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Predicting the Expansion Draft: Florida and Los Angeles

Florida Panthers v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Hello, and welcome to another installment of expansion draft predictions. If you haven’t been following the series, twice a week Mike and I are looking at two teams and predicting what players they will protect in the upcoming expansion draft.

Because we explained how free agents and exemptions are going to work in great depth in the Detroit article, scroll down to the bottom and click on the Detroit article in the story stream if you need more information on those topics.

As always, here is a link to the CapFriendly expansion draft tool. Take a quick look at the teams for today’s article before you read, if you want to see who’s exempt, etc.

Florida Panthers

SB Nation: Litter Box Cats

Current Daily Faceoff Lines: Here

Predicted Protection Option: 7 Forwards, 3 Defensemen, and 1 Goalie.

Forwards

Florida does not have any No Move Clauses for their forwards. Jaromir Jagr is 44 years old (!) and a UFA. We can’t see them using a spot on him, especially since he’s finally starting to decline.

Some of their forwards are easy picks. Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Marchessault, and Aleksander Barkov are obvious. They’re in the top four for scoring on Florida, they’re all relatively young, and Barkov and Trocheck are signed through 2022 (Marchessault’s contract expires in 2018).

Jonathan Huberdeau is another easy choice. He’s 23 and signed through 2023. He’s been hurt this year, but he’s a top line player when healthy. Next on our lists is Reilly Smith. 25 years old, signed through 2022, playing top line RW, 6th in scoring: pretty easy pick. That gives us five, so we have two more slots.

We originally had Nick Bjugstad on the list, but he has 1 goal and 1 assist this year, albeit in 21 games. In the last three seasons, he’s averaged roughly a point every two games, so this is a major decline for him. The team might still want to keep him around, but it’s hard to justify 5M for 2 points so far.

The next name on our list for protection is Colton Sceviour. He’s the next forward down from Smith on the Panthers’ scoring sheet this season.

The last name on our list for consideration is Jussi Jokinen. If the Panthers think Bjugstad will bounce back, he could easily be in this slot. Jokinen is 33, and has fallen off in terms of production, but the Panthers currently have him playing 1LW with Trocheck and Smith.

Choosing Jokinen gives you someone who is performing better this season than Bjugstad. But Bjugstad is 9 years younger, and signed for nearly the same cap hit for an additional 3 years after Jokinen’s contract expires.

This is a coin flip, but because of age and the odds that Bjugstad will improve being greater than Jokinen improving at age 35 next year, we’re going to pick Bjugstad for now.

Defense

Keith Yandle has a No Move Clause, so he’s a lock. Aaron Ekblad is also a lock. His statistics are not as good as you would expect them to be this season, but the entire team has fared poorly compared to last year. Even if the Panthers didn’t want to keep him (which we are not saying is the case), they’d trade him rather than lose him for nothing.

So there is one position left. Looking at their current defensemen on their NHL roster, the options are (in descending order on their current pairing usage): Mark Pysyk, Michael Matheson, Jason Demers, Jakub Kindl, and Alex Petrovic (currently injured.)

Matheson is injured, and Kindl is Kindl, so we are left with three options.

Unfortunately for Florida, it seems they could lose a good defenseman.

Petrovic has much better stats than the other two, but a huge caveat here is he has much fewer minutes played. Additionally, Petrovic’s usage has been mostly 3rd pair, while Demers has played second pair this season, meaning Petrovic’s numbers could be look better from being sheltered.

We think they’ll protect Demers. He’s 28 and signed through 2021, so he should give them good production for another few years. But, they might opt to protect Petrovic, who will be an RFA at the end of this season. Petrovic is 24, so they might be banking on his potential making him more valuable than Demers.

Leaving Demers exposed would meet the exposure requirements, although so would offering Petrovic or Pysyk a qualifying offer.

