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Play with Panthers Earning Anthony Stolarz a Big Payday

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Florida Panthers goaltender Anthony Stolarz celebrates with defenseman Gustav Forsling after he shutout the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 15. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Anthony Stolarz is having a terrific first season with the Florida Panthers and is another in a long line of backup goalies to excel upon joining the team. 

Like Alex Lyon and Chris Driedger before him, Stolarz may just find himself with a nice new contract next season.

The Panthers signed Stolarz on July 1 after targeting him during the brief offseason — and after Lyon helped the Panthers get to the playoffs and start the first three games of their playoff series against Boston.

Although Florida had a good idea Spencer Knight would return to the team after leaving for the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program, the Panthers also had a plan to ease their ‘goalie of the future’ back into the rigors of playing professional hockey.

As Paul Maurice has said on numerous occasions, Stolarz has been a backup goalie in the NHL for some time — with Philadelphia, Edmonton and Anaheim — and was well-equipped to handle what would be asked.

Stolarz was not brought to Florida to play in the minors.

“It can be tough (being a backup) and if you haven’t already lived through it, it can be a real challenge,” Maurice said.

“But that is why he is here. He is experienced, he practices hard, is in a great mood and understands a light schedule at the start of a year. We’re getting Sergei into a rhythm and that is clearly a priority. He will be ready. He has done this before and that was a big part of the signing.”

Stolarz, as the Panthers had hoped all along, has not only handled the backup job but excelled at it.

This has allowed Florida to keep Knight with its AHL team in Charlotte and continue working on his game.

Through 17 games this season, Stolarz is 9-5-2 with a 1.97/.926 — ranking him among the NHL leaders along with Bobrovsky.

Stolarz, a New Jersey native, has made it impossible for the Panthers to make a move in goal and bring up Knight.

He looked terrific during training camp and that has carried over into the regular season.

The chances of losing Stolarz on waivers is something the team knew would be a risk, so even if they wanted to send him to Charlotte — which, they do not — Stolarz would likely never, ever, make it there.

Goaltenders are a hot commodity as the NHL Trade Deadline comes up and many teams would love to have a player such as Stolarz.

During camp, Tampa Bay was missing star Andrei Vasilevskiy due to injury and certainly would have put in a claim.

Regardless, things certainly look bright for Stolarz moving forward.

After missing the end of last season with Anaheim due to injury, Stolarz said he wanted a chance to help a contending team and signing with the Panthers was a fairly easy decision.

“As the backup, you have to know your role and you have to be ready,’’ Stolarz said. “I enjoy that challenge, enjoy when my name gets called. When that happens, I want to perform well. The attitude does not change.

“When you have a competitor like Bobby on the other end of the ice, you want to match his shot-for-shot. I think that makes it a great relationship. We just feed off each other.”

Last season was a bit of a different story when it came to Lyon.

He, too, was a journeyman who earned a minor-league salary for much of his career.

Only, Lyon came to Florida as the third goalie — and would only be called up to Florida if something happened to Bobrovsky or Knight.

When Knight entered the player assistance program, Lyon was called up and finished the season with Florida.

In the stretch run, Bobrovsky caught a nasty bug, Lyon rattled off six straight wins, and Florida was in the playoffs.

He ended up signing a two-year deal with the Red Wings once Florida secured Stolarz.

Lyon is enjoying a strong first season in Detroit. Ville Husso is currently injured and, at least for now, Lyon has emerged as the No. 1 goalie and is backed up by former Florida second-stringer James Reimer.

This is the first season of Lyon’s eight-year pro career in which he did not spend time in the minors.

When Driedger had his great Florida season in 2021, he had started the year as No. 3 on the depth chart behind Bobrovsky and Sam Montembeault, as he had done the year before.

Florida opted for Driedger as the backup, waiving Montembeault. He was claimed by Montreal, where he continues playing today.

Driedger had been a depth acquisition by Dale Tallon, who signed him as a free agent in 2019 after being cut loose by Ottawa.

In 2021, Driedger’s only full season with Florida, he had a better record than Bobrovsky.

Due a big raise, and with Knight coming on strong, Florida knew he was going somewhere else — and he was taken by Seattle in its expansion draft.

At the time of his selection by Seattle, he had a career 2.09/.929; Driedger got a three-year, $10.5 million deal out of it.

Unfortunately, injuries have slowed him significantly in Seattle, and of late, he has had little NHL playing time.

Coincidentally, it was Knight’s strong showing when he left Boston College and joined Florida late in the 2021 season which meant there was no room for Driedger in South Florida.

As for what’s next for the Panthers and their goalie situation, that is something the team hopes it does not have to worry about until another deep run in the playoffs.

With Stolarz playing as well as he is, the Panthers can keep things status quo — and allow Knight to work closely with Charlotte goalie coach Leo Luongo and return to Sunrise when the Checkers’ season is over.

Stolarz could get a chance to be a starter in the NHL next season and, as things stand now, there would be no room for that opportunity here.

Bobrovsky is signed for the next two seasons with a $10 million cap hit; Knight is under contract at $4.5 million for the next two.

If everything plays out, Knight and Bobrovsky will be manning the nets for the Panthers next season and Stolarz will get the biggest contract of his life.

Then, Zito and his goalie department — which includes Leo and Roberto Luongo, as well as Robb Tallas and Francois Allaire — will be looking for a new No. 3.

So far, so good.

ON DECK

WASHINGTON CAPITALS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • This Season (Florida Leads 2-0) — At Washington: Panthers 4, Capitals 3 OT (Nov. 8). At Florida: Panthers 4, Capitals 2 (Feb. 8); Saturday. 
  • Last Season: Panthers won 3-0
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Washington leads 67-47-13, 9 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday vs. Buffalo, 7 p.m.

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