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Paul Maurice: Florida Panthers Not Selling at NHL Trade Deadline

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Florida Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas says he would like to stay with the team but as a pending free agent, could be moved at Friday’s NHL Trade Deadline. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

SUNRISE — With two games before the NHL Trade Deadline, the Florida Panthers appear to be looking to add a piece to their lineup but could also move a player or two before 3 p.m. on Friday.

Florida enters Monday three points out of the playoffs with 21 games remaining.

According to those around the team, the Panthers would like to build around what they have, not sell off pieces for future assets.

That includes keeping veterans Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart despite various reports from outside of South Florida.

Bennett ($4.25 million) has two seasons remaining on his current contract; Reinhart ($6.5 million) is signed through next season.

Florida also has pending free agents in Radko Gudas, Marc and Eric Staal.

“I firmly believe we are all-in with the free agents we have, keeping them as Florida Panthers,’’ coach Paul Maurice told Florida Hockey Now on Sunday.

“We are not at the tail-end of a five, six-year run. We are at the start of it. Our dominant players are still young.

“You are either buyers or sellers at the trade deadline — and we’re not sellers.”

If the Panthers were to lose, or get just a point, in their next two games — at Tampa on Tuesday and home against Nashville on Thursday — FHN expects general manager Bill Zito to find a new home for the Staal brothers and give them a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.

When it comes to Gudas, Florida’s other high-profile pending free agent, things are a little murky.

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On Sunday, Gudas told FHN that he has “felt welcomed by the Panthers since Day 1” and has “nothing but great feelings about this organization and it is where my heart is right now.”

It is believed the Panthers would like to keep Gudas beyond this season.

”I have an agent for that so it is up to him and Billy. I am leaving that up to them,” said Gudas, who was the first free agent signed by Zito as Florida GM in 2020.

“Obviously, I am really happy here and hopefully the team is as well. We’ll see what happens in the next week. I am doing everything I can to focus on Tuesday’s game in Tampa.”

But what if the Panthers remain a seven or eight points out of the playoff race come Friday morning with 19 games left?

Depending on the team and what the market looks like, Gudas could get a second-round pick as well as a underused player Florida has been scouting.

If Florida could get a first-round selection for the 32-year-old defenseman, well, he is as good as gone.

Defensemen who play top-four minutes — which Gudas has not been for the Panthers lately — are in demand around the NHL.

Those are commanding a first-round pick, something the Panthers are without for the next three seasons based on previous trades (Ben Chiarot, Claude Giroux and Matthew Tkachuk) as well as giving up their 2022 first-round pick to Buffalo for Reinhart.

Although the Panthers’ management does not appear to put much stock in draft picks as opposed to playing for the present, getting a first or second-round pick at this deadline could help them procure something else either by immediately flipping it or using it as a trade chip in the offseason.

The Panthers are not believed to be looking to trade an NHL player for a high draft pick other than to use said pick in a future deal.

No player on the Florida roster — save for the untouchables or the likes of Bennett and Reinhart — would likely procure a first-round pick.

The players on the Panthers have been sort of immune to the rumor mill.

Although players say they do not pay attention to reports flying around, almost all of them do.

The Panthers, at least so far, have stayed out of the fray. They have two games left before the deadline and do not appear to be all that worried about it.

“It was disappointing to lose (to Buffalo on Friday) but I think everyone has turned the page and is focusing on the game up next,’’ Gudas said. “It is, again, the biggest game of the season for us. We’re fighting for everything and every game is a must-win for us.

“We have to keep looking at the next game and nothing else. Everyone is a professional here. It can be tough, but you can only control what you can control. Why worry about things you cannot?”

The Panthers have a good chunk of salary cap space opening up this offseason and trades could be made then to get create even more.

This season, while disappointing to date, is not looked at as more than a blip on the team’s move forward.

When it comes to this NHL Trade Deadline, one can expect the Panthers to either pull off a blockbuster no one saw coming or just make some minor moves — either guys coming or going.

Florida’s lack of draft capital and salary cap space is a major factor as well.

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