For the first time since sustaining a groin strain, Aaron Ekblad was back practicing with the Florida Panthers on Tuesday in Arizona.
Florida’s star defenseman has been out of the lineup since leaving Florida’s 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins in the second period on Oct. 17.
Ekblad was subsequently placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) two days later.
He began skating with the team last week and is aiming for a return on Nov. 12 against the Edmonton Oilers according to Florida coach Paul Maurice.
“With all injuries, you have an idea but you are not sure how long,” Maurice said.
“You always get a window into these things. It looks like he is going to heal up at the early end of his window so we don’t get the idea that it is nagging there. You get your fingers crossed and hold your breath because the training and the rehab that it takes to come back is going to be strenuous for him.”
Ekblad is required to be on LTIR for 24 days and 10 games, which would make Nov. 12 the earliest he can come off.
There are some roadblocks that remain in the way whenever he comes back.
When Ekblad was placed on LTIR, his $7.5 million cap hit was taken off the books and Florida used the cap space to call up Matt Kiersted and Lucas Carlsson and sign Eric Staal.
Those moves put the Panthers $2.5 million over the salary cap upon Ekblad’s return and will be required to make a roster move to bring him back.
Anthony Duclair is also expected to be back in the next couple of months which will push the Panthers another $2-plus million over the salary cap.
The most likely scenario, for now, would be Kiersted and Carlsson being sent down to Charlotte as well as another roster move to bring the Panthers back under the cap.
That scenario would leave Florida with just 20 players and bar them from being able to carry any scratches due to their salary predicament.
With that being the case, the Panthers are treating Ekblad’s rehab with caution and will not rush him back for the targeted Nov. 12 date if he is not ready — especially since he will not be able to give him days off to ease him back in the lineup with no healthy scratches available.
“There are limitations to when he can come back from just being on LTIR and we would not put him in at 90 percent,” Maurice said.
“If you spent 25 days getting the guy right, you are not putting him in at 26 when 31 clears it right up. That would be true of every player in the regular season, but when you are talking about those big-minute guys, you wait until they are 100 percent.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT SAN JOSE SHARKS
- When: Thursday, 10:30 p.m.
- Where: SAP Center, San Jose
- Streaming ONLY: ESPN+, Hulu
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 19-13-1, 7 ties