Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito was a busy man on Monday as the club prepared for the opening of free agency on Wednesday.
Zito signed three current Panthers to brand spanking new contracts, including key piece Sam Bennett, who-re-upped for four more years.
Bennett’s new deal makes him the team’s fourth highest paid forward and carries an average annual value of $4.425 million. The 25-year-old quickly found chemistry with Jonathan Huberdeau on the second line and produced six goals and 15 points in 10 regular season games with the Cats. He added a goal and four assists in 5 playoffs games against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Panthers also agreed to terms with Noah Juulsen and Lucas Carlsson, keeping the pair of prospect defensemen in the organizational fold.
Juulsen, who was plucked off of waivers from the Montreal Canadiens on January 11, signed a one-year, two-way deal worth $750K at the NHL level and $150K at the minor-league level. The 24-year-old appeared in four games with the Panthers and played another five games with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL last season.
Carlsson was traded, along with Lucas Wallmark, by the Chicago Blackhawks to the Cats in exchange for Brett Connolly, Riley Stillman, Henrik Borgström and a 2021 7th round draft pick on April 8. After registering one assist in 12 appearances with the Blackhawks, the 24-year-old put up two goals and nine points in 11 games with the Crunch. Carlsson also signed a one-year, two-way deal worth $750K at the NHL level and $150K at the minor-league level
Florida extended qualifying offers to four of its restricted free agents to retain their rights. The quartet were forwards Samson Reinhart, Juho Lammikko, goaltender Sam Montembeaukt and defenseman Chase Priskie.
The team did not qualify the following players: forwards Lucas Wallmark, Patrick Bajkov, and Brad Morrison; defensemen Jake Massie and Alec Rauhauser; and goalie Ryan Bednard. Those six prospects are now unrestricted free agents. The biggest surprise of the bunch was Bednard, who has played well in the ECHL the last two seasons.
In yet another impressive move, Zito cleared $5.5 million in cap space by trading veteran Anton Stralman to the Arizona Coyotes, The rebuilding Desert Dogs also got prospect defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok, who was taken 52nd overall in 2919, and Florida’s second round pick in the 2024 draft. The return was Arizona’s seventh-rounder in 2024.
In less than a year, Zito has moved out the troublesome contracts of Stralman and Mike Matheson, and bought out Keith Yandle.
According to CapFriendly, the Cats have roughly $11.7 million in cap space. That should be enough to ink Reinhart and bring in another defenseman.