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Zito’s First Free Agent Class Cornerstone of ‘New’ Florida Panthers

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Carter Verhaeghe is congratulated by Ryan Lomberg and Aleksi Heponiemi as Alex Wennberg checks out the replay during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on May 10, 2021, in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

SUNRISE — Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito had only been on the job a little over a month when the free agency period opened up.

On Oct. 9, 2020, Zito went about bringing in new blood for a Florida team which needed some.

Although none of the signings Zito made that day three years ago were considered huge moves at the time, they certainly helped turn the Panthers into what they are today.

In fact, the biggest name signing Zito made that day was defenseman Radko Gudas — and some thought the Panthers not only overpaid, but gave him too much term.

That three-year deal turned out to be quite the bargain and helped transform the Panthers into a consistent playoff contender.

Getting Carter Verhaeghe to come south from Tampa certainly paid off better than anyone could have imagined.

“I have said it before, but I don’t think Billy has made a bad move so far,” said Ryan Lomberg, who was a relative unknown when he signed three years ago but is now a fan favorite as Zito predicted he would be.

“He is a magician. It has been great and I am proud to be a part of it.”

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