CORAL SPRINGS (AP) — In general manager Dale Tallon’s start-of-training-camp remarks to the Florida Panthers, he reminded them that 51 players were vying for 23 jobs on the roster.
Given that, making this team might seem daunting.
In actuality, the mathematics show it’s even worse.
Most of last season’s top-scoring Panthers — Jonathan Huberdeau, Jussi Jokinen, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr — can be safely penciled into the opening-night lineup, along with forwards Dave Bolland and Brandon Pirri. Defensemen like Aaron Ekblad, Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and Willie Mitchell are also locks. Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya will man the goaltending duties.
Throw in a few other guys here and there, and what’s left is more like 30 players going for maybe a half-dozen available slots.
“We’ve got lots of guys for a few jobs,” Tallon said. “It’s a good thing, a good issue to have and we’re going to select the 23 best guys. I don’t look forward to it but that’s the goal.”
So when the Panthers opened training camp Friday, it made the situations surrounding David Booth and Martin Havlat all the more interesting.
Combined, those two forwards — both of whom have familiarity with Tallon, with Booth a former Panther and Havlat playing for the Florida GM when he held that role in Chicago — have 1,290 NHL regular-season appearances, 361 goals and zero guarantees from the Panthers for this season. Booth and Havlat are in camp on tryout deals, a pair of veteran left wings trying to grab one of those precious few available roster spots.
“If they play great, they’ll earn a spot,” Tallon said.
Booth turns 31 in November, had his career temporarily derailed by a serious concussion in his first stint with the Panthers, wound up getting traded to Vancouver in 2011 and spent plenty of time as a penalty-killer for Toronto last season. Havlat is 34, a former Czech national teammate of Jagr’s and is coming off a year where he appeared in 40 games with New Jersey.
“It reminds of a lot when I first got here, I guess in 2006,” Booth, a Panthers’ second-round pick in 2004, said earlier this week. “I was playing for a spot then. They had a pretty deep team. … I feel the same way coming in here now.”
Havlat said he’s convinced the Panthers — who have been to the playoffs just once since 2000 and haven’t won a playoff series since the 1996 run to the Stanley Cup final — have a strong future. For the next couple weeks, he’ll try to find a way to be part of it.
“I’m just going to do my best like I do every year,” said Havlat, who had a goal Friday in practice off a nifty pass from Jagr. “This time, it’s just a little different. I don’t have a contract. In the past, I don’t know, 15 years, every time I had to prove that I belong on a team even with a contract. Not going to do anything different.”
Notes: How long has the 43-year-old Jagr been in the NHL? Even with a stint in Russia that took him out of the league from 2008 through 2011, he’s appeared in 1,752 NHL games. The Panthers’ franchise has played 1,694, according to STATS. … The team’s first preseason games are Sunday at Nashville, a doubleheader — with different rosters, of course — format that the teams have tried in recent years.
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