(April 1, 2016) – A verdict on the potential expansion of the National Hockey League is due ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. While there has been no 100% guaranteed-official format announced, the NHL has discussed a potential format for an Expansion Draft (full details here): Teams will protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender OR eight total skaters and one goaltender with the choice belonging to the team. It is unknown what will happen with players who have a No Movement Clause (NMC) or a No Trade Clause (NTC) in their contract, but the same report states that any player in their first or second year of professional play will be exempt. It also looks like each team would lose one player if there is one expansion team, or two if both Las Vegas and Quebec City are awarded teams.

For this 30-part #TFTPB series, we will be taking a closer look at each current NHL team and what players might be available to a new franchise at the conclusion of the 2016-17 NHL season. For the sake of simplicity, players with a NMC/NTC will not be made automatically exempt. All contract and salary information for this series is courtesy of NHLNumbers.com.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Florida Panthers.

 

FORWARDS:

The Cats have quite a few young players to lock away from potential expansion teams. Aleksander Barkov ($3.575 million this year, $5.900 million starting next season), Jonathan Huberdeau ($3.250 million), Vincent Trocheck ($0.894 million) and Reilly Smith ($3.425 million) have all lit up the score sheet this season. Trocheck will be a Restricted Free Agent this summer, while Smith and Huberdeau become RFAs next summer.

Nick Bjugstad ($4.100 million) has seen his production dip, but would still likely lock up the fifth spot with a solid year in 2016-17, leaving two remaining spots.

Jaromir Jagr, who still manages to be among the team leaders in goals, assists and points at 44 years old, is an Unrestricted Free Agent this summer and is a bit of a wild card. Young players like Quinton Howden ($0.851 million), Kyle Rau ($0.859 million), Connor Brickley ($0.593 million) and Rocco Grimaldi ($1.067 million) will have to be protected or risk exposure. And then there’s Jussi Jokinen ($4.000 million), leading the team in assists and with a cap-friendly contract that will be entering its final season.

Of course, the player the Panthers would likely be happiest to see selected would be Dave Bolland ($5.500 million), who has played in just 101 games in the last three seasons, and whose contract runs through 2018-19. Bolland turns 31 during the summer of 2017.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

Florida has decisions to make defensively, as well. Aaron Ekblad ($3.775 million) may be the only clear lock of the bunch, but that’s not to say that there isn’t talent in the group. Highly-regarded prospect Mike Matheson ($0.925 million) will have to be protected, as will young defensemen Dmitry Kulikov ($4.333 million) and Erik Gudbranson ($2.500 million). Gudbranson becomes an RFA this summer and Kulikov is a UFA next year, so the Cats have a lot to do with those two players between now and an Expansion Draft.

Also needing protection would be Alex Petrovic ($1.050 million), who is an RFA in 2017, though the aforementioned players would likely take priority. Brian Campbell ($7.140 million) and Willie Mitchell ($4.250 million) are UFAs this summer.

 

GOALTENDERS:

Roberto Luongo ($4.533 million) is under contract through 2021-22, when he turns 43 years old. Luongo will turn 38 years old at the end of the 2016-17 regular season. Unless Sam Brittain ($0.800 million) or Colin Stevens ($0.710 million) can prove to be capable of taking over the reigns in the next year (or if the Cats manage to snag a younger goalie this offseason), Luongo would still be the obvious choice to be protected. That said, General Manager Dale Tallon had indicated at last year’s NHL Draft that he had tried to trade for a goalie, so you never know.

 

THOUGHTS:

Florida will have some decisions to make next summer. Beyond the locks of Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck and (after this season’s performance) Smith, they have three open spots for 4-5 possible candidates. If Jokinen repeats this season’s performance next year, he’d have to be protected. The same could be said for Jagr, though his contract situation could also play into that. Also, would an expansion team really consider drafting him, knowing that he could always opt for retirement (or, if he’s still on a year-to-year contract, simply hit free agency) if he’s unhappy with being taken by an expansion team? For that reason alone, Jagr might be worth leaving unprotected.

Then there’s Bjugstad, a guy who looked like the best young forward on the team just a year or two ago, now down to the third line on the depth chart. Bjugstad’s former Minnesota Golden Gophers teammate Kyle Rau will also need to be protected, as would Connor Brickley and Rocco Grimaldi. If Jagr is left unprotected, that leaves two open spots for these four players. Unless Bjugstad regresses significantly, I’d still imagine he’d be protected by Florida from expansion, along with one of Rau, Howden and Brickley.

If the Panthers have it their way, Dave Bolland’s contract would be coming off the books by next summer, but that may be a tough sell given that one of Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Mike Matheson will have to be made available. The only way the Cats might be able to keep all three of those defensemen along with Ekblad (besides an Expansion Draft-day “trade” with the expansion team) would be by exposing Luongo. However, without a clear-cut franchise goalie ready to replace him (and with the team in a much better position in the standings than they have been in recent years), that would be an unlikely play for the Panthers.

 

In the next edition of #TFTPB: NHL Expansion, we’ll be looking at the Los Angeles Kings.