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Who Could Interest the Florida Panthers on NHL Free Agency Day?

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Shayne Gostisbehere of the Carolina Hurricanes gets wrapped up with Florida’s Ryan Lomberg during the third period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals in Raleigh on May 18. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

The Florida Panthers woke up this morning with money in their pocket and a few final hours to ponder where they want to spend it as NHL free agency opens up today at noon.

According to Puckpedia.com, general manager Bill Zito has about $11 million under the NHL’s $83.5 million salary cap — but has a number of holes to fill, especially with defensemen Aaron Ekblad (shoulder) and Brandon Montour (labrum) expected to miss the start of training camp and perhaps the early part of the new season.

After deciding against tendering qualifying offers to Colin White and Givani Smith on Friday — thereby allowing them to become free agents — Florida frees up two more roster spots.

Radko Gudas, Eric Staal, Alex Lyon and Marc Staal are also free agents although some may be coming back to the Panthers.

We’ll see what happens today.

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As things stand right now, the Panthers have 16 NHL regulars under contract: 10 forwards, four defensemen and goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight.

Two of those players (Ekblad and Montour) are hurt, so, the Panthers have some holes in their roster to patch.

Of course, some of Florida’s younger players such as Grigori Denisenko, Matt Kiersted and Aleksi Heponiemi may make the team and are, pretty much, under contract. Zito said on Thursday he hoped to keep Lucas Carlsson as well.

But who else could the Panthers be looking at when the free agency market opens?

The Panthers are most certainly going to add defensemen today. While Dmitry Orlov is outside of their price range, perhaps they go after the likes of Scott Mayfield or South Florida’s Shayne Gostisbehere.

Florida does not have much defensive depth as shown during the Stanley Cup Final, so signing a couple of veterans is likely.

Could the recently bought-out Oliver Ekman-Larsson get a look from the Panthers? It is certainly possible. Marc Staal could also return.

Caleb Jones, younger brother of Seth, is now available after not being qualified by Chicago. Ethan Bear could also be a possibility.

On the forward side of things, the Panthers will be looking to upgrade their fourth-line center position and there are some interesting names out there following Friday’s news of who was tendered and who was not.

Morgan Geekie and Daniel Sprong are players who will likely get calls from the Panthers. Same goes for Tyson Jost.

Florida ended up signing White this way last year and will look for value players.

While Matt Duchane is likely going to cost too much, if the veteran center does not find what he is looking for, perhaps a one-year deal with a team like the Panthers could be appealing.

We would be surprised if former Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler ends up reunited with Paul Maurice but, we’ll, who knows?

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