He replaces Dale Tallon, whose contract expired this season. The Panthers made the postseason only three times during Tallon’s 10 years with the organization. The NHL is currently investigating a claim that Tallon used a racial slur while in the Toronto bubble with the Panthers.
Zito, 55, was hired by the Blue Jackets as an assistant general manager in 2013. He had been the founder and former president of Acme World Sports, a player agency.
The Blue Jackets promoted Zito to vice president of hockey operations last summer. This is his first general manager job in the NHL. He has been in the mix for several NHL front-office openings in the past few seasons, having interviewed with the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and expansion Seattle Kraken, among others.
Zito graduated from Yale, where he played college hockey, and later served as an assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin varsity hockey team while attending law school there.
The Panthers were a disappointment this season, going 35-26-8 before the season was paused amid the coronavirus pandemic. They were then eliminated in the qualification round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs by the New York Islanders.
Florida made a splash last summer in hiring three-time Stanley Cup winner Joel Quenneville as coach and signing former Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky — a player Zito knows quite well — to a seven-year, $70 million free-agent contract.
The Panthers are expected to formally announce Zito’s hiring on Wednesday.