The Panthers submitted their protection list on Saturday for the upcoming expansion draft, and the list was revealed to the public on Sunday.
You can read more about the protection and exposure requirements in our expansion draft primer here, but to keep things simple, teams had the option of protecting 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goaltender or any 8 skaters and 1 goaltender.
There were some tough decisions to be made for many teams and the Panthers were one of them.
The creation of the list was headed by General Manager Dale Tallon as the Panthers opted to go the 8-1 route, protecting the following players:
- Aleksander Barkov (F)
- Nick Bjugstad (F)
- Jonathan Huberdeau (F)
- Vincent Trocheck (F)
- Aaron Ekblad (D)
- Alex Petrovic (D)
- Mark Pysyk (D)
- Keith Yandle (D)
- James Reimer (G)
The above players in addition to the ones that are exempt from the draft, like Mike Matheson and Denis Malgin – cannot be selected by the Vegas Golden Knights.
It also means that Jonathan Marchessault, who has 1 year left on a bargain-bin, $750,000 contract, is unprotected and can be taken by the Golden Knights.
It’s the exposure that sent shockwaves through the Panthers’ fan base since the 26-year old became the Panthers’ first 30-goal scorer since the 2008-09 season.
However, some have speculated that the torrent scoring pace, which included his first career NHL hat-trick on March 30th against the Blackhawks, is unsustainable due to his sky-high shooting percentage of 15.5.
Marchessault also finished the season with a minus-21 rating, a stat that few in the league still pay attention to, while not being known for his defensive abilities.
It’s also entirely possible – and purely speculative – that late-blooming winger had some hefty contract demands that the Panthers weren’t willing to cater to.
Considering the number of players who slumped this season after signing new contracts, not wanting to ink Marchessault to a new deal so soon is certainly a fair concern, if that’s the reasoning behind the exposure.
Reilly Smith, whose 5-year, $25 million contract extension kicks in at the start of the upcoming season, was also left for the taking.
The 26-year old winger had a down 2016-17 campaign, managing a career-low 37 points after a breakout 25-goal season the year before.
An inconsistent season from defenseman Jason Demers also landed him a spot on the exposure list. He could easily rebound, but his contract – worth $4.5 million over the next 4 years – is admittedly a bit a roadblock for the up-and-coming defensemen the Panthers have in the system.
In order to meet the defense exposure requirements (at least one defenseman under contract for next season with at least 40 NHL games played last season or 70 over the past 2), Demers had to be left unprotected.
A move could’ve been made for a defenseman to meet the requirements, but the Panthers sat still as the trade freeze – which prevents teams from trading with anyone but Vegas between June 17 and June 22 – went into effect on Friday at 3 PM.
Both Demers and Smith contributed significantly to the Panthers’ successful penalty kill this past season.
Going the 4-4-1 route allowed the Panthers to save an extra defenseman. Keith Yandle has a no-movement clause and the Panthers did not ask him waive it, so he had to be protected. Aaron Ekblad, obviously, was not going to be exposed and that would’ve left one other spot.
Of course, the Panthers can still swing deals with Vegas to prevent them from taking a player or guide them towards another, but odds are those desires won’t come cheap. The Golden Knights will be in control of the market in this case with no real precedents, at least recently, for these types of moves.
It’s possible, but not likely that the Panthers will be willing to unload the prospects and/or picks necessary to protect additional players.
The Panthers can only lose one player to Vegas, and if the Golden Knights decided to sign any of the Panthers’ unrestricted free-agents – such as Jaromir Jagr or Thomas Vanek – or restricted free-agents, they wouldn’t lose anyone else.
Looking at the protection list as a whole, it’s very clear who is running the show.
When Dale Tallon was reinstated as the team’s General Manager back in April, he stated the front office was still going to be a collaborative effort but “they have to come through me.”
Matt Caldwell, the Panthers’ President and CEO, said last week that owner Vincent Viola wanted Tallon to lead the coaching search and make the final decision.
Aside from the obvious player protections, Tallon continues to remain loyal to Nick Bjugstad, a pick he helped make back in 2010, while leaving Marchessault, Smith, and Demers – acquisitions of the newer front office members – exposed.
Bjugstad had another down season after suffering a couple of injuries, including a broken hand in the preseason that derailed his start, and, at times, saw limited minutes with subpar linemates.
Tallon has remained confident in the 24-year old’s ability to bounce back and even stated last week that he performed well at May’s IIHF World Championship.
Alex Petrovic was also a draft pick made under Tallon’s watch in 2010. The team has poured a lot of time and patience into Petrovic’s development and the fruits of their labor are beginning to show.
Mark Pysyk was the only player protected – aside from goaltender James Reimer – whose acquisition wasn’t overseen of executed by Tallon, and that speaks volumes about the young defenseman’s play this past season, as well as how much they value him.
Not only that, but new head coach Bob Boughner coached Petrovic and Pysyk, albeit briefly with Team Canada at the 2009 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, so it’s likely that played into the decisions as well.
Boughner hinted at his desire for an uptick in the physical presence department in recent radio interviews and Demers doesn’t exactly fit that bill. Petrovic does while both him and Pysyk are under team control as restricted free-agents.
A number of other players were left exposed, like Colton Sceviour, Jussi Jokinen, Derek MacKenzie, and Roberto Luongo, but age and general spot on the lineup, among other things, make it unlikely that they’ll be selected over the aforementioned options.
Any way we slice it, the Panthers will lose one player that had an impact in one way or another. Losing Marchessault or Smith would be somewhat of a blow to the Panthers’ already thin winger depth.
That being said, there’s still plenty of off-season left and players like Jayce Hawryluk, Maxim Mamin, Henrik Haapala, and even Adam Mascherin who could have a shot at cracking the roster come October, in addition to any free-agent and trade acquisitions.
Vegas has until June 21 to make and submit their picks before they’re announced during the NHL Awards show later that day.
Tallon will meet with the media on June 22nd to discuss the team’s approach to the expansion draft and their thinking behind their protection list decisions.