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NHL Free Agency Opens Today, Panthers Get Reinhart Deal Done

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The Florida Panthers have big names who can become free agents today such as Brandon Montour and Oliver Ekman-Larsson — but Kevin Stenlund and Ryan Lomberg need new deals as well. Dmitry Kulikov signed for four years on Monday. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Florida Panthers have taken care of one big piece of business before NHL Free Agency opens at noon today, signing Sam Reinhart to an eight-year deal.

Now, things start to get interesting.

As the Panthers sober up and dry out from a boozy and soggy Stanley Cup celebration on Sunday, Bill Zito gets back to work after getting the Reinhart max-extension in under the midnight deadline.

Florida has 10 unrestricted free agents and one restricted free agent with about $11 million in cap space.

With Zito saying he wants to keep as many players as possible, it really makes no sense to speculate which free agents Florida would target until we know which ones are coming back.

The dominoes will start to fall now that Reinhart is back in the fold.

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Now it is time to fill the rest of the open spots.

Speaking at the NHL Draft this weekend, Zito grabbed headlines for saying he would spend to the salary cap.

That would have been news 10 years ago, not now.

The Panthers have been a cap team for a long time, and Florida spending all it had is now expected.

They only wish they had more to spend.

After Reinhart, Florida’s biggest free agents are defensemen Brandon Montour and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Montour signed with the Seattle Kraken, getting a seven-year deal worth over $49 million.

Both commanded bigger contracts on the open market than the Panthers can offer leading Florida to be in the market for some new defensemen.

Dmitry Kulikov signed a four-year deal with the Panthers on Monday; Uvis Balinskis is expected to get a bigger role next season, with Matt Kiersted signing a new contract last week.

Florida is talking with fourth-line center Kevin Stenlund, a player Florida targeted last year to strengthen not only the bottom-6, but to solidify their penalty kill.

Stenlund did just that and had a terrific year, deserving of a nice raise from the $1 million he made this season.

Vladimir Tarasenko, who came to the Panthers at the NHL Trade Deadline from Ottawa, signed a one-year deal with the Senators to either succeed there or get traded to a contender and set himself up as a free agent again.

He made $5 million this past season. That would likely be too rich for Florida this time around.

When it comes to depth forwards, Nick Cousins may return; Ryan Lomberg has shown himself a legitimate third/fourth line NHL player and will be getting a raise from someone.

Steven Lorentz could come back although there is a thought he would like a bigger role somewhere else.

Kyle Okposo contemplated retirement last season. We’ll see if he goes through with it this time around.

Florida is expected to have rookies Mackie Samoskevich and Justin Sourdif on the team next season.

Goalie Anthony Stolarz is also a free agent and will have no shortage of suitors.

Anton Lundell will get a raise as an RFA, although if he were to be signed to an offer sheet from another team, the Panthers may not have the money to match.

Florida did not offer Josh Mahura a qualifying offer, so he becomes a free agent.

Now that the Reinhart deal is done, things could get off to a quick start before the market opens at noon.

“With all our UFAs, we’re talking, trying to get stuff done,’’ Zito said on Saturday. “We’ll see what shakes out on Monday.’’

Regardless of what happens, Zito and his front office is committed to improving the Panthers for another run at the Stanley Cup.

“We’re going to try and keep everyone. It’s obviously a special group,’’ Zito said. “We’re going to try and keep as many guys as we can but are mindful that there are opportunities for guys elsewhere. We have a cap. Radko Gudas is a good example. But that’s good for us, too. It may be a loss in one area, but maybe another guy will come here because it has worked out for others.

“We’ll have a good team.’’

More FHN Coverage of the Stanley Cup Champion Panthers:

UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS
  • NHL Free Agency: Opens Today
  • 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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