Filip Kuba was standing in a hallway in the Panthers training facility Sunday morning when radio voice Randy Moller approached him.
“Did you ever think you would be back here?” Moller asked. “Sometimes things come full circle. Life is funny that way.”
Kuba smiled and nodded, acknowledging that the last time he wore a Panthers jersey was quite a long time ago.
Drafted in the eighth round by the Panthers in 1995, Kuba, 36, was back with the team at its first official practice Monday. He spent four seasons in the organization, including 18 games with the Panthers over two seasons from 1998 to 2000.
Then he was traded to Calgary before being claimed by Minnesota in the expansion draft of 2000 at the age of 23.
Kuba has seen quite a bit since the Panthers got rid of him as the defenseman has played in 792 NHL games with Florida, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Ottawa.
“Obviously, when I got moved it was something I didn’t like and was sour about,” Kuba said after his first practice with the Panthers in 13 years.
“But I got a chance in Minnesota. I really didn’t think about what was going on here. I was out west. But the past few years I have been watching.”
The Panthers brought Kuba back in July, signing the Tampa resident to a two-year deal worth $8 million.
Since Kuba was traded away for the lightly used Rocky Thompson, the team has changed ownership three times — H. Wayne Huizenga’s Boca Resorts group controlled the team in 2000 — and has had one front office change after another.
Kevin Dineen is the eighth coach the Panthers have had since Kuba left; Dale Tallon is the eighth general manager.
Those rudderless days seem to be behind the Panthers, one reason Kuba was attracted to come back as a free agent. Moller, in fact, is one of the few recognizable faces left from 2000.
“The organization is going in the right direction,” he said. “That’s a big reason why I’m here.”
On Monday, Kuba was paired with veteran Brian Campbell. Florida signed Kuba to replace Jason Garrison — who signed with Vancouver a few hours after Kuba came to the Panthers.
Kuba didn’t take Garrison’s number (the 52 went to Jon Rheault) but did take his locker and a spot opposite the slick-passing Campbell.
“We were trying to talk on the bench after shifts, talk about things I like and he likes,” Campbell said. “It’s a challenge, but it was like that last year. ... It’s early yet, but I have confidence in things. He reminds me of players I’ve played with in the past. It’ll be a little adjustment, but we’ll be fine.”
Tallon, a strong defenseman in his day, joked that Campbell is so smooth “I could play with him.”
Kuba, Tallon said, won’t have a problem fitting in.
“He and Brian looked like they’ve been playing together all their lives,” Tallon said. “It looks good.”
Rookie forward Jonathan Huberdeau didn’t practice Monday as the Panthers gave him a day off because of what Dineen described as “a few aches and pains” coming off the World Junior Championship tournament in Russia. Tallon said Huberdeau would be on the ice Tuesday.
“It was a minor little thing we had to get checked out by the doctors,” Tallon said. “He’s ready to go.”
Dineen said defenseman Erik Gudbranson (shoulder) and center Marcel Goc (ankle) will miss at least the first three games of the season.
Gudbranson isn’t being paid by the team because he was hurt wakeboarding in Canada in September. Goc was hurt playing for a German team during the Spengler Cup, and Tallon said he isn’t being paid until he is medically cleared.
With Goc out, Dineen said he would use Peter Mueller at center. On Monday, he centered the second line with veteran right winger Alex Kovalev, who is in camp trying out for a contract. Huberdeau is expected to be on the left side of that line.