Panthers’ Bill Zito gets multiyear extension, promotion to president of hockey operations

Bill Zito isn’t leaving the Florida Panthers anytime soon.

The Panthers on Monday announced they have signed Zito to a multi-year extension. Terms of the deal were not announced. With the deal, the Panthers are also updating Zito’s title from general manager to president of hockey operations.

“From his first day as a Panther, Bill has demonstrated his complete commitment to success both on and off the ice,” Panthers owner Vincent Viola said in a statement. “He has worked steadfastly and tirelessly to establish a new standard of excellence for our franchise. The future has never looked brighter in South Florida and we are thrilled that Bill will continue to lead the way.”

Zito is wrapping up his fourth season as the Panthers’ general manager and in that time has turned the Panthers into an annual contender and a place that top players want to play.

How Bill Zito made the Florida Panthers an annual contender and a destination for top players

Zito overhauled the roster bit by bit, big move by big move, to get Florida in its current position and put together a core that has begun to bring sustained success to Sunrise.

Entering the Panthers’ regular-season finale on Tuesday, Florida has a combined 188-88-20 record in Zito’s four seasons at the helm. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs every season and have made strides in the postseason each time. After a first-round exit in 2021, Florida advanced to the second round in 2022 and reached the Stanley Cup Finals last season.

“I think we’re a little bit ahead of what I would have thought,” Zito said after the NHL trade deadline last month. “I’d be lying if I told you ‘Oh yeah, this is the script.’”

But the script he’s writing with this Panthers team has worked — and now he’ll have the chance to keep writing it.

Only four members of the Panthers’ active roster — captain and top-line center Aleksander Barkov, top-pair defenseman Aaron Ekblad, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Eetu Luostarinen — were with the franchise before Zito took over.

Zito quickly set the foundation for the direction he wanted the franchise to head in his first offseason. It began with acquiring Patric Hornqvist, who became one of the leaders in the dressing room up until his retirement after last season. It continued with Zito signing Carter Verhaeghe and Ryan Lomberg, drafting Anton Lundell and claiming defenseman Gustav Forsling off waivers.

At the 2021 trade deadline, the Panthers acquired center Sam Bennett from the Calgary Flames for a second-round pick and defenseman Brandon Montour from the Sabres. Both signed contract extensions after the season — Bennett for four years, Montour for three.

Zito then landed two more mainstays in the offseason ahead of the 2021-22 season, trading for forward Sam Reinhart and claiming defenseman Josh Mahura off waivers.

And then came the big splash the summer before the 2022-23 season, when Zito traded for Matthew Tkachuk in exchange for two Panthers mainstays and fan favorites in Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. Tkachuk signed an eight-year contract extension after the trade was completed. Florida also signed forward Nick Cousins that offseason.

Then there were seven additions acquired last offseason — forwards Evan Rodrigues, Steven Lorentz and Jonah Gadjovich; defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niko Mikkola and Dmitry Kulikov; and goaltender Anthony Stolarz — before acquiring forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Kyle Okposo at the trade deadline.

It has the Panthers once again poised for a potential deep playoff run that will start as early as this weekend.