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LeBron: Will the Panthers be on or off the NHL trade deadline? Catching up with GM Bill Zito

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There was a little disappointing NHL diff who leopards In the first half of the 2022-23 season.

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At least until the cutoff for last year.

But I wonder if we are seeing some signs of life as the calendar has flipped to the new year.

The Panthers have been 5-2-1 in their past eight games, and as of Wednesday morning, they sit within three points of a playoff zone, despite having played three more games than penguins, which currently occupies that last outlying spot. There are also Islanders sitting above them in the standings – also up by three points, in ninth place in the conference.

But the Panthers fully believe they still have a chance at the playoffs.

“I don’t think there’s anyone around our team who believes anything other than that,” said Panthers general manager Bill Zito. the athlete Tuesday. “We’re focused. We’re getting really close to every game.

“It’s almost like every game is a playoff. The energy is the same.”


Paul Morris on the bench for the Panthers (Michael Reeves/Getty Images)

It’s a tightrope for the President’s Cup winners. Given the hole dug in the first half of the season, there’s a little wiggle room the rest of the way – plus there’s an extra grenade. Montreal Owning Florida’s first-round pick, courtesy Ben Chiarot Trade a year ago, when the first-place team went all-in at the trade deadline.

Now a different story. It’s survival hockey. The Panthers are going to need a good warm-up at some point in the second half and perhaps some help from those above them in the pecking order.

But General Motors feels like his team is getting more and more energetic.

“You know sometimes how you have the pulse of the room and look at the effort on the ice – the feeling is back,” Zito said. “If you want to point to an example of why I’m determined, if you look at the game in Colorado (on January 10th) where we were leading, we gave the lead, it ended 4-4 and all of a sudden we come back and find a way to win (5-4).

“These are the things that we need to do as a team, that we are starting to do.”

Zito said this before his team blew a 4-2 lead in Toronto on Tuesday night, losing 5-4 in overtime, but that’s still good for three points out of four in a back-to-back situation, which began with a 4-2 win Monday in Buffalo.

Recent results reflect what most core numbers were saying previously, that the team has played well in a number of areas without getting rewarded for it.

Zito won’t come out and say this, but I will: It’s also clear that if the team gets some extra saves this season, things will be different. Sergei Bobrovsky897 save percentage is 36th in the NHL. 913 save percentage last season. Spencer Knight Slightly better at . 906—27th in the league.

And certainly, the coaching change and system changes affected defensive play in general as the team adapts to Paul Morris’ style, which will affect goalkeepers as well. But overall, it’s pretty simple: the Panthers need more saves.

There have been adjustments for everyone, and I think Bob was one of them, Zito said of Bobrovsky, who has three more seasons on his contract at an average annual value of $10 million. “He’s also kept us in a lot of matches and lately has taken his game to the next level. The highlight for me was recently in Detroit (on January 6th), when we were really good and he was really strong. You can just see him spinning into shape.

“We still believe in and believe in these two men.”

As for Morris, there is no doubt that some will question the coaching change from last summer, when Zito surprised many people by not bringing back Jack Adams, Andrew Brunette, and replacing him with long-termer instead. Winnipeg Jets Passenger coach.

I think it’s obvious that after he was fired Tampa Bay Back in the playoffs, GM felt it needed a more seasoned coach who would have his team play the style of hockey conducive to playoff success.

“I think he did a great job,” Zito said of Maurice.

“Look, it’s self-serving analysis, right? But it’s also true. You look at where we are and how our team plays. You throw in injuries, bad luck. And it all sounds like a great excuse, but it really happened…”

And again, some analysis seems to support the idea that this team is playing better than its record. So let’s see if these things are equal in the second half.

At the moment, it puts the Panthers in no-man’s land as they approach the March 3 trade deadline. They cannot yet commit to being buyers or sellers. It’s a wait-and-see for the next six weeks, depending on how the team plays.

“Yeah, you don’t know,” Zito said. “And as you well know, you never know when the phone call you weren’t expecting will come.”

Zito hasn’t been afraid to make deals since taking over as general manager, so who knows what he’s got in store before March 3.

“I’m always open to anything,” Zito said. “My working definition is that you have to think through everything.

“But I love our team. I believe in our team. … I really do.”

And although it would be easy to catch a glimpse of last summer’s huge trade with her CalgaryJonathan Huberdeau And Mackenzie Weigher to the flame Matthew Tkachuk – As a deal that somehow affected the Florida Magic, everything Tkachuk did came down to highlighting it: eighth in NHL scoring as of Wednesday morning, with 56 points (22 goals) in 43 games.

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Matthew Tkachuk and Alexander Barkov (Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

“It was great,” Zito said. “His contributions on the ice have been great, and there are so many other little things that Matthew does. He won’t quit. Compete all the time. There are so many areas in our game that he provokes and pulls all of our players as well as skill and points.

“And a good person, a great guy. Everyone loves him. So we’re glad he’s there.”

I think part of the reason the deal made sense for Zito, other than Tkachuk’s long-term influence on the ice, is also that the team’s salary congestion has disappeared after this season. He’ll be able to plug a hole or two after that.

There are $6.5 million in maximum money on the Panthers’ books this season from the acquisitions of Keith Yandle ($5.4 million) and Scott Darling ($1.1 million). That drops to $1.2 million next season for Yandle, and Darling will be off the books. Patrick Hornqvist He is UFA pending, and his $5.3 million AAV book will be disposed of as well. There are other things to look at, but between just these positions, there’s roughly $11 million coming out of the cap.

This was always the season the Panthers had to navigate in an incredibly tight hat.

“We knew at the end of last season we were going to have about $7 million between acquisitions and bonuses made from youngsters last year. We knew that was going to be a handcuff on my hands,” Zito said. ranking, right? So there are other factors. But it is a real thing. And this summer we’re going to clean it up. Yes, we should be able to move forward and capitalize on that.”

But this is next season.

There is unfinished business now. Can the Panthers rally and fight their way? This will be a compelling story the rest of the way.

(Top photo of Matthew Tkachuk and colleagues: Stephen Bisig/USA Today)

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