Friday should have been a busy day at the Panthers’ training facility in Coral Springs.
Yet instead of having close to 50 players running around the main part of the building as training camp opened, only an injured Kris Versteeg was spotted roaming the halls.
“Just me and a couple of rats,” Versteeg joked. “It’s a little weird.”
A number of Versteeg’s teammates were on the ice Friday afternoon, doing their best to stay in shape during a work stoppage that will enter its second week Sunday.
The players, locked out by the league for the third time since 1994, aren’t allowed to have any contact with the Panthers or use any of the facilities. The players are paying the Panthers out of their own pockets for use of the ice.
Versteeg, who is undergoing rehabilitation after offseason surgery, is not considered locked out and can come and go as he pleases. Versteeg has spent a lot of time catching up with his teammates.
“None of us want this,” said defenseman Mike Weaver, the Panthers’ union representative. “The players don’t want this, and I’m pretty sure the Florida Panthers organization doesn’t want this. We had a good season last year and were ready to build on that. Our fans are ready to come back.”
Aside from physicals, the Panthers were scheduled to have their first practice as a team Saturday morning and their first preseason game Monday.
“This is the nature of the beast, something we’ve been talking about for months,” veteran Ed Jovanovski said. “We’re in a situation in which we need patience. I don’t think we have 2004 on our hands. I’m optimistic something will get done sooner than later. As a member of the union, I believe this is a very meaningful deal that should help both sides and grow the game. Hockey is healthy right now. You wish everyone could see that.”
Although the informal workouts are scheduled to resume next week, the herd will be thinned. Some players are leaving for training camp in the Triple A American Hockey League while others are looking overseas.
Center Marcel Goc was the first to leave, signing a deal with former Panthers defenseman Dennis Seidenberg to play in their native Germany. Sean Bergenheim likely left the facility Friday for the last time before the lockout ends as he is headed home to Finland.
“No one knows how long this thing is going to take,” Goc said Wednesday. “The earlier I start playing the better. We’re on our own.”
Said Bergenheim: “I want to play, and I have some options. I’m just looking for what’s best for my family. It would be nice to go home because it’s been a long time since I’ve played there.”
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is also close to leaving as his agent is working on a deal in Russia. Kulikov is said to be returning to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl — the Russian team that owned his rights when the Panthers drafted him 14th overall in 2009.
Lokomotiv was the team that suffered a tragic plane crash last summer in which 43 people died, including former Panthers Karlis Skrastins, Ruslan Salei and Alexander Karpovtsev.
All players who play in Europe still belong to the Panthers once the lockout is lifted.
• Versteeg, who had hip surgery shortly after last season, skated on his own Friday. He said he has done light skating about six times since the surgery. He is expected to be ready to play in November.
“I’m starting to feel OK, getting my movement back,” Versteeg said.