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Will Claude Giroux return to the Florida Panthers?

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Including the playoffs, Claude Giroux scored six goals with 31 points in 28 games with the Florida Panthers. — Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers paid a steep price to bring Claude Giroux in at the NHL trade deadline.

Will he return for at least another season?

“It’s one step at a time here right now,” Giroux said at the Panthers’ cleanout day at the arena on Wednesday. “We need to take a few weeks here to let things settle down. We’re still pretty fired up. We have a lot of things to think of.’’

Could he picture himself back with the Panthers?

”Yeah, I do,” he said. “There are a lot of things to worry about and a decision has to be made. It’s a tough question because the season ended a few days ago. It’s up to what they want to do and what I want to do. There are a lot of conversations to be had.”

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Giroux, who is in the final season of an eight-year deal worth over $8 million annually, was non-committal in speaking with the media on Wednesday morning at the Sunrise arena.

After spending his entire career with the Philadelphia Flyers, there has been a lot of speculation he may return there.

Others have linked him to his hometown Ottawa Senators, a team on the rise — and with plenty of room under the salary cap.

The Panthers would like to keep Giroux, obviously, after sending a first and third-round pick as well as Owen Tippett to the Flyers for their captain back in March.

Giroux ended up scoring three goals with 23 points in 18 regular games with the Panthers — and played a big role in their winning Round 1 against the Capitals as he had three goals and eight points.

”I had a great time here, this is a great group of guys and the organization is great,” Giroux said. “I don’t have any negative things to say about my decision to come here. I am very happy and it is a fun place to place. I believe in this group. There is a lot of potential, a lot of good things are going to happen to this organization.”

Florida has like no money to play with right now, certainly not the kind of money Giroux is used to.

At 34, Giroux is not going to get that kind of a contract anyway.

But there will be a lot of teams who can offer him more than the cash-strapped Panthers.

What with Keith Yandle’s $6-million cap hit coming as well as additional moneys going in raises to players like Sasha Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe, the Panthers are only around $4 million under the salary cap with a number of players to re-sign.

Obviously, the Panthers are going to be making some moves to free up some money.

But, it is also obvious that unless Florida unloads quite a bit, for Giroux to come back, it would be for a major-league discount.

The Panthers simply don’t have the money to spend.

Perhaps they will in a few weeks but they do not right now.

“We are going to attack every personnel decision the same way,” GM Bill Zito said. “We’re going to do it in due time with the same process. We’re going to do it carefully, we don’t have a lot of room for error under the cap and it is vital that we do it right so I’m not sitting in this chair a year from now under the same circumstances.”

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