Suffering a second-round sweep by the Tampa Bay Lightning was a painful end to the Florida Panthers' franchise-best regular season.
Nevertheless, they can build upon this campaign's successes. Those include winning their first-ever Presidents' Trophy and defeating the Washington Capitals in the opening round for their first postseason series victory in 26 years.
ESPN.com's Kristen Shilton believes determining the status of head coach Andrew Brunette should be general manager Bill Zito's first big decision. She also pointed out he'll have to find replacements for Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot as well as upgrade the Panthers' blueline.
Brunette took over on an interim basis after Joel Quenneville stepped down last October. The Panthers' performance under his coaching made him a finalist for the Jack Adams Award. However, Brunette seemed to have no answers for the Lightning's suffocating defense. Zito could be tempted to hire an experienced bench boss such as Barry Trotz, John Tortorella or Rick Bowness.
Giroux and Chiarot are slated to become unrestricted free agents in July. Cap Friendly shows the Panthers with $78.6 million invested in 16 players for 2022-23, with $6.5 million tied up in buyouts for Keith Yandle and Scott Darling.
Zito could make a cost-cutting trade or two, perhaps by shopping Patric Hornqvist ($5.3 million) or Anthony Duclair ($3 million). Nevertheless, it probably won't be enough to keep Giroux and Chiarot from testing the free-agent market. Philly Hockey Now's Sam Carchidi wondered if Giroux might try to return to the Flyers or head to his hometown of Ottawa and sign with the Senators.
The Giroux-to-Ottawa rumor was reportedly contingent on winning the Stanley Cup with Florida. He could prefer signing with a contender if staying with the Panthers isn't an option.