SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers plan on having goalie Spencer Knight back this coming season, general manager Bill Zito confirmed on Wednesday afternoon.
Knight, 22, has been away from the Panthers since taking a personal leave of absence and enrolling in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program on Feb. 24.
With Knight in the program, the Panthers have not been able to speak publicly about his situation or standing with the team.
On Wednesday, however, Zito said he has been in contact with Knight.
“He is doing well,’’ Zito said, “and we expect him back in the fold in the fall. We talk, text pretty frequently.”
Knight left the team not long after the Panthers had sent him down to AHL Charlotte to get some games in with coach Paul Maurice saying with Sergei Bobrovsky being the starter, the schedule allowed for Knight to go and play with the Checkers.
For the past few weeks, Knight has not only been working in the gym with his trainer in Stamford, Conn., but has also been on the ice and is said to be in great shape.
“He just didn’t get into the net and now we’re home for a month and we have these big block of days,’’ Maurice said at the time. “Sergei plays a big hand in this because he’s played so well, it’s his ball.
“Spencer needs to get a bunch of reps here. He needs to get a bunch of pucks shot at him.”
Alex Lyon replaced Knight on the roster and helped lead the Panthers to the playoffs with starter Sergei Bobrovsky falling ill in Ottawa on March 17.
Lyon went 6-1-1 down the stretch to help the Panthers clinch the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
He was also Florida’s starting goalie to kick off the playoffs before being replaced by Bobrovsky during Game 3 of the Boston series.
Lyon, 30, is a free agent and is looking for a new contract somewhere.
It still could be with the Panthers — a team which is expected to sign an additional goalie in the coming days.
Lyon has made it clear he would like to remain with the Panthers but his play down the stretch may put him in demand as he is in line for the first one-way contract of his career.
Florida could potentially offer him that with the idea that Lyon would compete for the backup job.
If Knight were to earn the job in training camp, Lyon could still get paid his NHL contract — think in the $1 million range — to play in Charlotte although he would have to clear waivers upon being assigned to the AHL.
Bobrovsky is currently signed for the next three seasons at a $10 million annual cap hit; Knight’s new three-year deal kicks in July 1 with a cap hit of $4.5 million annually.
Because Knight is no longer on an entry-level contract, he gets paid that $4.5 million whether he is with the Panthers or playing in the minors.
Free agency opens July 1.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- June 26: NHL Awards, Nashville
- June 28-29: NHL Draft, Nashville (Florida has picks in Rounds 2, 4, 5, 6 & 7)
- June 30: Buyout period ends
- July 1: Free agency opens, noon
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Oct. 1 Preseason: Panthers vs. Senators; Sydney, Nova Scotia
- Mid-October: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season