Thursday was a relaxing day around the Panthers training facility. As players skated around running drills, general manager Dale Tallon cracked jokes.
Coach Kevin Dineen, wearing jeans and deck shoes, casually sipped on a cup of coffee as he made small talk.
These days of leisure are almost over for the Panthers. Florida has just a handful of practices between the start of training camp until its season opener Jan. 19. The Panthers are expected to play eight games within the first two weeks.
“We’ve been together as a staff, but when you see all your players here, you feel complete,” said Dineen, whose team plans to have its first practice either Sunday or Monday.
“The focus is on the games. Training camp is important, but it’s to build up to what looks like a very busy first week for us. It looks like the first week or two will be busy, and that’s how it’s going to be all season. We’ll just have to build in and make some decisions on the fly.”
When the 2013 season starts, it will be a mad dash to the finish from Day 1. Like the other 29 teams in the league, the Panthers have only 48 games to prove themselves.
Florida securing a playoff berth last season was helped by earning 59 points in the first 48 games.
“We need a good start with only 48 games,” Tallon said. “We’ll be prepared to go.”
Last year, it took 92 points to make the Eastern Conference playoffs — which works out to 54 points in a 48-game season.
Florida had the equivalent of 55 points last year.
“Things change quick,” Brian Campbell said. “You want to get in front early so you’re not playing playoff hockey with 20 games left. It’s going to be a quick, fun ride.”
Tallon and Dineen were allowed to watch their first on-ice workout on Thursday since the lockout began in September as the Panthers returned to the Saveology.com Iceplex.
Although the players wore their Panthers practice jerseys and used their locker room at the facility, Dineen and his coaches weren’t allowed to run practice. Once the NHL players’ association officially ratifies the new collective bargaining agreement Saturday, it’s game on.
“You don’t realize how much you miss it until you really see them out there,” Tallon said. “It’s nice to see everyone out there smiling and happy to be here. Let’s move on.”• After working out in Denver during the lockout, winger Marek Svatos is in South Florida as he prepares to try to make the Panthers. Svatos, like 39-year-old Alex Kovalev will be in camp without a contract.
“I’ve struggled in the past with some injuries, and that’s why I took last year off,” said Svatos, who scored 85 goals from 2005 to 2009 but just 11 in his past two seasons.• Tallon said he reached out to the agent for former Canadiens and Nashville winger Andrei Kostitsyn but hadn’t heard a response. Kostitsyn signed a one-year deal with Chelyabinsk Traktor in the KHL and told sportbox.ru he would stay there through the end of the season.
• Tallon said defenseman Erik Gudbranson continues to be suspended by the team after injuring his shoulder while wakeboarding over the summer in Canada.
“He will be until he’s cleared to play,” Tallon said. “You live and learn. He’s a young guy, and that’s part of life. It’ll make him stronger.”• Dmitry Kulikov is one of a half dozen Florida regulars who hasn’t practiced locally in the past few days. Kulikov spent the lockout in Russia and is said to be on his way back. He has business to attend to as he remains an unsigned restricted free agent.
The Panthers cannot sign Kulikov until the CBA is ratified. “We’re still talking,” Tallon said. “We want him in our lineup, and we’re doing everything in our power to get him here.”• The Panthers will have another unofficial practice Friday at 10 a.m. The workouts are held at the Coral Springs Iceplex and are free and open to the public.