The Florida Panthers anticipate being without some players when next season begins, and general manager Bill Zito filled the projected gaps in free agency.
And those moves came on a day when the team also had to send out fan favorite Anthony Duclair in a trade.
The Eastern Conference champions were packed with defenders, two-time All-Star Oliver Ekman-Larsson and former Panther Dmitry Kulikov topping the pack, as part of a big class that reached deals with Florida on Saturday.
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Ekman-Larsson and Kulikov have one-year contracts, as does defenseman Mike Reilly. Another newcomer to the blue line, Niko Mikkola, signed a three-year deal, and the Panthers kept defenseman Lucas Carlsson on a one-year, two-way deal.
The Vancouver Canucks purchased Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract two weeks ago and agreed to pay the 31-year-old Swede $19.33 million, spread over the next eight years to lower his salary cap. Ekman-Larsson had four years and $29 million remaining on the eight-year, $66 million contract he signed with Arizona in 2018.
Kulikov, who still has a home in South Florida, played for a pair of playoff teams with Florida in 2012 and 2016, and now has a chance to join a team that is a Stanley Cup contender that will be without Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour. when he starts the next season in October while they recover from injuries they sustained in the playoff run.
«To be honest, I don’t really know him, so I don’t have that emotional attachment to him as a former Panther. It was purely because of his game,» Zito said of Kulikov. «If you look at his game, wherever he goes, he can play with different types of players. He can play in different situations. He’s a fit man. There are so many elements to what he does.»
Another move came Sunday: Florida added forward Evan Rodrigues on a one-way, four-year deal. He scored 39 points for Colorado last season.
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«Rodrigues brings skill and the ability to compete on three zones of the ice,» Zito said. «A cultural fit and someone who adds versatility to our lineup, we can’t wait to welcome Evan to the Panthers.»
Florida also kept Grigori Denisenko, signing the forward to a two-year, one-way deal that suggests he’s ready for full-time NHL seasons. Another forward to be added to the mix was Kevin Stenlund, a 6-foot-5 forward with NHL experience with Winnipeg and Columbus.
«Stenlund is a really unique guy whose combination of size, skate and ability is rare,» Zito said. «A dynamic player with a big punch, we’re excited to add some size to our lineup as we welcome Kevin to South Florida.»
Florida lost defenseman Radko Gudas ($12 million, three years) to Anaheim and goaltender Alex Lyon, a big part of the playoff run last season, to Detroit. Lyon was essentially replaced by Anthony Stolarz on a one-year, $1.1 million deal.
Zito praised Gudas and Lyon and wished them well.
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«We’re so thankful for everything those two guys did for us,» Zito said. «I mean, I don’t need to repeat it here. Everybody knows, and most importantly, it’s the character, the quality and the people that they both are.»
He expressed similar sentiments after making the deal involving Duclair. Florida got forward Steven Lorentz and a fifth-round pick in 2025 out of San Jose for Duclair.
«A great ambassador for the sport of hockey, we would like to thank Anthony for his contributions to the Panthers organization and to the South Florida community,» said Zito.