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Florida Panthers Stand Down at NHL Trade Deadline

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Barkov gudas
Radko Gudas celebrates a Florida Panthers win with Sasha Barkov against the New York Islanders on April 19.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

SUNRISE — Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito said he was not a welcome visitor to his team’s locker room on Friday morning as players avoided him at all costs what with the NHL Trade Deadline looming.

“One guy even threw a towel over his head,’’ Zito said with a chuckle.

The Panthers ended up keeping their team intact throughout the Trade Deadline as they were one of a few teams that did not make a deal over the past couple of weeks.

The Panthers came into the day four points back of the Islanders for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and only have 19 games remaining to try and make up their deficit.

Florida had a couple of veteran, pending free agents it could have moved including Radko Gudas as well as Eric and Marc Staal.

”We have spent a lot of time and a lot of effort trying to get our culture moving forward in the right direction,’’ Zito said on Friday afternoon.

”We did not want to quit on the group. We are in a tenuous situation, no doubt. But the room believes and I believe in the room. We’re not going to quit on the team, we’re not going to quit on the fans who believe in us.

“If there was a deal to be made to help our team — short term, long term — we would have done it. We evaluated each one and we’re OK holding.”

Florida has made just one trade this season, a three-way deal with Detroit and Anaheim which brought Givani Smith to the Panthers.

That was around Christmas — making Florida the only team in the NHL to not make a trade in 2023.

Florida did sort of make a trade last month when Chris Tierney was placed on waivers to allow Anthony Duclair to be activated off long-term injured reserve. Instead of going to AHL Charlotte, Tierney was claimed by the Montreal Canadiens.

With Sasha Barkov and Sam Bennett expected to return to the lineup on Saturday night, the Panthers apparently want to see what their team can do when near full strength.

Barkov has told teammates and coaches he would be back Saturday after missing the past three games with a hand injury; Bennett’s status will be determined after the morning skate.

“I am pretty excited because our deadline acquisitions could be Benny and Barky coming back,” Matthew Tkachuk said on Friday afternoon. “That excites our group. … Having (Anthony Duclair) in with Barky and Benny we can really see — we do have (Patric Hornqvist) out — what this team will look like. Hopefully it’s not too late to make a run here.”

Added coach Paul Maurice: “You put those two guys back in the lineup and you have a major change at that one position. There would be more optimism for sure.”

There were dozens of trades made leading into Friday’s 3 p.m. deadline and not many on the final day.

Dmitry Kulikov was the latest former Florida player to move on to another team as he goes from Anaheim to Pittsburgh; it is possible Kulikov could be in the lineup against the Panthers on Saturday night.

Nick Bjugstad was moved from Arizona to Edmonton on Thursday.

Zito will be speaking to the media later on Friday afternoon.

In other roster moves, the Panthers returned Zac Dalpe and Alex Lyon to AHL Charlotte in order for them to be eligible for the playoffs.

The move is simply a technicality — at least in Lyon’s case. He will back up Sergei Bobrovsky on Saturday.

J-F Berube and Evan Fitzpatrick have gone from having AHL contracts to two-way, NHL deals in case the Panthers need to call them up. Both goalies remain in Charlotte after clearing waivers on Friday.

PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT PITTSBURGH PENGUINS 

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