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2024 Stanley Cup Champions

Florida Panthers Sign Reinhart and Kulikov; Say ‘Tough’ Goodbyes

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The 2023-24 Stanley Cup champion Florida Panthers gather for the final time as teammates on a stage on Fort Lauderdale Beach Sunday afternoon. A number of players signed elsewhere on Monday’s start to NHL free agency. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

FORT LAUDERDALE — Once Sam Reinhart had signed his new eight-year, $69 million contract with the Florida Panthers on Sunday night, Bill Zito filed the paperwork with the NHL and said he fell asleep in his chair.

No one could blame him for that.

It has been a whirlwind few months for the Florida general manager, what with his team making a run to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year.

Last Monday night, the Panthers won the Cup for the first time — and South Florida has been Crazy Town, USA, ever since.

Throughout all the celebrations, Zito had to do some work.

First was the NHL Draft, one in which he traveled to Las Vegas for on Thursday.

After flying back on Saturday, the Panthers held their victory parade and rally in what felt like a tropical depression.

All the while, Zito was working on NHL Free Agency which opened at noon on Monday.

“Very little time,’’ Zito said. “Maybe one good thing to come of it is, I think we are becoming more efficient. There are decisions to be made and everything happened in short order.

“[Sunday] was a little surreal. To participate in that, to see the effusive joy … it may sound romantic, but I felt that was the galvanizing moment for our players and our fans. The show ended, and no one left.’’

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Zito and Reinhart got their deal done on Sunday, Reinhart getting the maximum eight-year term for a below-market price.

Monday morning, Florida also announced Dmitry Kulikov signed a four-year deal.

“It’s awesome,” Zito said. “As both Sam and I said throughout the season, we wanted to keep him and he wanted to stay. We worked through the process. His agent [Craig Oster] was a gentleman, everyone had the intention of taking care of Sam, and still have a chance to win. That was paramount to him and his decision making. We’re thrilled he’s a part of it.’’

As of Monday night, Reinhart and Kulikov are the only ones out of the team’s 11 unrestricted free agents to sign with the Panthers.

Some still could. Vladimir Tarasenko, Steven Lorentz, Nick Cousins, and Kyle Okposo remain unsigned.

It is too late for others.

Turns out, Sunday was the final day for the 2023-24 Stanley Cup champion Florida Panthers to gather as teammates.

Florida Panthers Will Raise Stanley Cup Banner on Oct. 8

“It’s a difficult part of the job,” Zito said. “It’s easy to say it’s ‘part of the job,’ but it’s really hard. They’re part of the family, all the guys. They all have a role. It’s hard.’’

The Panthers knew Monday was coming, but that does not make it any easier.

Brandon Montour was the first to be leaked as leaving the Panthers, signing a life-changing seven-year deal with Seattle worth more than $49 million.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Anthony Stolarz are off to Toronto, with Kevin Stenlund signing with Utah.

Ryan Lomberg more than doubled his previous annual salary, getting a two-year deal for $4 million to return to where his pro career started with the Calgary Flames.

“They are all people, and to be that close, to see what they did and their contribution, it was really hard,” Zito said. “That is not a fun part of the job. It didn’t really hit me in that moment [at the celebration] because I was more impressed with everybody’s joy. And the families, and the kids, and the neighbors.”

The Panthers did make some signings, aside from Reinhart and Kulikov.

They will not grab any headlines, but the Panthers like what they are getting in affordable deals with bottom-6 forwards Tomas NosekA.J. Greer, Rasmus Asplund and Jesper Boqvist.

Florida is also bringing former goalie Chris Driedger back on a one-year deal.

While, aside from the big deal with Reinhart, Florida’s first day of free agency was not sexy.

But, neither were the signings of players like Lomberg, Stenlund and Stolarz when they originally happened.

Florida is pretty much set in its top-9 — especially if Tarasenko returns — and now has a retooled fourth line.

The Panthers still have some work to do on the blueline, but they proved to be pretty good at that last offseason.

“One of our goals, apart from the family culture of the team, is trying to get players to come and to fit, have as many good players as possible,’’ Zito said.

“It’s the chance of the future to maximize your career. Hopefully, we can keep have guys come, have that coaching staff bring the best out of them, have them be successful as teammates as part of a team and as individuals. We may not have the money other teams do, but we have opportunity. Take advantage of the opportunity.’’

More FHN Coverage of the Stanley Cup Champion Panthers:

UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS
  • NHL Free Agency: Started Monday
  • Florida Panthers Development Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Starts July 8
  • Florida Panthers Training Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Mid-September
  • Florida Panthers Preseason: Sept. 22-Oct. 5
  • Florida Panthers Opening Night/Banner Unveiling: Oct. 8 v. Boston Bruins

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surveyjay

George, do you foresee Gadjovich getting a larger role nest year, does he slide in to fill the hole left by Lomberg? He seems to be the only one on the team that will still drop them when needed (obviously benny will too, but we need him on the ice)

surveyjay

My thought exactly, Zito was hedgeing his bets as they say, when he signed him last year to two years instead of the one year deals he was passing out.

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