For the first time since the first day of free agency Oct. 9, the Florida Panthers made a new addition to their NHL roster Wednesday.
The Panthers signed Scott Wilson to a one-year, two-way contract, making the forward the sixth new player Florida has added since free agency opened earlier this month. In the meantime, they’ve re-signed just one of their players and let one of their top free agents head elsewhere.
Altogether, they’ve added Wilson, fellow forwards Vinnie Hinostroza, Alexander Wennberg, Carter Verhaeghe and Ryan Lomberg, and defenseman Radko Gudas, and let Evgenii Dadonov head to the Ottawa Senators. They also resigned goaltender Philippe Desrosiers to a one-year deal last Wednesday.
“My long-term vision — it’s started on the journey,” new general manager Bill Zito said Oct. 9 after the Panthers signed Gudas, Hinostroza, Wennberge, Verhaeghe and Lomberg. “How far along that journey I am, I can’t really answer, but I hope and I think that, after today, we’re a bit more driven, a bit more competitive than we may have been yesterday. I certainly hope so.”
The headliners — at least via free agency — are still Gudas and Hinostroza. Gudas could potentially find a home on Florida’s second defensive pairing and Hinostroza should wind up somewhere on one of the Panthers’ middle lines, although there is a vacancy at right wing on the top line following Dadonov’s departure.
The Panthers’ best work might have come through the trade market, though, and they may have found their top-line right wing there. They traded for right wing Patric Hornqvist last month — sending defenseman Mike Matheson and winger Colton Sceviour to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange — and his veteran, grinder mentality could pair nicely with center Aleksander Barkov and All-Star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau.
Florida also traded right wing Cliff Pu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Markus Nutivaara on Oct. 8 and the defenseman is another candidate for a spot on the Panthers’ second pairing.
“It’s a really good opportunity, for sure,” Nutivaara said Oct. 12. “I just want to give my best. I think I can be a good help for the team. I’m really excited to go there, and make the team and work hard.”
Florida, with 19 players under contract, still has about $10 million left in cap space, according to Spotrac.com, and a handful of top players are still on the market, including Mike Hoffman. The winger was the Panthers’ leading scorer in the expanded 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs and was widely regarded as one of the best forwards available in free agency this offseason.
Robert Hooper, the forward’s agent, told The Athletic on Monday the interest in his client “has been very strong” and Hoffman is open to a one-year deal. Zito hasn’t ruled out any reunions with former players.
“We’re still open-minded. We’ll still continue to work the market. We’ll still continue to try to improve the team every single day in every way that we can,” Zito said. “We’re working.”
Forwards Erik Haula and Brian Boyle, both of whom spent last season with the Panthers, also remain unsigned.
If Florida is done, Zito’s first offseason in Broward County wasn’t flashy, but the supporting pieces were overhauled enough to give the Panthers a different identity for the upcoming season.