As the chopped up ice surface was being hauled out of BB&T Center, members of the Florida Panthers schlepped bags stuffed with gear and cords of sticks wrapped tight with tape from their locker room to vehicles parked underneath the arena.
Yes, Tuesday was the official start of another long offseason for the Panthers.
After missing the playoffs, the Panthers definitely have numerous questions which need answering in the coming weeks and months.
One of the biggest ones regards future Hall of Fame forward Jaromir Jagr and whether he returns.
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Jagr, as has been the case the final week of the season, wasn’t giving up much on Tuesday when asked about his future with the team.
“We’ll wait and see,” said Jagr, 45, who played in all 82 games this season and only missed three last year. “What happens, happens. Of course there will be some kind of changes, that’s what the owners want. It’s already started; there were changes [Monday].”
General manager Dale Tallon said Monday that he would sit down and talk to Jagr about a possible return as he has in the past two offseasons.
In 2015, Jagr signed a one-year deal with Florida on clean-out day; last year, he signed his new contract in May.
“We talked a little bit,” Jagr said. “I don’t want to go into any details. We’ll let you know if something happens.”
Two players who said they couldn’t wait to put the past couple of months behind them and get going next season were defenseman Aaron Ekblad and goalie Roberto Luongo.
Ekblad had a tough third season as he didn’t play as well as he would have liked and missed the final weeks after suffering a concussion March 11 in Tampa.
Although Ekblad returned and played against Carolina 10 days later, he started feeling the affects of the concussion again.
Ekblad didn’t play again with then-coach Tom Rowe saying he regretted playing Ekblad so soon after being concussed.
On Tuesday, Ekblad said he felt there was no reason why he should have sat out.
“I had been skating, maybe five ice-times going full speed, not resting,” he said. “The only thing I didn’t do was take some hits which I guess you could say was a miscalculation on my part. I got great care from our trainers; the guys they brought in are world-class professionals.
“They helped me get back. It was a similar timeline to when I got [concussed last season] in Edmonton, so why shouldn’t I be fine this time?
“I analyzed my symptoms every day and there was nothing. Two days before that game, nothing. Re-aggravation happens. I took care of it and I feel great now.”
As for Luongo, complications from surgery to repair a tore labrum last summer came back to haunt him this season.
Although Luongo says he won’t need surgery after being out the final six weeks of the regular season, he says the problem isn’t going away and he’s going to have to live with it moving forward.
“At the end of the day, once it heals and gets back to 100 percent, I have to stay on top of it at all times and make sure the maintenance is there,” Luongo said.
“It’s not going away. Once I’m comfortable enough to play, I’m going to have to stay on top of it and make sure we don’t take any steps back.”
Luongo said he plans on getting back on the ice in a few weeks in preparation for next season.
Whether he retains his position as Florida’s starting goalie will be determined on how he looks when the Panthers return.
James Reimer had a strong first season with the Panthers and ended the year with back-to-back shutouts.
“My focus right now is getting healthy, getting 100 percent for next year,” Luongo said. “I feel like I still have a lot of good hockey left in me when I’m healthy, when I’m feeling good. That’s what I’m focusing on.”