After sitting out all of last season with an injury sustained during the lockout, Florida Panthers left wing Sean Bergenheim has been cleared for play and could very well make his return to the NHL on Friday night when Florida hosts the Buffalo Sabres. Bergenheim quickly became a fan favorite after his first year as a Panther during the 2011-12 season when he scored a career high 17 goals in 62 games. Bergenheim also holds the distinction of being the first Florida player to score a postseason goal since the 1999-2000 playoffs. Bergenheim was the Panthers’ leading scorer during their playoff run, recording six points (3-3-6) in seven games, and he never left game seven after breaking a bone in his foot off of a Jason Garrison slap shot.
Bergenheim’s injury last year came just as he was hitting his stride. When Florida GM Dale Tallon came knocking to sign Bergenheim two years ago, following a career year in points with the Tampa Bay Lightning in which he scored 29 points (14-15-29) in 80 games, while leading the way for the Lightning with 11 points (9-2-11) in 16 playoff games during the Bolts’ 2010-11 run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Bergenheim brings speed, grit and experience to the Florida lineup. His absence during last season was certainly missed by the Panthers, as they struggled in all areas, but certainly on offense.
News broke out last season of Bergenheim and the Panthers getting into a salary situation, when Florida opted not to pay Bergenheim for his services during his time on Injured Reserve, due to the fact that he was hurt playing overseas during the work stoppage. Many thought this would cause a rift between Bergenheim and the team, especially with the 29-year-old Finnish forward winning the the medical grievance case. This is not the case, as both sides have walked away with a very “these things happen” outlook on the situation and have moved on. If Bergenheim does get a nod to play on Friday, it will be a great storyline to watch as he plays his first game since April 26, 2012.