As the Panthers finish off another disappointing season Saturday night against the playoff-bound Columbus Blue Jackets, the players know that many of their teammates won't be back.

Veteran forward Krys Barch, one of 10 unrestricted or restricted free agents on the team, hopes he's among the returnees. Judging from the comments of interim coach Peter Horachek – whose own future is uncertain – he agrees.

"He's been a warrior for us, clearly one of our emotional leaders on the bench and in the locker room,'' Horachek said after morning skate Saturday at the BB&T Center. "He speaks up; he sticks up for his teammates and has their backs all over the ice.''

Barch, 34, a longtime enforcer in the NHL who's always among the leaders in major fighting penalties, understands his role as a fourth-line, defensive-minded right wing. His chief responsibility is to police the ice and not allow opposing players to take liberties against his younger, more skilled forwards.

"I know my role. I'm a top-5 heavyweight in the league. I fought them all,'' said Barch, who's second on the team with 99 penalty minutes, mostly coming from his team-leading 13 majors or fights.

"I'm better than them all. The game is more physical. Look at the Bruins, St. Louis, the teams out west. All big and tough. I've got a great relationship with [management] and with the new ownership and their military background, I'm all for that.''