The Florida Panthers emerged last season among the NHL's top teams. They've proven that performance was no fluke as they're currently jockeying with several clubs (including their cross-state rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning) for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Despite the Panthers' improvement, they remain overshadowed by the Lightning. Challenging the dominance of the defending Stanley Cup champions would improve their visibility among NHL fans while stoking a serious hockey rivalry in Florida.
Florida Hockey Now's George Richards believes the Panthers are in “go-for-it mode” and will be players at the March 21 trade deadline. He observed general manager Bill Zito has proven willing to wheel-and-deal during his 16 months on the job.
Richards pointed out Zito focused on upgrading the Panthers' blueline corps since arriving in Sunrise. He and his staff have reportedly discussed whether they'll make a pitch for Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot. Richards included the Arizona Coyotes' Jakob Chychrun, Dallas Stars' John Klingberg, Seattle Kraken's Mark Giordano and the Detroit Red Wings' Nick Leddy among Zito's possible trade targets.
Cap Friendly shows the Panthers with $3.72 million in projected cap space. Zito will have to convince one of those potential trade partners to retain some salary or he'll have to make a cost-cutting move or two. The Panthers lack first and second-round picks in this year's draft to offer up as trade bait but they still have those picks in the 2023 draft.
Zito could also attempt to his forward lines. TSN's Darren Dreger reports the Panthers are believed among the top-three clubs linked to former San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane.