Now that the start of 2020-21 is right around the corner, the Florida Panthers looks to start the season with what feels like a completely new team. With seven new players heading to Sunrise, either through trades or free agency, the Panthers are finally looking to achieve a consistent play style. As a franchise that hasn’t significantly impacted the league since 1996, the near future is looking bright. With Bill Zito joining the team, he has already done more in one off-season than most Panther general managers have done ever.
Bill Zito’s Off-Ice Approach
Heading into his first off-season as a general manager, Zito is here to establish himself as the “GM” of the future. After the long, confusing, and drawn out tenure of former general manager Dale Tallon, Zito is coming in to start from scratch. “My brain can’t stop working, thinking about everything this job entails. From the player personnel, to get better, what are we going to do at the draft, and this and that. The excitement is overwhelming me right now; I cant wait to get started.” Zito said during his official hiring press conference.
Wasting no time getting started down in Sunrise. Zito identified the biggest problem with the Panthers organization, the lack of culture. Before the NHL Free Agency period beginning, he gathered his staff to discuss his vision moving forward. “We need to address some type of support, communication, accountability. A paradigm shift from the staff, the management, and the organization; but also, needs to be an institutional mindset that players, not just the players, everybody needs to be treated like a family.”
It’s extremely frustrating to say but, it really does not mean anything to be a Florida Panther. Yes, it’s a great place to play due to the weather, the tax situation, and a few other aspects. Yet, win or lose a game, nothing changes. Nobody seems to hold anyone within the organization accountable for anything that goes on. On the bright side of things, Zito is here to change that for the better. Zito would continue saying, “It needs to be a habit in the way you play the game, and that’s what we’re looking for. We want people who compete, who will approach the game with a business-like, professional manner and every day come to the rink wanting to win.”
The Florida Panthers Inconsistent Ways
During the 27-year history of the Florida Panthers, the organization is arguably the most inconsistent team in all the National Hockey League and has been for a while. With a franchise record of 852-856-142-203 and just six playoff appearances, it’s no wonder the Florida Panthers are always discussed as a team that needs to be relocated. While some believe that is due to location, it is much deeper than that.
Beginning with the on-ice aspect of things, the Panthers are historically, again, one of the easiest teams to play against. During the past seven seasons, the ‘Cats’ have been one of the easiest to score on. In that time, there was only one season where they finished lower than 18th in goals against. In the past two seasons, they finished 28th out of 31 in goals against as well. To make matters even worse, throughout their franchise history, the Panthers have never had a head coach last longer than three seasons. 16 different coaches in 26 different seasons, no wonder there is no consistency on the ice!
Zito knew what he was coming into when the Panthers officially hired him. Yet, he still has not hesitated for a second on decisions he has made. Now that Zito is creating an organization’s culture, this will only pay itself back on the ice tenfold.
Bill Zito’s On-Ice Approach
Thankfully, Zito is working to change what’s happening on the ice tremendously, as well. Bringing in players like Radko Gudas, Ryan Lomberg, Markus Nutivaara, and Patric Hornqvist will make the team much more challenging to play against. As a team who allowed the third most goals-against per game last season; at 3.25. The Panthers needed to do something to keep the puck out of the net. Between Gudas, Lomberg, Nutivaara, and Hornqvist, the team has added an element of physicality that they haven’t had in quite some time.
On top of that, Zito made sure to sprinkle in some skill with Carter Verhaeghe, Alexander Wennberg, and Anthony Duclair. These three all have good playmaking ability and the know-how to put the puck in the net. Do not be surprised to see these three players thrill us this season with their scoring-production and play driving skills.
Finally, the Florida Panthers organization has created the first-ever ‘Goaltending Excellence Department.’ Many believe the Sergei Bobrovsky contract is already a bust, and he had a terrible season. While he did not play like a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, he didn’t play that bad. When you go from a team with the fourth-best goals-against per game average for the past two seasons; to a team almost the polar opposite? Any goaltender’s numbers will change significantly. Yet, I digress…
Where Do The Panthers Go From Here
Overall, every change that Zito has made thus far has been terrific. With his hiring, the Panthers organization is proving to its fans, the league, and themselves that they genuinely want to build a winning hockey franchise in South Florida. It’s just like they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither can professional sports organizations. Nonetheless, everything looks as if it is on the up for the ‘Cats.’