The Florida Panthers were only supposed to lose one player in the NHL expansion draft.
They also traded one away.
Not only did the Vegas Golden Knights officially select Jonathan Marchessault off Florida’s unprotected list, but Florida traded Reilly Smith and his $25 million contract to Vegas as well.
Canadian NHL insider Bob McKenzie first reported Wednesday evening that Vegas would take Marchessault (a 30-goal scorer last season) and Smith.
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The Golden Knights reportedly have over a dozen deals in the works and either Smith or Marchessault (perhaps both) could be temporary Vegas players, headed somewhere else in a trade.
The Panthers and general manager Dale Tallon are reportedly also in trade talks with other teams.
Florida got a fourth round draft pick for Smith.
Tallon is scheduled to speak on a teleconference from the team’s draft headquarters in Chicago on Thursday morning. Trades involving players selected by the Knights will be made public starting at 8 a.m. on Thursday.
Vegas selected one player from each of the 30 NHL teams during Wednesday night’s NHL Awards Show from its new home arena. The Golden Knights will begin play at T-Mobile Arena in 2017 as the league’s 31st team.
Smith, 26, scored a career-high 25 goals for the Panthers in 2015-16 and led Florida with four goals and eight points in the six-game playoff series against the Islanders under fired Florida and new Vegas coach Gerard Gallant.
In July, Smith signed a contract extension with the Panthers worth $5 million per season; he made $3.5 million last year.
Smith’s raise not only kicks in this season, but a modified no-trade clause goes into affect in 2018. The $25 million owed to Smith is now off Florida’s books.
“We had a great locker room here last year, and I probably had one of the most fun times I’ve had playing hockey in my career,” Smith said soon after signing in July.
“When I had the opportunity to extend my contract and stay here for another five years, it was a no-brainer for me.”
This past season, Smith struggled at times – he was definitely not alone —although he ended with 15 goals and 22 assists.
Smith hit the 20-goal mark in two of his past four NHL seasons and has 76 goals and 187 points in 365 career NHL games with Dallas (2011-13), Boston (2013-15) and Florida (2015-17).
One player who was not a disappointment for the Panthers last season was Marchessault.
Signed for a bargain-basement deal of $750,000 as a free agent, Marchessault scored in Florida’s season opener against New Jersey – and scored again in Game 2 against Detroit —and kept on going.
After only playing 45 games with the Lightning in 2015-16, the Panthers signed Marchessault to a two-year contract and he took off.
Marchessault spent time playing on Florida’s top lines and flourished, scoring a career-high 30 goals with 51 points, a bright spot in a dismal season.
“I want people to remember me, remember the season I had but not for negative reasons,” Marchessault said in March.
“I want people to remember me for helping get his team to the playoffs. We have had some ups and downs — a lot of downs.”
In October, Marchessault was named the NHL’s third star of the month after he was tied for the league lead with six goals and had 11 points. In his previous 49 NHL games before coming to Florida, Marchessault had a total of 19 points.
“We thought he was a guy who could crush it,” said assistant GM Steve Werier, who said owner Vinnie Viola was part of Marchessault’s recruiting pitch last summer.
“He had limited opportunity in Tampa because they were a team with an embarrassment of riches at forward but was great with the opportunity he had. We sold him on that. We told him we thought he could be a big part of our team here. …
“If he did the things here he did in Tampa, yeah, he could punch way above his pay grade.”
Although Marchessault is signed for another season at $750,000, re-signing him is probably going to be expensive and it appears the Panthers didn’t want to make that financial commitment. That, or they’ll try to get him back in 2018.
The Panthers could have protected 10 skaters in the expansion draft, but to keep four defensemen, chose to protect eight leaving Smith and Marchessault exposed to the Golden Knights.
Jason Demers, Jussi Jokinen, Derek MacKenzie, Colton Sceviour and Roberto Luongo are among those unprotected players Florida retained after the expansion draft.
With all the trade rumors floating around the expansion selection as well as this weekend’s NHL amateur draft – the Panthers currently hold the 10th overall pick – there’s speculation Tallon is looking to make some more moves.
“I just want to help this team win hockey games. That’s my only goal,” Marchessault said last year.
“I’m not the kind of guy who is going to stop working, not going to take the easy way. I want to get better every year and that’s my goal. To be better than I was the day before. When the chance comes, you need to answer the call.”
▪ The NHL will announce its entire schedule on Thursday with the first two games unveiled on Wednesday.
The Panthers will open their 2017-18 season with a back-to-back set against the Lightning.
Florida’s new season will start in Tampa on Friday, Oct. 6; the Lightning visit Sunrise for Florida’s home opener the following night.
▪ With the NHL’s uniform switch to Adidas, the Panthers tweaked their jerseys a bit by enlarging the logo crest on the front.
The team kept its color scheme, secondary logo and shoulder number placement which were unveiled last June.
The Vegas expansion draft
▪ Protected players (four forwards, four defenseman, one goalie): Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, James Reimer.
▪ Key players left unprotected: Jussi Jokinen, Derek MacKenzie, Jonathan Marchessault, Colton Sceviour, Michael Sgarbossa, Reilly Smith, Jason Demers, Roberto Luongo. Key free agents: Jaromir Jagr, Thomas Vanek, Jakub Kindl. Not eligible: Mike Matheson, Denis Malgin.
▪ Vegas selections: The Golden Knights took Marchessault off Florida’s unprotected list and acquired Reilly in a separate deal for a 2018 fourth-round draft pick.