The Seattle Expansion Draft is set for this summer when the league will welcome the Seattle Kraken as the 32nd team in the NHL. Make no mistake, an expansion draft can be detrimental to a teams future. After an assortment of mistakes in the Vegas Expansion Draft, it will be paramount for teams to make accurate assessments of their teams in this second chance opportunity.
The one element that will change is the side deals that took place. Teams will most definitely be hesitant to make a side deal, especially a team like the Florida Panthers who paved the way for the Vegas Golden Knights inaugural season or the Minnesota Wild who lost a future fixture in Alex Tuch which has most definitely backfired.
This is volume one of the Seattle Expansion Draft coverage Litter Box Cats will provide you over these next five months leading up to this critical day in July. I will make sure you are covered with any news and will change this protection list accordingly when and if things change.
The Florida Panthers are one of the teams that fell victim to the Vegas Expansion Draft. Jonathan Marchessault was left exposed in the draft on the condition that Vegas would also take Reilly Smith. In exchange, the Panthers were sent a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
In hindsight, it is completely fair to look back and voice the rationale behind the decisions. The reason why an expansion draft is so difficult to prepare for is because there is always the possibility of a player breaking out or a player that is protected ends up regressing. There is an array of elements to consider in the lengthy process including age, contract, the present and the future. There are too many complications and variables to predict the future, but that is if there were no warning signs or indicators of future success.
The Panthers ultimately decided to go the route of eight skaters and a goaltender. To refresh your memory, the Panthers protected Aleksander Barkov (F), Jonathan Huberdeau (F), Vincent Trocheck (F), Nick Bjugstad (F), Aaron Ekblad (D), Keith Yandle (D), Mark Pysyk (D), Alex Petrovic (D), and James Reimer (G).
The harsh reality is that the Panthers ultimately lost two top-six forwards in Marchessault and Smith. I can imagine the head shaking in the front office after witnessing them both reaching new heights in the Golden Knights inaugural season.
Marchessault notched 27 goals and 48 assists for 75 points while Smith registered 25 goals and 25 assists for 50 points.
It definitely doesn't make sense because protecting one of Petrovic or Pysyk doesn’t - and didn't at the time - justify exposing Marchessault who was coming off a 30-goal season and a 24-year-old Smith, who was one season removed from a career-high 25 goals. While both defenseman - Petrovic and Pysyk - had strong 2016-17 seasons, it was a travesty to protect them both over two forwards who hadn't hit their prime and were displaying their potential in box stats and underlying numbers.
While Bjugstad excelled in 2017-18, he was one of the worst forwards on the Panthers the year prior which made it very puzzling while he was protected over the likes of Marchessault or Smith.
The question remains; can the Panthers make the correct decision with their second chance this summer.
Here are the rules for the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft:
- Protection is seven forwards, three defenseman and a goaltender or eight skaters and a goaltender
- All players with no-move clauses (NMC) must be protected unless they agree to waive for purpose of expansion
- All first and second year pros and unsigned draft choices are exempt
Florida Panthers Seattle Expansion Draft Protection List
Aleksander Barkov: The 25-year-old center is the franchise cornerstone of the Florida Panthers organization. While he has been excellent offensively over the past three seasons, he hasn't played anywhere close to the Selke worthy level of play that he showed a glimpse of in the 2016-17 campaign until now. The still young center has 8 goals and 12 assists for 20 points in 19 games. Barkov has been a dominant two-way force this season and is not only in the Selke conversation, but he no doubt should be in the MVP conversation too. He is among the premier players in the league and it would be a travesty if he isn’t in this organization long-term. He is signed through the 2021-22 season and isn't going anywhere.
Jonathan Huberdeau (NMC): The 27-year-old winger must be protected due to his no-move clause. It doesn't matter anyways because he's one of the best wingers in the league. He is near the top of the league in goals for per hour which means Huberdeau is increasing the Panthers rate of scoring while he's on the ice at an elite rate. He has 7 goals and 17 assists for 24 points so far this season and continues to play at a high level. He’s signed through the 2022-23 season.
Patric Hornqvist: This will go down as one of the best trades in franchise history. Not only did the Panthers acquire an elite power play specialist in Hornqvist, but they were able to unload the onerous Mike Matheson contract which gives them much-needed cap relief. After a poor 5-on-5 season in 2019-20, the Panthers have seen a Hornqvist resurgence. He has been one of the best 5-on-5 players for the team this season while still maintain his elite status on the man advantage. He has 8 goals and 8 assists in 20 games. He’s signed through the 2022-23 season.
