Panthers GM Bill Zito looking to make splash at Trade Deadline for second straight year

Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito speaks to the media on June 2, 2021. (Florida Panthers)

SUNRISE, Fla. – The NHL Trade Deadline is exactly two weeks away, and teams are starting to put wheels in motion ahead of the annual swap meet.

Glancing at the league standings, it should come as no surprise that the Florida Panthers are among the clubs considered deadline buyers.

General Manager Bill Zito has done an exemplary job building a roster that can and should compete for the Stanley Cup when the postseason arrives in a couple months.

The Panthers have one of the deepest rosters in the NHL, stocked full of high-end scorers on both the front and back end.

Florida’s style of play only magnifies those talents, with Interim Head Coach Andrew Brunette maintaining the high-pace, quick transition, puck possession systems the team has been learning and implementing for the past several years.

Entering play on Monday, the Panthers have the fourth-highest point total in the league, with their 79 points in 55 games only trailing Colorado (85 points in 56 games), Carolina (83 points in 56 games) and Tampa Bay (80 points in 55 games).

Florida is also about to begin a stretch where they’ll play almost exclusively on the road, with nine of the team’s next 10 contests coming away from FLA Live Arena.

During that extended trip will be when the Trade Deadline arrives, and while the Panthers are set up nicely to make a run at the franchises first Stanley Cup, it’s no secret that Zito will make any and every move in his power if it makes the team better than it was before.

He made a big move at last season’s deadline, acquiring Sam Bennett from the Calgary Flames, and another at the NHL Draft last summer, trading with Buffalo for the services of Sam Reinhart.

The cost for Bennett was a 2022 second-round pick and former second-round pick Emil Heineman. Bringing in Reinhart cost Zito a 2022 first-round pick and high-end goalie prospect Devon Levi.

Zito also brought defenseman Brandon Montour to the Panthers a couple days before last year’s deadline, a move that cost a 2021 third-round pick.

This year, while it may appear that Florida’s roster is pretty stacked (and it is), multiple sources have told Local 10 News that Zito is looking to make another big splash ahead of the Trade Deadline.

The Panthers would like to bring in a top forward or defenseman, someone that will, as one source put it, help put the team over the edge.

It’s no secret that Zito has been looking to bolster Florida’s back line. The Cats have been linked to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun for a couple months, but he isn’t the only rearguard that Zito has been considering.

Seattle captain Mark Giordano, Dallas veteran John Klingberg and Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm are all defenseman that Zito has an eye on, though it’s worth noting on Lindholm that several teams are in a holding pattern until the Ducks decide whether they’re going to move him or not.

All three are in the final year of their respective contracts though, while Chychrun is on year three of a six-year deal that carries an average annual value of $4.6 million.

The Panthers have five defensive spots pretty much set in stone but adding any of the aforementioned d-men would bump the entire group up to another level.

It would also add an important layer of insurance to the group. Should an unfortunate injury occur, Florida would go from having one flexible, questionable spot to an entire pairing suddenly looking shaky.

Shifting focus to the Panthers forward group, Local 10 News learned that the team is taking a long, hard look at Philadelphia star forward Claude Giroux.

Giroux, also a pending free agent, would be quite the addition to Florida’s deep well of forwards.

The Flyers are willing to take on some of the money remaining on Giroux’s $8.275 cap hit, which would make things easier on the Panthers end.

While there are no roster limits after the Trade Deadline, teams still must remain under the salary cap. Currently, Florida is right up against the cap, with less than $500,000 of space to work with.

For that reason, if any moves are made, they will likely need to include some current rostered players in order to balance out the incoming salaries and make them fit under the cap.

In terms of assets not on the current roster, young players like Owen Tippett and Grigori Denisenko come to mind, but off-limits in any trade are rookies Spencer Knight and Anton Lundell.

Florida also doesn’t have a draft pick in either of the first two rounds this year, so if they’re going to flip any draft capital it will have to come from its 2023 selections or beyond.

It can be risky to trade away future picks, especially ones in the early rounds, but the Panthers are not in the same position they’ve generally been during the team’s history.

The Cats are in win-now mode, and it would be more than acceptable to swing for the fences and go all-in for a chance at winning the Stanley Cup.

Zito has proven to be more than capable at not only pulling off big moves, but having them pay off immediately (see: Bennett, Sam).

Does he have another one in him? It’ll be a fortnight before we find out.

Stay tuned.

About the Author:

David Dwork joined the WPLG Local 10 News team in August 2019. Born and raised in Miami-Dade County, David has covered South Florida sports since 2007.