Every year as training camp rolls around, several teams grant unsigned players PTOs, which are tryouts for players that did not sign a contract during the offseason. If these players put up solid performances in camp, they may be signed to contracts, usually at league minimum. The Panthers have signed several players in the past that were given PTOs. Kevin Connauton (2021), Troy Brouwer (2018) and Tim Thomas (2013) are three examples of players that the Panthers offered PTOs to, who ended up signing with the team. The Panthers already have one player on a PTO, which is Goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick. Being granted a PTO does not mean the player will sign a contract. It never hurts to bring in these extra guys for some competition. Here are two players I think that the Panthers should give PTOs to:
Zdeno Chara (D)- Chara has been one of my big free agent targets, and has made several appearances on lists of players I think the Cats should sign. Chara has been weighing retirement, and honestly I think the best approach Big Z can take to making that decision is by participating in a training camp on a PTO. Chara would essentially be guaranteed a contract, as both sides have mutual interest, but if Chara decides that he doesn’t want to play anymore or that his body is too old for the game, he can be simply let go, without any financial penalties. I do think Chara is the most likely to get a PTO. As for whether he signs, I believe it’s up to him. I think the Panthers want to sign him, but I don’t know if Chara for sure wants to keep playing. Chara is older, and is no longer an every night player, but I believe he’d be an excellent 7th defender for the Panthers, who can help guide the locker room and play when needed. I could also see him joining the front office once he retires. Chara purportedly has his sights set on the East, as he rejected a push by the St Louis Blues, a western conference team to sign him. Chara lives in Florida.
Nikita Gusev (RW)- A familiar face, Nikita Gusev has had a rocky road since arriving to the NHL as a phenom in the KHL. Gusev was originally drafted by the Lightning, but never signed with them, having his rights traded to Vegas. The Golden Knights brought him over on a one year ELC after an electric season for SKA St Petersburg, but he inexplicably never played a game for the Knights. With is age, he hit unrestricted free agency and signed with the Devils. He was excellent in his first season on a poor Devils squad, with 44 points in 66 games, but struggled under new coach Lindy Ruff. His contract was terminated after 5 points in 20 games. He’d sign with the Panthers and played in 11 games down the stretch, serving as a swiss-army knife in the lineup, with 5 points in 11 games. Unfortunately, Gusev didn’t play in the postseason, as he was surpassed by healthy Panther forwards returning to the lineup, and Joel Quenneville’s use of gritty players (which paid off-Ryan Lomberg). Gusev wasn’t resigned and will likely return to the KHL. I think he deserves a second chance. The problem is that with the acquisition of Sam Reinhart, Florida’s top 9 forward core is already loaded. Guys like Patric Hornqvist, Joe Thornton, Ryan Lomberg, Juho Lammikko, Mason Marchment and a returning Maxim Mamin will all be competing for spots on the fourth line. This is not to mention fierce competition in the minors among guys like Aleksi Heponiemi, Grigori Denisenko, Eetu Luostarinen, Cole Schwindt and Zac Dalpe pushing for spots from the minors. In all likelihood, Gusev either signs in Russia or Julien Brisebois lures him back to Tampa with a league minimum deal. Tampa seems like a good fit for him, as he can take a safe third line role after the Bolts lost their whole third line.