Carter Verhaeghe: After a respectable 2019-20 campaign in a sheltered role, Verhaeghe has excelled in his elevated role with the Panthers. He has been the Panthers’ best 5-on-5 forward this season, even ahead of Barkov. Not only is he at the top in increasing his team’s rate of scoring (goals for per hour), but he is second in the NHL in expected goals for per hour, behind only Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators. He has been the driving force behind the Panthers ability to generate offense. He has produced 7 goals and 6 assists for 13 points in 19 games. Likewise, he has been above-average defensively too as displayed by his expected goals against per hour where he’s able to suppress high-danger shots and scoring chances than league-average. He’s signed through the 2021-22 season.
Anthony Duclair: Bill Zito has been fantastic in his stint with the Panthers so far. The free-agency acquisition of Anthony Duclair was an intelligent move. The 25-year-old forward has 2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points in 18 games. He has been very unlucky so far this season. His underlying numbers are excellent and he has been a strong two-way forward for the Panthers. He is legitimate top-six forward and the point production is inevitable at this point because he has excelled at everything. He will need a new contract following this season, but it would be a huge mistake if the Panthers don’t re-sign him.
Frank Vatrano: The 26-year-old forward has potential, but his underlying numbers - last season and to begin this season - are nothing special. He has been an excellent defensive forward this season but has struggled offensively. He has 5 goals and 2 assists for 7 points in 19 games. The Panthers forward depth allows for a player like Vatrano to be protected, where on a majority of teams he's likely missing. This isn't to say he can't be a strong middle-six forward. He’s signed through the 2021-22 season.
Alexander Wennberg: This was another excellent free-agent pickup by the Panthers. He has 5 goals and 5 assists for 10 points in 19 games which is still very respectable. Wennberg is similar to Duclair in the term of being an excellent forward by the underlying numbers but not necessarily translating to the scoresheet. He is among the best in the league in increasing the rate of his team’s scoring while on the ice. The 26-year-old forward needs a new contract this summer after signing a one-year deal in free-agency. This is definitely a player that deserves to stick around.
Aaron Ekblad: Another franchise cornerstone like Barkov, Ekblad is one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL. He sits just outside the top 10 and is a driving force behind the Panthers success. While he hasn't been as effective to begin the season, he's been an elite defenseman over the past two seasons. He has a very respectable 6 goals and 5 assists for 11 points in 19 games. The 25-year-old defenseman is signed through the 2024-25 season and is going no where.
Keith Yandle (NMC): The 34-year-old defenseman has been a poor 5-on-5 player in his tenure with the Panthers until this season. He is off to the best start in his career 5-on-5 and has remained elite on the power play. He has legitimately been one of the Panthers best defenseman so far this season. He has 3 goals and 10 assists for 13 points in 19 games. He is signed through the 2022-23 season and has a no-move clause which means he is forced to be protected anyways.
MacKenzie Weegar: The 27-year-old defenseman hasn't been as good this season in comparison to last season but it is still very early in the campaign. His underlying numbers display his strong defensive results. He has done well for the Panthers and gets the edge over Radko Gudas. He has 1 goal and 8 assists for 9 points in 20 games. He is signed through the 2022-23 season.
Sergei Bobrovsky (NMC): For the Panthers sake, I hope that Bobrovsky doesn't keep them from having real playoff success in the coming years. If last season and this season are an indicator of the future, the Panthers are in trouble. They have an above-average starter in Chris Dreidger, but it is tough to sit a goaltender being paid $10 million. He has allowed 8.81 more goals than expected based on the quality of shots he has faced which is the 6th worst mark in the NHL as of right now. Likewise, the 32-year-old goaltender has an .889 save percentage. He is signed through the 2026-27 season and has a no-move clause preventing him from being taken.
Notable Exposed Players: Brett Connolly, Noel Acciari, Vinnie Hinostroza, Anton Stralman, Marcus Nutivarra, and Radko Gudas
There are three players that are in the mix to be taken in the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft. This list includes Brett Connolly, Radko Gudas, and Chris Driedger.
With the goaltending options available, if I had to make an educated guess, Gudas will be taken by Seattle. This is likely the option because of how much Seattle is involved with analytics. Gudas is a quality second-pairing defenseman who would be a strong two-way force for the Seattle Kraken.
(All Data and Information Via Evolving-Hockey, Hockey-Reference & NHL.com)