By late last week, it appeared Sean Bergenheim’s road back from injury was close to being over. Bergenheim’s work load in practice had increased, and he was working with Florida’s top forwards for the first time this season.
Bergenheim’s return date is now anyone’s guess.
On Friday, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said he “worried” about Bergenheim’s career as the 29-year-old remains working with a physical therapist in Toronto who was recommended by Bergenheim’s agent.
“I’m worried about the guy first as his coach, and I worry about him as a player,” Dineen said. “It’s been an extremely long time off. I understand this is a tough game we play. He needs to be physically involved, be active. I’m worried he’s going to come back and he can’t feel his way back into the NHL.
“I have guys here with bumps and bruises and are playing hurt every night. You’re not going to feel 100 percent. He needs to get the medical situation straightened out. Once he does, he can be a valuable member of our team.”
Bergenheim had two surgeries in the past year to repair his hip and a sports hernia, which are said to be related. Although he reported to camp on time, Bergenheim has been brought back slowly and started full practice sessions the past two weeks.
Dineen said last week that Bergenheim was going to see his surgeon when the team traveled to Nashville and perhaps receive medical clearance to play. Instead, Bergenheim left the team to work with a specialist in Ontario for what was supposed to be five days.
Dineen said Bergenheim would remain away from the team for at least a few more days.
“He’ll be back toward the end of the week,” Dineen said. “This is something he believed could help him out. It’s been an extremely long rehabilitation process.”
Bergenheim was part of a contentious medical grievance with the Panthers last year, and when he won, he was granted his entire 2012-13 salary of $2.75 million.
The Panthers contended that Bergenheim was injured in Finland as he played in two games during the NHL lockout; Bergenheim’s doctors said he had a preexisting condition dating to his 2011-12 season with the Panthers.
Although both sides have said there is no ill will from the hearings and that it was simply the cost of doing business, it appears Dineen is losing his patience with Bergenheim.
“He’s an extremely long time removed from the surgeries,” Dineen said. “He needs to come back in a healthy frame of mind ready to help the hockey team.
“We’ve waited an extremely long time, and we’ve been patient and very understanding. We continue to be that way. We just need him to come back and give us some of the energy we know he can and stop worrying about anything about playing hockey.”
If Bergenheim returns in good health, the Panthers would love to have him back in the lineup. In his one full season with Florida in 2011-12, he scored a career-high 17 goals in 62 games.
Bergenheim, who scored nine playoff goals for the Lightning in 2011, had three goals and three assists in Florida’s seven-game series against the Devils in 2012. Bergenheim is scheduled to make $2.75 million both this season and next after signing a four-year deal with the Panthers on July 1, 2011.
“He’s been gone so long I haven’t given it much thought,” Dineen said. “We had a snapshot in training camp that he was getting close. Now it’s a prolonged thing. He’s totally off the radar right now until he becomes what I consider a viable option.”
Goalie sent down
Florida’s three-goalie experiment didn’t last long at all as Scott Clemmensen was sent back to the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
Clemmensen, 33, missed all of training camp after having minor knee surgery in September. He has started one game in the AHL this season and relieved Jacob Markstrom in a loss at Tampa Bay last week. Markstrom is now backing up Tim Thomas.
“This is a flexible situation,” Dineen said. “It’s important for Clemmensen to get some games. We need depth at every single position, and a goalie is no good if he’s sitting every day.”