The Florida Panthers and the 2017 Expansion Draft

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

For the first time since 2000, a new team is set to join the NHL. The Vegas Golden Knights will begin play at the start of the upcoming 2017-18 season following a successful bid to enter the league nearly a year ago. However, before they can hit the ice, they’ll need some players, and that’s where an expansion draft comes in. 

Here’s everything there is to know about the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft so you can be fully prepared.

When and where is the expansion draft?

The drafting process itself will be conducted in private by the Vegas Golden Knights from June 18th until June 21st at 10 AM Eastern. At that point, they’ll need to submit their player selections to the league.

The selections will be revealed to the public that night – June 21st – at 8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific, during the NHL Awards show at the Golden Knights’ home arena, T-Mobile Arena, in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s been rumored that 5 expansion picks will be announced after every 2 awards during the show.

How many players can each team protect from the expansion draft?

The NHL is allowing teams to choose between two different ways of protecting their players from being chosen by the Golden Knights:

Option 1:

  • 7 forwards
  • 3 defensemen
  • 1 goaltender

Option 2:

  • 8 skaters (any combination of forwards and defensemen that adds up to 8)
  • 1 goaltender

There are also some additional rules and exemptions:

  • Players with No Movement Clauses in their contract at the time of the draft must be protected unless they agree to waive it, in which case they can be left exposed by their team.
  • Any player that has played in 2 or fewer professional seasons, including all unsigned draft picks, are exempt from the draft and do not have to be protected.

The two routes of protecting players above are different in that the first one allows teams to protect more players overall. However, the second option allows more flexibility if a team decides they want to, for example, protect more than the 3 defensemen allowed by the first option.

Also, teams can make deals with the Golden Knights to protect additional players. But as you may have guessed, this will come at a price, and it’ll be one that Vegas basically sets on their own. Depending on the player that a team wants to protect, the cost could be anywhere from a draft pick to prospects and multiple draft picks.

The NHL will release each team’s protection lists to the public on June 18th at 10 AM EST.

What players must each team expose?

The NHL is requiring that each of 30 current teams meet the following minimum player exposure requirements:

  1. At least 2 forwards who are:
    • Under contract for the 2017-18 season and
    • Played in 40+ NHL games during the 2016-17 season OR played in 70+ NHL games over the past two seasons
  2. At least 1 defenseman who is:
    • Under contract for the 2017-18 season and
    • Played in 40+ NHL games during the 2016-17 season OR played in 70+ NHL games over the past two seasons
  3. At least 1 goaltender who is:
    • Under contract for the 2017-18 season OR is currently a restricted free-agent*
    • No games-played requirement

*If a team opts to expose a restricted free-agent goaltender to satisfy this requirement, that goaltender must receive their qualifying offer prior to the submission of their team’s protected list.

So, basically, that’s the minimum number of players that each team must leave exposed to Vegas. The thing is, however, that you aren’t really “choosing” who you want to expose.

Teams will be choosing the specific players they want to protect, but once they do that, all other players (the ones that meet the exposure requirements) are exposed to Vegas.

For example, a team can’t say, “We only want to expose Player X and Player Y.” Those players will be exposed, but so will all of the other players on their team that are eligible to be exposed if left unprotected.

It’s also important to note that players who are restricted free-agents and unrestricted free-agents at the time of the expansion draft are not considered under contract for the 2017-18 season and would not meet that part of the exposure requirements. Both are under team control (UFAs until July 1st), but are not under contract for next season.

Are there any rules regarding who the Golden Knights can select?

Here are the rules relating to the picks made by the Golden Knights:

  • One player must be selected from each team. Each team in the league can only lose one player to the Golden Knights.
  • Vegas must select at least 14 forwards, 9 defenseman, and 3 goaltenders.
  • A minimum of 20 players selected must be under contract for the 2017-18 season.
  • Vegas’s final roster must have a combined cap hit that is between 60 to 100% of the 2016-17 season’s salary cap.
    • Minimum cap hit: $43.8 million
    • Maximum cap hit: $73 million
  • The Golden Knights cannot buy out the contract of a selected player earlier than summer 2018.

How does all of this affect the Panthers?

Now that we got all of the rules out of the way, we can talk a little bit about how all of this affects the Panthers.

