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2024 Stanley Cup Champions

Changes Are Coming to the Florida Panthers. But How Big?

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Sam Reinhart, who led the Panthers with 57 goals and scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, is the biggest name on the NHL free agent market which opens Monday. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

SUNRISE — With the Stanley Cup Final now complete and the Florida Panthers your 2024 champions, the offseason is here for Bill Zito.

The NHL did not wait for the Panthers and Oilers to finish up, either.

As seen in the many trades which have transpired over the past couple of weeks, the offseason is in full bloom going into today’s NHL draft in Las Vegas.

Welcome to the party, pal.

The Panthers and Edmonton Oilers are newcomers into the offseason as they both had bigger things on their minds.

But, the offseason is now in focus for both.

For the Panthers, that means a lot of decisions have to be made, if that part has not already been done.

Florida comes into the very short offseason — after the draft wraps up and the parade in Fort Lauderdale ends, free agency opens Monday at noon — with a lot of work to be done.

The Panthers have about $19.5 million in cap space for next season which seems to be a lot.

It is not.

Florida has 11 pending free agents and two restricted free agents of its active playoff roster.

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As things stand right now, only 14 of the 27 players who were on Florida’s active playoff roster have contracts next season.

The Panthers may have to trade away some assets to create cap space moving forward, or, as Zito has done in the past, pass on some of his own free agents and try to find suitable replacements for less money.

“It’s going to be a big free agency here,’’ Patric Hornqvist, who retired after last season and works in the team’s scouting department, said on Monday. “It’s crazy; a quick turnaround. But that’s what Bill Zito is doing all his four years. He seems to find the right pieces, and he seems to keep the good players and for good number too.’’

The big free agents have been well documented not only throughout the season but the playoffs as well.

It will likely take between $9-10 million to re-sign Sam Reinhart after he scored the third-most goals in the single season in franchise history, not to mention the game-winner against the Oilers on Monday.

Following Game 7, Reinhart was asked about the fact these Panthers played their final game together — and won it all in the process.

“Every year, there’s so much turnover and our situation is not any different,’’ Reinhart said. “I think no matter what position you are in, you want to maximize the opportunities you have with this group because it’s never going to be the same.

“This group is no different. There’s something bigger and more important on the line, but no matter what the position, whether it’s the last game of the season or middle of the playoffs, or now the end of the playoffs, there’s going to be a lot of turnover. That’s just the nature of the business.’’

Of the signed players, Sergei Bobrovsky and Sasha Barkov are currently the highest-paid players with a $10 million cap hit each; Matthew Tkachuk is at $9.5.

Aaron Ekblad has one year left at $7.5 million; Sam Bennett ($4.425) and Carter Verhaeghe ($4.17) also have a season remaining.

Aside from Reinhart, Florida also has a decision to make on defenseman Brandon Montour, who is at the end of the three-year extension he signed with the team at the end of the 2021 season.

He made $3.5 million and could at least double that on the open market.

What happens with those two — is Florida able to sign both? One of the two? Neither? — will have a huge bearing on what the Panthers do moving forward.

The Panthers also look to retain or replace bottom-6 forwards Kevin Stenlund, Ryan Lomberg, Nick Cousins, Steven Lorentz, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Kyle Okposo is thought to be retiring after considering that last summer; he has not confirmed his plans. His $500,000 Stanley Cup bonus will count against Florida’s cap this coming season.

Anton Lundell will get a raise as his entry-level contract has expired. He is a restricted free agent and, unless another team signs him to a big offer sheet, he will return although at a much higher salary.

On the defensive side, Florida also has Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Dmitry Kulikov to either re-up or let walk.

Backup goalie Anthony Stolarz is a free agent and would likely sign elsewhere unless the Panthers decide to offer him a new contract and move on from Spencer Knight either by trade or buyout.

Knight has two years left on his contract at $4.5 million per; because of his age, a buyout would only cost a third of his salary (spread out over four years) owed instead of two-thirds.

His cap hit, according the soon-to-shuttered CapFriendly.com would be $750,000 for the next four years and save $6 million over the course of the deal.

Florida may just go into next season with Bobrovsky and Knight as its goalies.

Aside from the goalie position, the Panthers have a number of options when it comes to replacements.

Zito and his front office have not only been good at identifying underused players from other teams (and getting a bargain in the process) as well as some of their prospects.

Rookies Mackie Samoskevich and Justin Sourdif will not only compete for a spot on the Panthers at camp this year, but probably make it.

The two not only had good seasons at AHL Charlotte but they would cost the Panthers a total of $1.8 million in cap space.

On the blueline, Uvis Balinskis has already been inked to a contract for the next couple of seasons and would appear to have a spot on next year’s roster sewn up.

For More FHN Coverage of the Stanley Cup Champion Florida Panthers:

UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS
  • Stanley Cup Championship Parade, Fort Lauderdale: Sunday, 11 a.m.
  • NHL Draft, Las Vegas: Friday-Saturday
  • NHL Free Agency: Monday
  • Florida Panthers Development Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Early July
  • Florida Panthers Training Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Mid-September
  • Florida Panthers Preseason: Sept. 22-Oct. 5
  • Florida Panthers Opening Night/Banner Unveiling: TBA

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