When Sam Bennett was traded to the Florida Panthers from Calgary at the deadline, he felt an instant chemistry with his teammates that translated extremely well to the scoresheet.
In 10 regular season games to close things out, Bennett had six goals and 15 points — eclipsing the 12 points he had in 38 games with the Flames.
A restricted free agent, Bennett said there was “never a thought” a new contract wouldn’t get done with the Panthers and on Monday, he signed a four-year deal with the team worth $4.4 million per season.
The future of the Panthers is bright, Bennett said, and he is excited to be part of it.
Seeing the Panthers trade for Sam Reinhart from Buffalo over the weekend only made the wait for the start of training camp seem a little longer.
“Right away, when I saw that trade, I texted Huby and we were both super-excited about that and I reached out to Reino who I know a little bit from the draft,” said Bennett, who was the fourth overall pick of the 2014 draft by the Flames. Florida took Aaron Ekblad first that day and Buffalo selected Reinhart second.
“Getting a great player like that just shows how much this team is ready to win and is committed to winning. It makes me so excited to get this season started and my confidence in this team is through the roof right now.”
With all that is going on with the Panthers these days, and free agency opening Wednesday at noon, odds for the team winning the 2022 Stanley Cup are going up.
There is a lot going on with the Panthers — and the sports books are taking notice.
As it stands right now, Florida is +2500 to win the Stanley Cup at BetMGM, a top reviewed sportsbook with puts the Panthers on par with the likes of the Capitals and Rangers.
MGM currently has Colorado as the favorite to win it all next year at +600 followed by Vegas (+700) and Tampa Bay (+750).
”I think we’re very close and with some of the moves we’re making, we’re even closer,” Bennett said. “We’re just getting better and it’s going to be a fun year, that’s for sure.”
The Panthers have been busy this offseason, shedding salary to create more cap space (Keith Yandle was bought out, Anton Stralman was traded) while Reinhart was acquired and Anthony Duclair, Brandon Montour and Gus Forsling were extended.
Florida is expected to announce a new contract for Carter Verhaeghe as early as Wednesday and a major long-term deal with captain and reigning Selke Trophy winner Sasha Barkov later on this summer.
General manager Bill Zito said he did not want to tinker too much with what the Panthers had last season, and the players seem to appreciate that.
“We have something really good going on,” Forsling said upon getting his new contract.
“I think a lot of guys are going to stay. I feel like we’re almost the same group of guys. It looks very bright for us. Everyone feels we almost had Tampa this playoffs. Everyone wants the season to start.”
Said Duclair: “We were actually a legit team and a legit contender.”
Free agency opens on Wednesday afternoon and the Panthers have around $12 million to spend but a lot of that will be taken up by Reinhart’s new deal.
Still, the Panthers appear to be as close to the top of the league as they have been since playing in the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals.
With players like Barkov, Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Duclair, Verhaeghe, Bennett and Reinhart — among others — just hitting their prime years, the Panthers look like they could be good for a very long time.
“It is exciting to have so many young guys with so much experience,” Bennett said. “I think that’s big in this league and especially when it comes to playoff hockey.
“The core group of this team is all around the same age and it looks like we have a lot of years ahead of us to really make something happen. That’s really exciting for me and I know for a lot of the other players as well.”