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Panthers extend D Forsling on eight-year, $46M deal

Gustav Forsling Florida Panthers Gustav Forsling - The Canadian Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Gustav Forsling came to the Florida Panthers four years ago simply looking for a chance.

He earned a whole lot more.

Forsling — the NHL’s leader in plus-minus this season by a wide margin — and the Panthers have agreed to an eight-year extension, the team announced Thursday. He was slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, with this season the last he had on a three-year, $8 million deal.

“It sends a message that guys want to play here," Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. “And guys are willing to buy in.”

Zito was emotional when he made the announcement about both Forsling and Jonah Gadjovich, a forward who agreed to a two-year extension.

Forsling is now locked in as part of the core going forward along with the likes of Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk. A person with knowledge of the agreement said Forsling will receive a deal with an annual value of $5.75 million — so $46 million in total. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the financial portion was not announced.

The Panthers have a training camp conditioning competition every fall. Zito said the race is always for second place behind Forsling, because it's “a joke” how nobody on the roster “can even touch how prepared this guy is.”

“Not to celebrate him any more than Gadj, because Gadj has done a hell of a job for us and I'm proud of him, too, but when you think about in three and a half years what Gustav Forsling has accomplished ... the Violas (Vincent Viola and his family) own the team, but Fors kind of owns part of that because he helped create it because of who he is and how he got to where he is and the sacrifices that he made,” Zito said.

Forsling spent his first three NHL seasons in Chicago, then got traded to Carolina in 2019. He never made it onto the ice with the Hurricanes, who waived him in January 2021.

The Panthers claimed him a day later, so enthusiastically, Zito recalled Thursday, that scouts were “banging on the table” to convince Florida to make the move. The rest has just fallen into place. He has missed one game since the start of last season — and it was for the birth of his son in January. He has nine goals and 22 assists this season.

Forsling’s plus-minus this season is plus-43, 10 better than anyone else in the league. Since the start of the 2021-22 season, he’s plus-103, second-best in the NHL. He’s become a major part of a team that has the best record in the league this season and is in line for a second Presidents’ Trophy in the last three years.

And now he’s essentially set for life.

“We talk a lot about this guy,” Zito said. “He's such a great player, but he's an even better person.”