Courtesy of Cap Friendly, here is a general overview of the Panthers’ player situation heading into the expansion draft:

(Click to enlarge)

On the right side, underneath the list of 3 goaltenders, is a list of grayed out players. These players are exempt from the draft, meaning they don’t have to be protected by the Panthers and cannot be taken by the Golden Knights.

The Panthers’ exempt list includes Mike Matheson, Denis Malgin, Ian McCoshen, Mackenzie Weegar, Jayce Hawryluk, and basically all of their other prospects.

All players in all of the other sections (not under “Exempt”) are eligible to be chosen by the Golden Knights, however only the players with a green contract status and green checkmark count towards the minimum player exposure requirements.

For example, take a look at the “Defense” section. If the Panthers opt to protect 3 defensemen, as of now, one of Jason Demers or Aaron Ekblad would have to be left exposed to Vegas because they have no other defensemen that meet the contract and games-played requirements and therefore count towards the exposure requirements.

You’ll notice that Keith Yandle already has the box next to his name checked. That’s because he has an active No-Movement Clause and must be protected by the Panthers.

The Panthers can ask him to waive it if they feel confident enough that he won’t be chosen if exposed, but they’ve stated they’re not expected to do so.

As mentioned above, the Panthers can go one of two routes. The first is to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goaltender. That would be great if they wanted to make sure that they retain their main forward group. However, that would leave a valuable defenseman or two exposed.

If they go the other route, which is to protect any 8 skaters and 1 goaltender, they can still keep their young, core forwards and have a bit more flexibility to retain an extra defenseman.

So far, the players we can probably all agree the Panthers will be protecting are as follows:

  • Aleksander Barkov
  • Jonathan Huberdeau
  • Vincent Trocheck
  • Jonathan Marchessault
  • Keith Yandle (has to be protected)
  • Aaron Ekblad

That’s 4 forwards and 2 defensemen, and because of Roberto Luongo’s age and health concerns, James Reimer would likely be the protected goaltender in all scenarios. For the 7-3-1 method, there’s space for 3 more forwards and 1 defenseman, and for the 4-4-1 method, it leaves room for 2 defensemen.

The rest of the Panthers’ protection list comes down to some questions surrounding a handful of players.

Both Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk are restricted free-agents, meaning they’re not under contract for next season and if left unprotected would not count towards the Panthers’ exposure requirement (see ‘What players must each team expose?’). But, they are eligible for the actual draft and can be selected by the Vegas.

Not only that, but from June 18th through June 21st, the Golden Knights will be able to negotiate with and sign any unprotected restricted free-agents (and unrestricted free-agents) that are left unprotected, and those signings will count towards their expansion draft selections.

The general consensus is that Petrovic and Pysyk were two of the Panthers’ most consistent defensemen last season.

Petrovic has seen steady improvements, especially over the past couple of seasons, and the Panthers stated when they acquired Pysyk that their scouts followed him for a while and see top-4 potential in him.

And not only did new head coach Bob Boughner express the fact that he wants a “hard-nosed defense,” but also coached both Petrovic and Pysyk, it would be a bit of a step backward if one or both were somehow lost.

They’d be able to protect both of them if they went the 4-4-1 route, but that would mean leaving a Jason Demers and a couple of forwards exposed. Going with 7-3-1 would force them to leave one of them exposed.

That brings us to Jason Demers. After signing a long-term contract worth $4.5 million per year, he admittedly didn’t have his best season.

He put up some good offensive numbers but his defensive game left a lot to be desired. As I mentioned before, the Panthers only have 3 defensemen that could count towards the exposure requirements if left unprotected: Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad, and Demers.

However, Yandle will be protected because his No-Movement Clause will not be waived and there’s no conceivable way that the Panthers would leave Aaron Ekblad exposed.

Petrovic, Pysyk, and Jakub Kindl played enough games but aren’t currently under contract for next season, and the rest of the Panthers’ expansion eligible defensemen don’t meet the games-played requirement.

That leaves Demers as the Panthers’ only current option to expose on defense in order to meet the exposure requirements.

It’s certainly possible that they acquire someone in the next few days to meet the requirement, but they’d only do that if they wanted to protect Demers. It’s very possible that a decision was made to leave Demers exposed.

After all, he’s on a bit of a hefty contract and the Panthers seem very interested in giving their younger options, like Mackenzie Weegar and Ian McCoshen, a shot to make the team next year. That can only happen if there’s actually a spot open, because wasting one of them as a 7th defenseman doesn’t make sense.

