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NHL Free Agency: Which Florida Panthers aren’t coming back?

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Alex Wennberg had a career year with the Florida Panthers in 2021 but it looks like at noon on Wednesday, he’ll be a free agent. // Photo by Roger Topalian, 21st Century Photography (561) 488-0000

The Florida Panthers have made a lot of moves in the nine months since free agency opened in 2020 and quite a few players GM Bill Zito signed could be on the move again when the market opens today at noon.

The biggest name who is expected to land elsewhere is Alex Wennberg — his Panthers career lasting less than a year.

As much as the Panthers would love to bring Wennberg back, with what they’ve got under the cap, that’s probably not going to happen.

Wennberg had a career year with the Panthers last season, scoring 17 goals in 56 games. Wennberg will draw interest from teams around the league.

Bought out by the Blue Jackets last October, Wennberg will likely be a free agent for the second time in his career come noon. He seems to be a luxury the Panthers simply cannot afford although stranger things have happened.

UPDATE: Wennberg has a three-year deal worth $4.5 million per season with Seattle.

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Florida has already locked down a number of players to contract extensions although many of them were restricted free agents and would not have been able to walk away.

That was not the case with defenseman Brandon Montour who could have been a free agent today.

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He won’t be, though.

On Tuesday night, the Panthers came to an agreement with Montour on a three-year deal with a AAV of $3.5 per season.

Now, on to the rest of the Panthers free agents.

THE FREE AGENT PANTHERS

G Chris Driedger: Well, here is one member of the 2021 Panthers who most definitely will not be back.

Driedger, as everyone already knows, agreed to sign with Seattle before the expansion draft and thereby was the player lost to the Kraken.

Chris Driedger thankful, excited for opportunity with Seattle Kraken

— F Nikita Gusev: Florida signed Gusev after he was cut by the New Jersey Devils around the trade deadline, coming to the Panthers on a low-cost, no-risk deal. Gusev may be a real talent, but despite getting a good shot up in the top-6, he ended his Florida season with two goals.

A healthy scratch throughout the playoffs, in any other circumstance one would think another discount deal could be in the works. But Gusev is expected to return to the KHL where he is a past MVP.

Unless Gusev gets another big-money deal in the NHL — and that’s not expected after the way things went down in Newark — there’s really no reason to stick around.

F Lucas Wallmark: Speaking of the KHL, Wallmark has already signed on with CSKA Moscow for the coming season.

Florida did not make a qualifying offer to Wallmark on Monday, either, meaning the Panthers will not own his rights if/when he decides to come back to the NHL.

F Scott Wilson: Played in eight games with the Syracuse Crunch but spent a lot of time on Florida’s taxi squad this past season. With 193 games of NHL experience with Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Detroit, Wilson will land a deal of some sort.

It’s not expected to be with Florida, however, as it did not tender a qualifying offer.

D Brady Keeper: Even though Keeper has only played two seasons of pro hockey, he is a free agent and likely headed somewhere else.

Keeper’s story is a great one and he did show promise in the Panthers’ summer camp last July and again in January. Still, if Florida was going to keep him, it would have signed him by now.

UPDATE: Keeper is going to get his NHL chance and it will come much closer to home as he has a two-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks. It’s a one-way deal which does guarantee an NHL spot due to the moderate money amount, but it certainly helps.  

G Philippe Desrosiers: Got a great reception from his teammates when the Panthers dressed him as a backup for one game this season. It was a reward for all the hard work he put in as the team’s taxi squad goalie all year.

Desrosiers has a lot of AHL experience and should find work; the Panthers goalie situation is a bit full at the moment, however.

G Ryan Bednard: Another victim of the Panthers’ logjam in net (especially with Seattle sharing the AHL team in Charlotte this year) there is thought to be a possibility that Bednard could return to the Panthers and battle Sam Montembeault for playing time.

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