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2024 Stanley Cup Champions

Bill Zito: Florida Panthers Want to Sign ‘All Our Guys’



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Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito celebrates with defenseman Uvis Balinskis after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito was back on the job Friday night as the NHL kicked off its two-day draft in Las Vegas.

Forgive him if his head, and his attention, was elsewhere.

It has only been a few days since Zito’s team won the Stanley Cup and, in the aftermath of that momentous victory, there was plenty of work to be done.

And almost none of it had to do with hockey.

“It’s crazy,” Zito said. “I made a joke to someone earlier that I feel like a wedding planner. You’re just trying to make sure that whatever happens next is as good as it can be for the players so they can really enjoy it. You’re putting our fires you did not even know existed. Lots of busy.”

Yet, hockey, calls.

Not only is the draft going down — the Panthers do not have a pick until the third round sometime early this afternoon — but free agency is about to explode.

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It will not even have been a full week from when the Panthers won Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers to the start of free agency on Monday at noon.

“It is such a short window to try and get guys signed and then prepare for free agency,’’ Zito said. “You work all through the playoffs, although it is probably less efficient working there the deeper we went. We had the luxury of last year’s experience, knowing we had to stay on it at least on the pro side. A lot of that work had been done in advance.’’

Zito would not talk about word that he and Sam Reinhart are close to announcing a long-term deal, but he did say he hopes to keep as many members of the 2024 Stanley Cup champions in South Florida as possible.

The Panthers have just under $20 million in cap space with 11 unrestricted free agents and two who are restricted free agents.

“We really hope to have him back,” Zito said of Reinhart. “We’re trying to keep as many as the guys we possibly can. I am optimistic, and we’ll see.”

Zito was asked if Florida could keep both Reinhart and defenseman Brandon Montour.

“I don’t know,’’ he said. “At the risk of being coy, there is a way, but I am also appreciative that guys do well and they deserve to get paid. They deserve bigger and better opportunities. We respect it, and hopefully we’re a place where … someone else will want to come.’’

For More FHN Coverage of the Stanley Cup Champion Florida Panthers:

  • Stanley Cup Championship Parade, Fort Lauderdale: Sunday, 11 a.m.
  • NHL Draft, Las Vegas: Friday-Saturday
  • NHL Free Agency: Monday
  • Florida Panthers Development Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Early July
  • Florida Panthers Training Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Mid-September
  • Florida Panthers Preseason: Sept. 22-Oct. 5
  • Florida Panthers Opening Night/Banner Unveiling: TBA

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First off congrats to the panthers, I feel bad for doubting them winning game 7.
I have no problems keeping Reinhart but as far as Montour no thanks his game will not age well maybe a 3 year deal but no more.
Looks like pretty heavy Ekblad trade rumors going around as well wonder how much truth to that is there?

Last edited 16 days ago by KRW
Kevin Hawkey

God I hate saying it but Ekblad is one of the players that has caused me a lot of “game” stress. I don’t think he is the same player and when he is on the ice, man I get nervous. That said, I do think he modified his style play. I love what Ekblad has meant to the Panthers. He seems like such a quality, smart individual. I’d love to see him retire a Panther but not at 7.5 mil a season. He needs to take less $ or maybe move on. I can see him returning and working in… Read more »

Cory Brolund

I don’t like idea of Ek going anywhere else, but do agree it has to be less than the last contract. I have hopes of Ek, Barky, Chucky and Knighter having numbers retired and finishing careers with us but know that is a lot to expect

Kevin Hawkey

I can’t imagine how hard it is for Zito and staff to figure out who to keep and let go. After this journey, they are like family. That said, I am not sold on knight. Maybe they could move him in this market for a fair but beneficial return. Maybe he will be the future but not for the foreseeable future. I don’t know that I want to miss out on a possible opportunity to keep key players. I don’t envy Zito but one thing that is true, we can trust his judgment.

Kevin Hawkey

I would love to see a scenario where Duclair returns. He still has a lot to offer and I think he would take less to play in South Florida again!

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