Goalie

This selection was the source of much discussion between Mike and me. Roberto Luongo is 37. His contract expires in 2022. James Reimer is 28, and will be a free agent one year before Luongo.

On the one hand, Luongo is one of Florida’s franchise players, one of the main faces of the team. On the other hand, Reimer is putting up stats that are the same or better than Luongo and is 9 years younger. Take a look at their SAVE chart comparison:

Ian Fleming’s SAVE charts

If you just look at statistics from this year, Reimer is the better choice. But the Panthers are going to keep Luongo. Even though he’s pushing 40, he’s still one of the faces of the franchise, so Luongo it is.

Also, Luongo is a proven number one goalie. Reimer isn’t. It may just be that simple.

Potential Exposure Issues

The only hitch is at defense, but either exposing Demers or giving qualifying offers to Pysyk or Petrovic would solve those, so it won’t be an issue.

Final Protected List

Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Reilly Smith, Colton Sceviour, Jonathan Marchessault

Defense: Keith Yandle (NMC), Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers

Goalie: Roberto Luongo

Los Angeles Kings

SB Nation: Jewels From the Crown

Current Daily Faceoff Lines: Here

Predicted Protection Option: 7 Forwards, 3 Defensemen, 1 Goalie.

Forwards

Anze Kopitar is their only player with a No Move Clause, so he’s an automatic selection. Jeff Carter is their leading scorer, so that’s a no-brainer. Dustin Brown is the team’s fourth leading scorer, so he seems likely as well. Tyler Toffoli has been injured, but he’s still one point behind Brown, and is someone the team would likely want to re-sign and protect (he’s an RFA after this season). Next up would be Tanner Pearson, also an RFA at season’s end, who is the third highest scoring forward this year.

With two spots left, you might be wondering why you haven’t seen Marian Gaborik’s name yet. In years past, he would have been a lock, but at 34 and with a nearly 5M cap hit through 2021, he’s not such a slam-dunk. He’s currently 1LW, but he’s only played half the season. He’s averaged 16 minutes a night when he’s played, and has 10 points in 26 games.

His production has declined the last two years, and he has been injury-prone. A team that is paying Kopitar 10M a season through 2024 should look into letting a contract like this go, although they’d likely rather trade him than lose him for nothing.

The issue, however, is who else should be protected?

Devon Setoguchi is playing 2RW now, but he only has 10 points in 41 games. As an upcoming UFA, we don’t see the point in them using a spot on him unless they extend his contract, but that doesn’t look like it should be a priority.

We looked at some of their younger players to see if they are doing well in the AHL, but nobody is making a strong case there who isn’t exempt.

So we’ll take Gaborik, but we still need another forward. We’ll go with Nick Dowd. He’s injured right now, but he’s 26 and is having a semi-decent year with 7 points on the man advantage and a pace for almost 200 hits. LA likes some physical play, so that could work in his favor.

Another option for #7 is Nick Shore, who’s 2 years younger than Dowd but also doesn't have the same level of production this year. Shore also has an extra season of less-than-stellar play under his belt, posting 10 points in 68 games last season. Shore is looking to improve this season, but right now our dart-throws are landing on Dowd. If you haven’t been able to tell, we are not making the selection with the utmost confidence.

Defense

Drew Doughty is an obvious first selection, as well as his partner Jake Muzzin. Second pairing d-man Alec Martinez is third in the entire team in scoring this year (7-19-26 in 28 games), so our job is pretty easy here. Barring a roster move, we can’t see them making any other selections here.

Based on possession stats, Brayden McNabb is the only one worth considerations, but he’s been declining the past two years, so I don’t see him jumping any of the above three:

Hockeyviz.com

Goalie

This one’s easy. It’s Jonathan Quick.

Since this section is so short, I’ll include in here that these selections would meet the exposure requirements.

Final Protected List

Forwards: Anze Kopitar (NMC), Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Nick Dowd

Defense: Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin

Goalie: Jonathan Quick