CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – With a new hockey season starting to peak over the horizon, NHL players are ramping up their preparation in order to hit the ground running.
That includes a growing group of Florida Panthers players who have been gathering for informal workouts at the Ice Den in Coral Springs.
It appears that the efforts to negotiate a new season have been kicked back into gear over the past couple weeks after being stuck in the proverbial mud for far too long. That’s due, in part, to franchise owners asking players for further financial flexibility than what was provided in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was signed just this past summer.
Both sides eventually decided to amicably move past the ill-fated financial back-and-forth, almost as though it had never happened, and focus on the details of the league’s second return to play plan in less than a year.
Team owners and players are expected to have individual votes in the coming days, with the NHL now tentatively targeting Jan. 13 to begin the new season.
If that’s the case, training camps for all 31 teams would kick off right after New Year’s.
Now if you think a 10-day training camp doesn’t seem like enough time to prepare for new NHL season, shortened schedule or not, you’re probably not wrong.
However, unlike when players returned for the pre-bubble training camps in July, this time they won’t be coming off a three-month quarantine.
Guys have been skating, working out and staying in shape, many at their respective team facilities. That includes a large and growing group of Panthers players.
When the puck drops on a new season (hopefully) next month, there aren’t going to be any acceptable non-injury related excuses for not being ready.
Thanks to a source with direct knowledge of the informal training sessions, Local 10 got a glimpse of how several of Florida’s players are working to get a jumpstart on the new season.
A DAY AT THE ICE DEN
There are currently two groups of Panthers players rotating in and out of the team’s Coral Springs practice facility, both with approximately 8-9 skaters.
The groups do not see each other and are never at the rink at the same time.
One group will come in first. They get tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at the rink, wearing masks and following the same safety protocols that we saw during the July training camp.
The players in that first group will then get dressed and do their on and off ice work before clearing out of the building.
Everything then gets cleaned and sanitized, from the locker rooms to the benches and gym equipment, after which the next group players can arrive.
A typical on-ice workout will begin with goalies on one side of the rink and skaters on the other side.
Goaltenders will work on individual skills and fundamentals with Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas. Skaters generally work on passing, skating and shooting with an independent skill coach not affiliated with the team.
Of the Panthers coaching staff, the only member allowed to be at the rink working with the players is Tallas.
He’s been on the ice with Florida’s No. 1 and 2 netminders, Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger, for the past several weeks.
The list of Panthers players taking part in the informal workouts includes Aaron Ekblad, Patric Hornqvist, Anton Stralman, Vinny Hinostroza, Carter Verhaeghe, Chase Priskie, Ryan Lomberg, Bobrovsky, Driedger and 2018 first-round pick Grigori Denisenko, among others.
Joining their teammates soon will be Frank Vatrano, MacKenzie Weegar and Brett Connolly, each recently arriving back in South Florida.
If all goes according to plan, any remaining out-of-town Panthers, including captain Sasha Barkov, who has been training in his native Finland, will return to South Florida in the coming weeks so they can quarantine and be ready to take the ice for training camp.
There are a lot of T’s to be crossed and I’s to be dotted, such as the length of the schedule and the alignment of the divisions, but those decisions could come at any time.
Progress is being made, and the season is coming up. For their part, the Panthers are making sure they’ll be ready to get down to business when that day arrives.
Let’s just hope it comes sooner rather than later.