The Panthers took a large step back after winning the Atlantic Division in 2016, locking up most of their core players and adding a pair of high-priced free agent defensemen last summer. GM Dale Tallon is back in control of the organization and the club has hired former Windsor head coach and San Jose assistant Bob Boughner as their new bench boss.
Florida has a few decisions to make before this weekend and could be a candidate for protecting eight skaters to shield four defensemen, but that would expose a couple forwards that they may not want to lose.
The core group of the Panthers up front is 26 or younger, with centers Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck, wingers Jonathan Huberdeau, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. If Tallon choses to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, he can protect all of them and one veteran (either Jussi Jokinen, Derek MacKenzie or Colton Sceviour).
If the Panthers go with eight skaters to protect more defensemen, they would likely shelter Barkov, Trocheck, Huberdeau and Smith, leaving a 30-goal scorer in Marchessault out in the open.
The complicating factor for the Panthers is the no-movement clause given to defenseman Keith Yandle. There were rumors that Florida would ask the 30-year-old to waive his NMC with six years left on a seven-year contract making $6.35 Million per season, but they did not before the 5pm Monday deadline.
Petrovic finally started to come into his own in 2016 and filled the toughness gap left by the trade of Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver. Pysyk is a former Buffalo Sabres first round pick acquired in the trade for Dmitry Kulikov last June.
Roberto Luongo is signed through the 2021-22 season, but the 38-year-old’s injury late in the season cost the Panthers any chance at getting the playoffs. James Reimer was signed to a five-year contract last summer to provide insurance and possibly take over as Florida’s #1 down the line, but the former Leaf netminder displayed the same inconsistency he showed in Toronto.
Projected protected players and their cap hits
Jonathan Huberdeau – $5,900,000 through 2023
Aleksander Barkov – $5,900,000 through 2022
Reilly Smith – $5,000,000 through 2022
Vincent Trocheck – $4,750,000 through 2022
Nick Bjugstad – $4,100,000 through 2021
Jussi Jokinen – $4,000,000 through 2018
Jonathan Marchessault – $750,000 through 2018
Aaron Ekblad – $7,500,000 through 2025
Keith Yandle (NMC) – $6,350,000 through 2023
Jason Demers – $4,500,000 through 2021
Roberto Luongo – $5,333,333 through 2022
Likely Expansion loss for Florida
As with many teams, the Panthers may try to manage who they lose to Vegas by making a deal. Florida is likely to lose one of the two defensemen, so Tallon could make a deal to protect the one he wants to keep by giving the Golden Knights an extra draft pick or a prospect.
The three most likely selections off the Panthers roster are Pysyk, Petrovic and Reimer.
If Florida were to make a trade with Vegas to select/not select a player, who would it be and why?
Tallon knows that Vegas will likely take one of the young defenseman that he cannot protect, so it is possible that he will offer the blueliner that he would prefer to lose to stop them from taking the one he wants to keep.
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