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Panthers hire Zito as general manager; was in Blue Jackets front office

Replaces Tallon; Florida hasn't won playoff series since 1996 @NHLdotcom

Bill Zito was hired as general manager of the Florida Panthers on Wednesday.

Zito had been senior vice president of hockey operations, associate GM and alternate governor for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He replaces Dale Tallon, who left the Panthers on Aug. 10 after 10 seasons, after Florida lost in four games to the New York Islanders in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

"I guess I'm most excited about the youth and the pieces," Zito said. "I think it starts with the captain (center Aleksander Barkov), who is just a fantastic player. ... I got off the plane this morning and had a text from him. He initiated that on his own. It shows the type of character that he has. They're surrounded by some other great young pieces coming and a coach (three-time Stanley Cup winner Joel Quenneville) that knows how to bring them along. We just need to keep adding to those young pieces and helping them to bring them along and get some leadership to help them along, and that's what excites me."

The Panthers have not won a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 1996, when they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final before being swept by the Colorado Avalanche. They finished the regular season with a .565 points percentage (35-26-8) after signing goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year contract and hiring Quenneville as coach.

"Bill is a leader who possesses the passion, knowledge and work ethic needed to instill a winning culture in all aspects of our business," Panthers president and CEO Matt Caldwell said. "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."

Video: New Panthers GM Bill Zito Joins NHL Now

Zito, who joined the Blue Jackets as assistant GM on Aug. 12, 2013, was also GM of Columbus' American Hockey League affiliate in Cleveland. He helped it win the Calder Cup championship in 2016, when the team was known as the Lake Erie Monsters.

"Bill Zito's contributions to the Columbus Blue Jackets over the past seven years have been many as he has played a significant role as a leader within our hockey operations department," Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. "He is a dear friend and has worked extremely hard and is very deserving of this opportunity.

"While I am disappointed to see him move on, I am happy for Billy and his family, wish him well and thank him, on behalf of our organization, for his dedication, counsel and friendship. We're fortunate to have a strong, talented management team in place that can absorb additional responsibilities presented with Billy's departure, which is our plan at this time."

Zito has also worked with the United States men's national team. He was the GM when it finished third at the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Denmark and a member of the management team when it finished third at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic.

"We are thrilled to welcome Bill Zito as general manager of the Florida Panthers," owner and governor Vincent Viola said. "Bill is an excellent mind in our game today who proved during his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets that he possesses great prowess for evaluating talent and building success. He brings great experience to our club and possesses a strong business acumen."

Zito said the opportunity to reunite with Bobrovsky, who played seven seasons with the Blue Jackets from 2012-19, was especially intriguing, and is confident the goalie can rebound from his first season in Florida, when he had an NHL career-high 3.23 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage, his lowest in the League since 2011-12 (.899 with the Philadelphia Flyers)

"Anybody who knows [Bobrovsky] knows that he's probably the hardest-working player around," Zito said "His commitment to excellence is unsurpassed. I spoke to him this morning. It was nice. ... It felt like I was revisiting an old friend. He's a wonderful guy, working hard, focused. He told me exactly what his workout schedule is. He knows to the day what he's doing. I have a lot of faith in him."

Zito also said he was looking forward to working with Quenneville.

"It's humbling to even think about working with Joel," he said. "I was still an agent when they won the first Cup in Chicago in 2010 and I had a number of players on his team. I spent a lot of time watching them. I have nothing but the utmost respect and excitement to learn from him. I did have occasion to speak with him last night. We had a nice chat. He was very welcoming and kind."

Quenneville said he believes Zito can help the Panthers reach the next level.

"He has a really good feel for the League, players, the situation as far as where we're at," Quenneville said. "I think he's excited to welcome the challenge. He's been around some coaches, he's been around players, been around management, putting teams together in Columbus. I think he did a fine job with the big club as well as Cleveland, and here we are here in a situation where he's excited to put it all together and get us back to being a playoff contender and get some consistency and try to move up. It's something we got a little taste of this year but not what we're really looking for."

Before joining the Blue Jackets, Zito was the founder and president of Acme World Sports, a hockey agency that represented such players as Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and former NHL goalie Tim Thomas. independent correspondent Alain Poupart contributed to this report

Photo courtesy of Florida Panthers

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