FRISCO, Texas – Just like an old friend stopping by for a visit, the Florida Panthers’ former hybrid has rolled back into town and is pulling into a familiar garage.
Mark Pysyk spent the past four seasons of his career in South Florida, racking up 292 games in a Panthers sweater after being acquired in a draft day trade with the Buffalo Sabres during the summer of 2016.
Instantly becoming a mainstay on Florida’s back line, Pysyk didn’t a miss a game in either of his first two seasons with the Panthers while improving his defensive play and continuing to develop his shot-blocking prowess.
With a new head coach behind the bench, the fourth in Pysyk’s four years with the Panthers, things changed during the 2019-20 season, one that would prove to be the most unorthodox of his career to this point.
After starting the season as a healthy scratch on most nights, Pysyk didn’t protest when Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville decided to deploy the former first-round pick as a right wing instead of a right-side defenseman.
The experiment appeared to be a success, with Pysyk providing steady, responsible fourth line minutes while chipping in 14 points during the last 29 games of the season. He had recorded just four points over the first 29 games, so clearly a boost in that department.
Previously an unassuming, second or third pairing defenseman, Pysyk began to grow in popularity, especially after then-teammate Keith Yandle dubbed him ‘the Hybrid’ following a January road game in Minnesota.
The nickname stuck, but unfortunately Pysyk did not.
A restricted free agent after the conclusion of the season, the eco-friendly Pysyk moved on from the Panthers and headed west. The 29-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Stars on Oct. 10.
On Monday, Pysyk and the Stars will arrive in Sunrise and begin a three-game set with the Panthers.
“It’s going to be a little bit weird going back to the place I spent the last four years,” Pysyk said Sunday. “Definitely going to be weird, but it’s a new journey now. I’m on this team and hopefully we can go in there, play them three times in a row and hopefully get three wins.”
Once training camp began back on Jan. 3, life for Pysyk and the Stars has been a bit of a whirlwind.
The team’s first four games were postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak among several Dallas players and staff, which included a pair of season-opening games in Sunrise against the Panthers.
After squeezing in their 12 games over a 22-day span, Dallas once again had to hit pause on their schedule, this time due to the extreme cold front that has consumed much of Texas and left many in the state without power or running water.
The Stars game Monday against Florida will be the team’s first since Feb. 13.
With so much going on both on and off the ice, you can’t really blame Pysyk for not having kept closer tabs on his former team.
“I haven’t been paying too close attention,” Pysyk admitted. “I know their record; I know how they’re having quite a bit of success.”
Under normal circumstances, Pysyk would’ve been answering questions about what kind of plans he made with his ex-teammates while in town.
But as we all know, things are far from normal right now.
Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, Pysyk won’t be doing anything other than playing hockey at the BB&T Center and hanging out at the team’s hotel.
For the most part, players have been using the limited activity options this season to focus more on hockey and the task at hand.
The same can be said for Pysyk.
“I haven’t talked to too many of them,” he said of his former teammates. “Here and there. Everybody’s been pretty busy this year.”
With or without the reunion dinner and corresponding round of golf, there is always that sense of awkwardness when stepping on the ice to face a former band of brothers for the first time.
Several of Florida’s players just went through a similar experience last week in Carolina when they faced off against longtime Panthers core member Vincent Trocheck.
Monday expects to be no different.
“It’s going to be weird playing against guys I spent the last four years with, but that’s just the way this business is,” Pysyk said. “It’s part of the job.”
The BB&T Center, its surroundings and even the faces around the rink may be familiar to Pysyk, but the Panthers team that takes the ice Monday night…not so much.
Nearly half the players from Florida’s 2019-20 season are gone, leaving only a handful of familiar faces for Pysyk to exchange glances with during the game.
“There has been quite a bit of turnover and it’s a different team,” Pysyk said. “They’re having success right now, so it’s worked for them so far. The core group of guys that are there, [Aleksander] Barkov, [Jonathan] Huberdeau, Yandle, those kind of guys, I know about them, but as far as the other guys that are there, I don’t know much about them aside than playing them around the league.”
Whether intentional or not, the quick-witted Pysyk took a dig at himself while giving props to his former club.
Perhaps he couldn’t resist.
“It’s a different look, and obviously they’re having more success than we did the last couple years,” Pysyk said.
Indeed, Florida enters Monday’s game in second place in the Central Division, holding an impressive 11-3-2 record.
Dallas (5-3-4) is far from the team that won four straight games to start the season, instead arriving in South Florida winless over their past five contests.
The two teams will play Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, the first of eight matchups this season between the temporary division rivals.