As word of the Covid-19 pandemic began dominating the news, Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon figured things were going to get worse.
“This,” Tallon said sitting inside the Dallas Stars’ practice facility on March 10, “is going to get bad.”
A day later, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus before a game in Oklahoma City.
The NBA put its season on hold that night. The NHL followed suit the next day.
Although Tallon was aware the NHL may stomp the brakes on having fans at games or even take a few weeks off, he did not envision his game being away from the ice as long as it has.
It has been five months now since the NHL went on hiatus. Things appear to be looking up.
On Monday, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association came to an agreement on a ‘Return to Play’ plan, official protocols for the start of Phase 3 (training camp) as well as Phase 4 (qualifiers, Stanley Cup playoffs).
For the past few weeks, the Panthers’ facility has been open and welcoming groups of players for workouts.
If the Return to Play measure is approved, formal training camps would open Monday and the Panthers, for the first time since that practice in Dallas in what feels like two years ago, will be whole once more.
Dale Tallon said his team has taken every precaution it can when it comes to player safety.
“Our guys are very organized, have done a good job of putting everything together,” Tallon told Florida Hockey Now.
“We have safety protocols in place, we’re doing everything the league has mandated. Our staff has done a great job and so far, it is paying off. We are doing what we have to do.”
Back to work
When the Panthers get the green light to start training camp, Tallon said he does not expect many surprises.
Under the agreed upon rules by the league and its players’ union, training camp would start Monday, teams would fly to their hub cites (presumably Toronto for the Eastern Conference and Edmonton for the west) on July 26 with games starting on Aug. 1.
Players who feel uncomfortable about returning can opt-out and do so without penalty as long as the team is notified (in writing) before Monday.
One player who expressed a wariness in returning when play resumed was Florida veteran defenseman Anton Stralman.
A few weeks into the NHL hiatus, Stralman and his family traveled back to Sweden.
Last month, he told Joe Smith of The Athletic he knew “everybody wants hockey back, but safety has to come first. And it’s a little worrisome, I can’t deny that. … I don’t know how my body will react if I get this virus.”
According to Tallon, most of Florida’s regular roster players — Stralman included — have returned to South Florida.
Whether any player will back out remains to be seen.
“The fact so many guys have shown up tells me they are ready to go and want to be part of this,” Tallon said.
A few weeks ago, team captain Sasha Barkov reiterated that point as he said the Panthers who had come in early were “excited” to get back to work and have a chance to do something special in this expanded postseason system.
Tweaking the roster
As far as the roster goes, Dale Tallon said he plans on having “four or five” goalies in camp.
The expectation is Sergei Bobrovsky will start with Chris Driedger backing up.
Tallon said the starting goalie will be determined in camp and it would be coach Joel Quenneville’s decision.
“I would think it would be (Bobrovsky),” Tallon said, “but we will have to see how things go. It is up to the coach.”
Last month, Tallon said he was confident Bobrovsky was would ready to roll when it came down to it.
“He is a guy who works extremely hard and was disappointed with the season up to now,” Tallon said. “He has something to prove and that’s a good thing.
“I expect him to be at the top of his game, and when he is at the top of his game, you have a chance to win. We’re counting on him, we’re relying on him and we expect big things from him.”
Top prospect Spencer Knight is returning to Boston College for his sophomore year, so the remainder of the Florida goalie pool would include Sam Montembeault as well as AHL netminders Philippe Desrosiers and Ryan Bednard.
Owen Tippett, Florida’s top forward prospect, was injured around the All-Star break costing him the remainder of his season in Springfield, but he is healthy and cleared to be part of the expanded roster.
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) February 11, 2020
Tallon said the status of center Henrik Borgstrom remains up in the air after he was injured toward what ended up being the end of the AHL season.
There were reports Borgstrom (who will be a restricted free agent this offseason) wanted to play in Finland next year.
Dale Tallon said earlier this summer he had spoken with Borgstrom’s agent and “his preference is to sign with us.”
Earlier this week, Tallon said the question as far as Borgstrom joining the Panthers in the near future is simply a matter of “getting a clean bill of health.’’
The #FlaPanthers have sent center Henrik Borgstrom to AHL Springfield after he was scratched the past two games (in favor of D Mark Pysyk) and in four of the past five. Roster, as it stands right this second, is at 21.
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) October 20, 2019
Defensemen Chase Priskie (acquired from Carolina in the Vincent Trrocheck deal) and Brady Keeper (a college free agent signed last year) are already working with the team.
Forward Eetu Luostarinen, also part of the Trocheck return, is expected to be part of the expanded roster as well.
If so, all four players acquired in the trade with Carolina — including NHL centers Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark — would be with Florida upon the resumption of camp.
Brian Boyle, out since finishing the Feb. 1 game at Montreal, is also healthy and back at work.
“We were pretty healthy as it was,” Tallon said. “Everyone who has come back looks good.”