CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – As the calendar has finally flipped to September, excitement is starting to build ahead of a new hockey season that feels close enough to touch.
Players have started to gather and skate with teammates across North America in preparation for their respective training camps, which will all begin later this month.
In South Florida, a growing group of Florida Panthers have been sharpening their skills at the team’s practice facility.
Newest Panthers forward Joe Thornton has already joined the fun in Coral Springs, hitting the ice with fellow Cats Aaron Ekblad, who has looked great since recovering from a leg fracture that ended his season in February, Radko Gudas, Ryan Lomberg and Matt Kiersted, to name a few.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky recently returned to Fort Lauderdale after spending most of the offseason in his native Russia and will be joining his teammates on the ice soon.
Still training in his home province of Quebec is left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, but he’ll make the familiar trip south in due time.
Huberdeau has been posting updates of his daily workouts on his Instagram page, and some of them have looked pretty intense.
Another key member of the Panthers yet to return to South Florida is captain Sasha Barkov.
As has been the norm, Barkov is spending his offseason in Finland, training with friends (such as Columbus Blue Jackets’ star winger Patrik Laine) and spending time with his family.
One of the main topics of discussion surrounding the Panthers this summer has been that of a contract extension for Barkov.
Panthers General Manager Bill Zito said multiple times that he would be reaching out to Barkov’s representatives in order to begin discussions on an extension.
There have been reports that a deal is close, but Local 10 News has learned that might not be the case, at least not yet.
Barkov, who turns 26 on Thursday, is entering the final year of his current deal which paid out an Average Annual Value (AAV) of $5.9 million.
That’s certainly no number to sneeze at, but Barkov has emerged as one of top two-way centers in the NHL while putting up high-end scoring numbers for Florida.
Over the past four seasons, Barkov has accumulated 294 points in 277 games. He’s become one of the best at possessing the puck and driving offensive zone time. He also won the Selke Trophy last season as the league’s best defensive forward.
So yeah, he’s earned himself a nice raise in AAV. But how much of a raise?
The answer to that question is a number that Zito and Barkov’s people are hoping to agree on. They’re not there yet though.
While discussions between the two sides have taken place, a source with direct knowledge of the dialogues said nothing significant has been accomplished toward an extension at this point.
Could that be due to Barkov spending the summer abroad?
Perhaps, but his agents are based stateside, as obviously are Zito and the Panthers.
The two sides are planning to speak again between now and the start of training camp, a meeting that likely won’t happen until Barkov returns from Finland.
There is hope that an agreement on a long-term extension can be made ahead of the season, but nothing is imminent at this time.