Demers could be a very tempting option for Vegas, but there’s also a good chance he could bounce back and have a better year than he did. Losing him would open up some money for the Panthers to get someone more suited to what Dale Tallon and Boughner want on the backend or even up front.

Will they do it? It certainly looks that way right now.

On the forwards side of things, Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad are two interesting cases.

If we’re being honest, Bjugstad probably won’t be exposed. Both Tallon and Boughner have spoke highly of him even in just the past several days.

Tallon stated that Bjugstad played well at the World Championship in May while Boughner repeatedly mentioned his name when discussing the Panthers’ top young talent.

His production over the past couple of years definitely makes you think.

The 24-year old Bjugstad managed a career-low 14 points this season, although he did suffer from injuries and a sharp decline in playing time compared to past years.

During the 2013-14 season, he led the Panthers with 24 goals, so it’s certainly possibly his offensive output and confidence has been hampered by factors of his control.

Of course, the words of praise could mean absolutely nothing at all; it wouldn’t be the first time that a player was talked up and subsequently traded, but the legitimately don’t seem willing to give up on Bjugstad just yet. And if they were, it’s probably safe to assume they’d want to get something in return for him.

Smith, on the other hand, is about to have his brand new 5-year, $25 million contract kick in. It’s the third-richest contract among the Panthers’ forwards and is worth more per year than Vincent Trocheck who led the team in just about all aspects this season.

We saw what he can do during the 2015-16 season when he tallied a career-high 25 goals, but the question is whether or not that’s the Reilly Smith we can expect to see every year.

So far, after last season – during which he tallied a career-low 37 points – the answer to that would be no.

Following his trade to the Panthers, those who follow the Bruins suggested that Smith was a streaky player who didn’t have a consistently high work ethic.

We’ve seen a bit of that since he joined the team, one obvious example being this season when he decided to forgo his defensive responsibilities late in the 3rd period in an attempt to create an offensive opportunity.

It came back to bite him as the puck stayed in the zone and was turned back for a goal by the Stars that ended up as the game-winner.

Can Boughner mold him into the player he needs to be or will the Panthers opt to expose him and potentially free up a lot of money in cap space?

If the Panthers wanted to protect just one of Bjugstad or Smith in addition to the 4 consensus forwards, they could attempt to swing a deal with Vegas. If they wanted to protect both, they could try to make two deals, although that’s unlikely from the Panthers’ perspective and the Golden Knights’ perspective.

That being said, they’d have to go use the 7-3-1 option, except in that case, they’d only be able to freely protect one of Petrovic and Pysyk.

The rest of the Panthers’ forwards are fairly insignificant for the most part. It’s not likely that the Panthers think highly enough of Jussi Jokinen, Derek MacKenzie, and/or Colton Sceviour to feel like they need to use the 7-3-1 method to protect one, two, or all of them.

Out of the three, Sceviour would probably be the “best” candidate – which is relative in this case – to be protected if the Panthers went that route, but again, he’s got one year left on his deal and he’s not too much more than a skilled 4th-liner.

Leaving Jokinen exposed is likely and would free up $4 million for the upcoming season if he was chosen, but again, he only has a year left on his deal, is on the wrong side of 30, and won’t be the most intriguing player the Panthers leave available.

In the end, it’s easy to see that there’s a lot of moving parts, and wanting to protect one extra player could mean having to decide on moving in a completely different direction.

It’s really tough to say exactly which way the Panthers will go which is why it’s easier to establish the players we are almost certain they’ll protect – for obvious reasons – and then touch on the most likely scenarios for the rest of the way.

The draft is designed so that each team will lose a decent player in order for Vegas to ice a competitive team out of the gate, but you can bet the Panthers will do what they can – within reason – to make sure they don’t lose anyone they value.

At the end of the day, the Panthers’ difference-makers and core pieces are safe. Anything lost will be from the bottom half of the lineup and will likely be replaceable for the most part, whether it’s through free agency, trades, or from within the system.


2 thoughts on “The Florida Panthers and the 2017 Expansion Draft

  1. This is the most complete and understandable explanation of the expansion draft I have seen or could imagine. Thank you as usual for the fantastic information you provide the fans!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, on my Fantasy draft picks, I had your 30 goal scorer with 21 assists staying put in Florida, but I picked McCann/Matheson (yes 2 players, but that was so Florida could keep its 30 goal scorer).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s