to NHL players, adjustments were the order of the day as the league’s work stoppage began.

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Dmitry Kulikov found out Monday that his practices during a lockout are more summer camp than training camp.

If you don’t bring something yourself, you may just go without.

“We have to bring your own drinks, shampoo, everything,” Stephen Weiss said laughing.

Kulikov was one of more than a dozen NHL players working out at the Panthers’ training facility in Coral Springs on Monday on the first real day of the league’s work stoppage.

Because of the lockout, players aren’t allowed to use the team’s facilities and have to rent the ice used for the practices. The facility, which is run by the Panthers, is also renting out side locker rooms for players to shower and change in.

Kulikov apparently forgot a towel to use for his post-practice shower in a locker room across the ice from the Panthers’ locker room door.

When someone asked a Panthers’ staffer if they could borrow a towel for Kulikov, the answer was no. In a lockout, a team can offer no assistance to a player — no matter how minimal the request.

Kris Versteeg, the Panthers’ top-line winger, is allowed into the locker room because he is still rehabilitating after having offseason surgery. When Versteeg found out about Kulikov’s predicament, he “borrowed’’ a Panthers-issued blue towel and brought it over to the other side of the ice sheet.

“This is not ideal, not what anyone wants,” said Versteeg, who isn’t allowed to join his teammates in the unofficial workouts as he will still be paid during the lockout.

“It’s really good to come back and see everyone, talk about what’s what and things going on with the lockout. Just to see everyone again has been great.”

Kulikov seemed amused by the towel incident and said he would make sure to bring his own for Wednesday’s practice. And although it was a small moment, Kulikov’s treatment is something players will have to get used to.

Last Friday, players were allowed to come and go as they pleased. After practice, they could leisurely head to the locker room and hang out in the players’ lounge afterward.

On Monday, players found out things are a little bit different. The weight room, showers and locker room are off-limits, as is the parking lot. Players were seen parking in the main lot at the Coral Springs Iceplex as they hauled their gear to and from practice. The complex wouldn’t allow players to store their equipment overnight.

“[Monday] felt different, definitely,” Weiss said. “We’re over here now and carrying our gear every day makes it sink in a little bit. It’s not a good feeling. We want to use our facilities and get this season going on time. It’s too bad. We spent two weeks over there, and now we’re not allowed in. It does make you realize how good you have it. But at the same time, this is part of the business. We’ll be ready to go.”

The Panthers also wore plain red jerseys [the team supplied regular practice jerseys up until last week’s final workout] and had their white helmets stripped of team decals and jersey numbers.

“You don’t want to go through this, but we’re all still working hard and hoping we’ll be playing here soon,” said Peter Mueller, signed by the Panthers in July.

How long will the impasse last? No one knows.

What is known is there is plenty of time for a deal to be done so teams can hold a training camp and a full 82-game schedule. Training camp wasn’t going to open until Friday — and it hasn’t officially been called off as of Monday.

Florida’s opening game against the Lightning is still scheduled for Oct. 13.

“To me, it was obvious how hard it was going to be to get a deal done,” said Tomas Vokoun, the former Panthers goalie who signed a two-year deal with the Penguins earlier this summer.

“With the way Gary Bettman has handled every negotiation, this is no surprise to me. There is a race for public opinion on who is right and who is wrong, but the NHL grew revenue by 40 percent in seven years. There isn’t a company anywhere, not even Socialist countries, who would ask their employees to take a pay cut after that. It makes no sense. They run this league. This is their business. ... We all suffer from this. The players, fans and owners. Everyone except for Gary Bettman.”

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