NHL Notebook: Florida Panthers sign Bill Zito to contract extension as Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko nears return from injury

Paul Maurice NHL Playoffs
Photo credit:Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
19 days ago
The Florida Panthers have signed general manager Bill Zito to a multi-year contract extension, the club announced Monday.
Zito, 59, is in his fourth year at the helm of the Panthers, and has helped elevate them to one of the best teams in the NHL. They’ve posted a 188-88-25 record over that time, scoring the second most goals in the league, while allowing the 11th fewest. Their +212 goal differential is fourth best in the league over that time, behind the Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins (238) and the Carolina Hurricanes (239).
While the Panthers were knocked out of the first round in 2020-21, his first year with the team, they made it into the second in 2021-22 and last year, fell to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games in the Stanley Cup Finals.
In a statement, team owner Vincent Viola praised the work he has done.
“From his first day as a Panther, Bill has demonstrated his complete commitment to success both on and off the ice. He has worked steadfastly and tirelessly to establish a new standard of excellence for our franchise,” said Viola. “The future has never looked brighter in South Florida and we are thrilled that Bill will continue to lead the way.”
Zito’s aggressiveness in player movement has highlighted his transformation of the Panthers from a league laughing stock to a perennial threat. The infamous trade of Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar for Matthew Tkachuk has paid off in spades, while other moves, such as acquiring Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, and Brandon Montour, have helped reshape the club.
The Panthers sit second in the Atlantic Division with a 51-24-6 record, good enough for 108 points in the standings. According to hockeyviz.com, they have an 89 percent chance at facing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs after knocking them out in five games in the second round of last years playoffs.

Demko’s return

The Vancouver Canucks are set to get a big boost back in their lineup as goaltender Thatcher Demko is set to return Tuesday night.
Having missed the last 14 games due to a knee injury, the Canucks have middled without him, posting a 7-5-2 record and a .571 points percentage that ranks 18th in the league over that stretch. Working to hold down the fort was Casey DeSmith and Arturs Silvos, who combined for a .884 save percentage — the fourth worst in the league over that stretch and a far cry from the .917 that Demko had posted before his injury.
With the Canucks set to take on the Flames Tuesday, Demko said that date was one they had in mind.
“Our goal since pretty much close to Day One was to get back to the Calgary game,” Demko said. “Obviously, I do feel good right now, but I think the timeline we’ve kind of been trying to follow and pushing for has been the Calgary game.
“I’ve played close to 50 games this year, and that was a month ago. It’s not like coming off the offseason where you haven’t played a game in 3-4 months and then trying to get it back. I feel pretty much right where I was when I went down, and I’m excited to get back in the net for some games.”

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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