Panthers lose Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith to Vegas at Expansion Draft

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

The Panthers lost a pair forwards to the NHL’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, on Wednesday as part of the expansion draft. Dale Tallon also spoke to the media on Thursday morning to discuss the process. A lot happened so let’s break it all down.

George McPhee, the General Manager of the league’s 31st team, and Bill Foley, the franchise owner, alternated announcing their selections from each team.

In the end, the Golden Knights chose Jonathan Marchessault from the Panthers, a 26-year old winger who broke out for a team-leading 30 goals in the first year of a bargain 2-year, $750,000 deal signed last July.

Not only that, but the Panthers send forward Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights in exchange for a 2018 4th-round draft pick.

Smith had a down season, managing just 37 points in 80 games after signing a 5-year, $25 million contract extension that will kick in at the start of the upcoming campaign.

Each team could only lose one player through the draft, but teams were able to make side deals with Vegas .

“The trade scenario was to give us some flexibility under the salary cap and to give us some flexibility long term,” said General Manager Dale Tallon during a conference call with the media on Thursday morning.

The decision to leave Marchessault exposed and to let Smith go for a low return drew mostly negative reactions from Panthers fans on social media.

It was suggested that the Panthers may not have been interested in extending Marchessault’s contract given that he’d likely be in for a nice pay day after a 30-goal season, but Tallon stated “there was really no discussion [with his agent].”

Many were left wondering why the Panthers, a team in need of more offense and depth on the wings, would willingly let go of it’s first- and fifth-leading goal scorers.

In a few short moments, the Panthers lost 21 percent of their 23rd-ranked offense from last season.

“Well, you win championships with defense first,” Tallon said. “We obviously like goal-scoring, we’re committed to that as well, but we felt confident that we had to continue building up the back-end and building up the middle [to be] stronger defensively and that will lead to more offense.”

With Marchessault and Smith coming off the books, the Panthers will have roughly $20 million in cap space to work with this off-season. They’ll also need to sign several restricted free-agents, including Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic who will be due for pay raises.

Cap space is a valuable asset for teams and rarely do you gain any without having to take a contract in return. It’s unclear exactly what the Panthers’ plans are for the extra cash, but it’s hard to believe they’ll go into the season with what they have now.

“We’ll be aggressive moving forward in free-agency,” said Tallon. “There’s a plan in place that we’re going to stick to. This is not necessarily the team we’ll have three months from now.”

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently stated that KHL winger Evgeny Dadanov is close to a deal with a team in the Eastern Conference.

Being that the Panthers drafted Dadanov in the 3rd round of the 2007 Draft and have been actively scouting Europe for pro talent (see: Henrik Haapala, Linus Hulstrom, and overage draft pick Maxim Mamin), it wouldn’t be surprising if he had interest in returning.

The Panthers have been a part of rumors surrounding Ilya Kovalchuk who’s also looking to return to the NHL.

Tallon also pointed to internal options as a way of filling the holes on offense. He mentioned the recent signing of Henrik Haapala – the leading scorer of Finland’s Liiga this past season – Jared McCann, Jayce Hawryluk, and Henrik Borgstrom, who’s still at least another year away from turning pro.

“We have a lot of good scoring in our system,” said Tallon. “We’ve got McCann who’s a scorer, we’ve got Hawryluk who can score as well, even though he’s a physical player, he’s shown in the past he can score. Our young guys are gonna get a really good chance at training camp to make our team.

“We’re not afraid to play young players.”

The Panthers will have the opportunity to add more young talent to their prospect pool come Friday’s entry draft where they currently hold the 10th overall pick.

There will be several solid forwards available when the Panthers announce the 10th overall selection, like Owen Tippett, a 44-goal scorer in the OHL this past season, and Eeli Tolvanen, a 30-goal scorer out of the USHL.

“We’re gonna take the best player,” Tallon said. “We’re very confident we’re gonna get a good player at 10.”

Pronger Hired

During his conference call on Thursday, Dale Tallon also announced that the Panthers have hired long-time NHL defenseman Chris Pronger as the team’s Senior Advisor to the President of Hockey Operations.

Pronger hasn’t played since the 2011-12 season due to post-concussion syndrome and a vision impairment, both of which are a result of hits and injuries suffered during his career.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with and learn from an executive with the track record that Dale has,” Pronger said. “I’m looking forward to doing everything I can to help the Panthers work towards winning the Stanley Cup.”

The 42-year old recorded 698 points in 1,167 career games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015. He has worked with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety since 2014.

“I like to hire people smarter than myself, and make myself look smarter,” said Tallon. “I’ve gotten to know him for the last 4 or 5 years, he’s got a lot to say, he doesn’t sugar-coat it. I like his approach, I like his knowledge, he’s opinionated…I’m looking forward to Chris and Brian McCabe working together.”

2017-18 Season Schedule Announced

The NHL released the 31-team  schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 season on Thursday.

The Panthers will open the season on October 6th in Tampa against the Lightning before returning home to play them the next day.

The Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights will face each other for the first time on December 17th at T-Mobile Arena before meeting at the BB&T Center just over a month later on January 19th.

It will also be the first time back in South Florida for former head coach Gerard Gallant as well as forwards Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault.

The Panthers will play a season-high 6 consecutive home games from February 22 through March 4th and will close out the regular season with a 4-game homestand.

You can check out the full 2017-18 season schedule here.

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