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Opinion: After long overdue front office shakeup, Panthers fans should embrace changes made by new GM Bill Zito

New Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito is introduced by team president Matthew Caldwell at a press conference on September 2, 2020 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.
New Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito is introduced by team president Matthew Caldwell at a press conference on September 2, 2020 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Florida Panthers)

SUNRISE, Fla. – I’ve been listening to you, Panthers fans.

Since the bubble journey ended and the team began its sudden move in a new direction, I’ve been keeping up with your thoughts, reading your tweets and your comments, as I am always trying to keep my finger on the pulse of the Rodney Dangerfield of fanbases.

When new Panthers General Manager Bill Zito was active at the beginning of the month, there was more than enough love and excitement to go around.

Hornqvist for Matheson? Best GM ever!

A handful of tough, skilled guys in their mid-to-late 20s on cheap, short-term deals? We’re down for that.

All was good, but a lingering focus on the likely exes, the former Panthers now blowing in the UFA wind, felt like an anchor that kept getting heavier and heavier.

It makes sense that Zito wants to build his own team, and lets not twist that into something that’s about his ego. The man wants to win; he wants to build a winning team. Every GM does.

So it makes sense that he’s not going to commit any long-term dollars to anyone he doesn’t know extremely well, have intimate knowledge of or isn’t sold on in some way, shape, or form. The flat cap and uneasy market is helping in that regard, as the majority of all deals signed this offseason have been short term, with no trigger-happy GM’s inflating a market that simply couldn’t bear it this time around.

The grown-ups are acting like grown-ups. Novel concept, I know.

It’s clear that Zito isn’t going to bring in anyone he’s not sure will add the right mix of skill and desire, so why would he re-sign players that he doesn’t know any better than the free agents on the open market?

Are Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov so unique that their contributions couldn’t have been made by others? Let’s not ignore that while each thrived in their own way offensively, both of them had struggles in Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville’s defensive, puck-possession, 200-foot-game systems.

As far as UFAs like Hoffman and Dadonov and Erik Haula go, they might as well be viewed the same as any other free agents out there.

It’s still possible that Hoffman and Haula could return, but based on the available funds Florida has to work with, and the discernable brand of player that Zito has been keen on acquiring, there just doesn’t seem to be a fit for either to stay in Sunrise.

There is no way to properly balance the importance of trying to win now and plan to win for the foreseeable future, but that’s what Zito is trying to accomplish. There is so much talent in place (and Q behind the bench) that winning now obviously can and should happen...but Zito also has to start reshaping the roster where he believes that it needs work.

Make no mistake, he will continue to mold the roster and bring in players that fit the team he and Q feel needs to be constructed.

Yes, Florida removed 54 goals from the lineup with Hoffman and Dadonov (assuming Hoffman does in fact sign elsewhere), as well as whatever is chopped off the scoring bottom line with the departures of Matheson, Sceviour, Haula (see: Hoffman comment) and the rest of the now-former Panthers. But how many goals were added with Patric Hornqvist, Alex Wennberg, Carter Verhaeghe, Vinny Hinostroza, Radko Gudas and any other new recruits yet to be signed or acquired, and how many potential goals against were subtracted with those same guys compared to the Hoffmans and Dadonovs and Haulas and Mathesons?

There is also the potential contributions of Florida’s top-tier prospects Owen Tippett, Grigori Denisenko and Henrik Borgstrom, all of whom are expected to get every opportunity to make the NHL club during training camp, whenever that arrives later this year.

At the end of the day, a big move had to be made. For better or for worse, there is a new GM in town. It’s been a long time since the front office had this much fresh blood and this many fresh eyes, and it’s understandable that less than two months into it, there is still some unease between the new guys and the ones still remaining from the old regime.

Understand, things are going to be different. That’s the point. That’s why you make a change at the top, and why that person makes changes to those around him. If things didn’t need to be different, they’d still be the same, right?

My advice: embrace the change. It’s been a stagnant, sorrowful and soul-suckingly sad century for the franchise. Let the new guys do their thing. Shake things up like it’s an open bar on martini night at The Clevelander.

There are going to be pros and cons with anyone sitting in the GM chair, or behind the bench, or in the goal crease...rarely is somebody hired as the unquestionable, undisputed, perfect choice.

The point of this exercise is to show that there are reasons for hope and optimism to go with the flip side of that coin. History makes you feel losing is inevitable, like its embedded in our souls.

Focus on the pros, embrace the changes and ride the positives.

Or don’t.


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