The Florida Panthers began their offseason by signing former assistant GM Bill Zito to the head position, replacing Dale Tallon. Zito signed a 5 year contract with the team.
The 55-year-old joins the Panthers after seven years with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The native of Pittsburgh joined the Blue Jackets in August of 2013 as an assistant general manager. In his time with the Columbus organization, the Blue Jackets secured playoff berths in five of the last seven seasons and were one of just three teams to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. In June of 2019, Zito was promoted to the Blue Jackets Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, Associate General Manager and Alternate Governor. Zito has been a candidate for several top-level front-office openings in the past few seasons, having interviewed with the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and the brand new Seattle Kraken, among others.
"After an extensive search, I am proud and excited to bring Bill Zito on board with the Panthers as our General Manager" said President & CEO Matt Caldwell. "Bill is a leader, who possesses the passion, knowledge and work ethic needed to instill a winning culture in all aspects of our business. He has been an integral part of the success and growth of the Columbus Blue Jackets organization from player evaluation and scouting to contract negotiations and cap management. With Bill as our new GM, we are thrilled to begin the next chapter of Panthers hockey in South Florida."
Zito graduated from Yale University, where he played varsity hockey from 1984-87. He attended law school at the University of Wisconsin and served as an assistant coach for the Badgers varsity hockey team and a radio color commentator for Badger hockey. He practiced law in New York and Chicago prior to founding ACME World Sports.
What Can Zito Bring To The Team?
The first season of Sergei Bobrovsky's seven-year future with the Panthers didn't go exactly as planned, but Zito has faith in him after their time together with the Blue Jackets. On the Blue Jackets with Zito, Bobrovsky was one of the leagues best goalies, especially in the playoffs. When he came to Florida, he was ranked as a Top 2 goalie on many people's lists. He definitely didn't turn out to be a top 2 goalie last season, in which he had the highest goals-against average of his 10-season NHL career (3.23) and the second-lowest save percentage (.900) for Florida (35-26-8, .565 points percentage), which finished 10th in the Eastern Conference. Bobrovsky had a 3.07 GAA and .901 save percentage in a four-game loss to the New York Islanders in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
When Bobrovsky was with Bill Zito in Columbus, he had a 2.41 GAA and .921 save percentage in 374 games for them (213-130-27). It is not too late for Bobrovsky to have a bounce back year on the Panthers, as he had a lot of pressure last year.
Cut the guy a little slack," Zito said of the goalie. "It's a new environment, different structure, a different team, different system. If I'm going to bet on anybody to right the ship, to figure out what he needs to do to improve himself, it's that guy. Whatever it is he can do on his own, he's doing it. I'm nonplussed. [Bobrovsky] will be fine."
Bill Zito won't just help Bobrovsky this season, but will help the whole team, which is something any GM should do. The GM is the guy who makes moves and trades. The Panthers are a borderline playoff team, and Zito can give them that well-needed jump. Florida has 13 players under contract for next season, including center Aleksander Barkov, forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Aaron Ekblad. If Bobrovsky becomes a Top 5 goalie next season, the Panthers will easily make the playoffs. But in order to make it far in the playoffs, Zito needs to make some moves, and he is in a good situation to do so.
Besides writing up some trades this offseason, Bill Zito will have to keep his eye on Panther free agents, who were with the team last year. These include Mike Hoffman who is the most likely to be re-signed, Evgenii Dadonov, Erik Haula, Mark Pysyk, Brian Boyle, Joel Lowry, Paul Thompson, and Ryan Haggerty. Outside of Panther free agents, Zito will probably be looking for some young talent to bring to the team.
Overall, Bill Zito is a great signing for the Panthers new GM slot. He has never been a NHL GM, but should fit in perfectly. Most importantly, Zito should provide a much needed jump for the Panthers, which can push them to the playoffs.