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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Bill Zito: Sleepless Nights Trying to Keep Florida Panthers Together

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Florida Panthers General Manager Bill Zito speaks during a news conference following the end of the 2022-23 season on June 21 in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

FORT LAUDERDALE — A year removed from a run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Florida Panthers are back in the Eastern Conference final.

General manager Bill Zito knows these are special times for his franchise and for hockey in South Florida.

“Do not take this for granted,’’ he said on the eve of his Panthers opening up against the New York Rangers in Game 1.

He says while he is living in the moment and trying to make sure his team has every opportunity to win right now, he also has to worry about the future.

Sometimes that keeps him up at night.

The Panthers want to keep their team together but salary cap concerns moving forward may mean some different faces here next season.

“We talk internally almost every day,’’ Zito told FHN on Tuesday morning. “For me, in my own head, there are lots of sleepless nights doing math in my head. Lots of times, I get up in the middle of the night and grab an Excel spreadsheet saying ‘will this work? What about this?’ There are just so many moving parts.

“But I am positive. I do not think it is crazy for me to think that good players want to play here. Guys know they can make more money somewhere else — but not that much more.’’

The Panthers have a number of moves to make this coming offseason — one they hope is a ways away yet — with the biggest being pending free agents Sam Reinhart and Brandon Montour.

Florida has about $21 million under the cap according to PuckPedia.com, with the probability of Reinhart and Montour realistically costing the Panthers around $14-16 million of it if deals were reached.

Zito said those conversations with pending free agents will be held after the season.

Florida already made one big deal before free agency, locking up Gus Forsling with an eight-year deal.

The Panthers also have a number of other players such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Kevin Stenlund, Dmitry Kulikov, Ryan Lomberg, Steven Lorentz, Kyle Okposo, and Vladimir Tarasenko who are free agents following this season.

Anton Lundell is also due a raise as a restricted free agent.

There is not room for everyone. Expect prospects Mackie Samoskevich and Justin Sourdif to be options for the Panthers next season.

One player who will not be an option is Jack Devine — one of the top collegiate players in the country who recently announced he will return to the University of Denver for his senior season.

Devine, a seventh-round pick by the Panthers in 2022, led the Pioneers with 27 goals and 56 points in becoming a Hobey Baker finalist.

He also helped Denver to its second national title in three seasons.

By returning to school for his senior year, he could decided not to sign with the Panthers next summer and become a free agent.

Zito says that is not a concern — and the Panthers are going to be Denver’s biggest fans from afar.

“He is going to be a year older, a year stronger and he is going to be the Boss this season,’’ Zito said. “There is a lot of good, there. Why wouldn’t you go back for another year at your college? He is a fantastic kid and that’s a great program. We’re lucky to have guys like him.’’

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. NEW YORK RANGERS (MET1)
GAME 1
  • When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
  • National TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Series Schedule — Game 1: Panthers at Rangers, Wednesday, 8 (ESPN); Game 2: Panthers at Rangers, Friday 8 (ESPN); Game 3: Rangers at Panthers, Sunday May 26, 3 (ABC); Game 4: Rangers at Panthers, Tuesday May 28, 8 (ESPN): Game 5*: Panthers at Rangers, Thursday May 30, 8 (ESPN); Game 6*: Rangers at Panthers, Saturday June 1, 8 (ABC); Game 7*: Panthers at Rangers, Monday June 3, 8 (ESPN). (*) — If Necessary.
  • How They Got Here: Florida d. Tampa Bay 4-1, Boston 4-2; Rangers d. Washington 4-0, Carolina 4-2.
  • Last Season vs. Rangers — Regular Season: Rangers won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Won 2-1) — At Florida: Panthers 4 Rangers 3 (Dec. 29). At MSG: Panthers 4, Rangers 2 (March 4); Rangers 4, Panthers 3 OT (March 23).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 61-34-8, 6 ties
  • Postseason History: Rangers Lead 1-0 (1997 1st)

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