Jose Theodore slipped into his Panthers jersey Monday afternoon to join his teammates on the ice for the first time since tearing two groin muscles in Carolina on March 2.
Theodore was in full uniform for the team’s annual picture on BB&T Center ice. He hopes that wasn’t the last time.
Not only did Theodore start skating Monday for the first time since being injured, but he plans on joining the Panthers in regular practice during the final two weeks of the season.
Theodore also said he hopes to get back into game shape so he can start one of Florida’s final 10 games.
“It was good to be back in the gym, but it felt really good to be back on the ice in the equipment,” Theodore said while sitting in a stall between current Florida goalies Jacob Markstrom and Scott Clemmensen.
“My goal is to be healthy and start practicing, get a game or two in. When the summer comes and you’re training, you want that piece of mind. I want to be able to focus on training and not overthink this summer. If I can practice and play, that will get my confidence up.”
Florida coach Kevin Dineen often has spoken of his fondness for Theodore and said the team took a hit when he had to be helped off the Carolina ice with torn groin muscles.
Because Theodore didn’t need surgery, a potential return is possible.
“I felt it right away, knew something really wrong had happened,” Theodore said of his injury. “It was a sharp pain, and I knew it was bad. The MRI showed two big tears and they knew it was six to eight weeks. As a goalie, it can take longer. I’m going to be smart with it.”
Dineen said he welcomes the effort and would welcome Theodore back.
“We have had a unique year on the injury front so to be able to get a quality guy like that would be great,” Dineen said. “We won’t go there on him playing in a game until a more realistic point because we are a ways away from that. I’ve always been a fan of his, and it’s been a tough year for him. It’s good to see him working so hard to get back.”
General manager Dale Tallon is in a bit of a sticky position these days after telling a group of potential season-ticket holders that he wasn’t opposed to re-signing Theodore to a new contract.
Florida, if it brings back Theodore, would have three goalies under contract next season as the 23-year-old Markstrom is a restricted free agent and Clemmensen is signed for one more season.
If Theodore is brought back, Clemmensen would likely be the odd man out in the Florida rotation.
“Time will tell what happens,” Tallon said Sunday during Clemmensen’s masterful 40-save performance in a 2-1 win over Ottawa. “I was very happy with [Theodore]. He works hard, is a pro and I like him. It’s just a matter of getting Markstrom signed, we have Clem signed. We’ll see what happens. We really have no commitment to anything right now.”
Theodore said Monday that he is working himself back for next season — with the hope that it’s with the Panthers. He said he doesn’t think there will any awkwardness with Clemmensen.
Theodore, 36, would be playing in his 16th NHL season next year.
“I want to turn the page and forget about [the injury] and just get ready for the season,” said Theodore, who was 4-6-3 with the Panthers this season. “We’ve built something here, and I want to be part of the solution here. We hadn’t made the playoffs in 12 years yet won the division last year. We have a good team. I want to be part of it.”
This and that
The Panthers were once again without Drew Shore (wrist) in practice Monday, although Dineen said he skated before the team’s practice. With Tuesday off, Shore could practice Wednesday and play Thursday in Winnipeg.
Defenseman Mike Weaver (knee) practiced again Monday but Dineen said his status for Thursday was still questionable.• With the expected return of Shore, Scott Timmins — who played in Florida’s back-to-back set this past weekend — was returned to AHL San Antonio.
• The Panthers had a number of their injured players back in uniform for the photo shoot including Theodore, Kris Vertseeg (knee) and Stephen Weiss (wrist).
“We had the gang back together,” Dineen quipped.