30 IN 30 - FLORIDA PANTHERS (23rd place)
Welp, looks like the Panthers learned the hard way what organizational mis-management can do to the on-ice prduct. Tom Rowe - GM, turned Coach, turned Outside Advisor - lasted long enough (10 months) to watch as this team's playoff expectations regressed back to the Panthers of old. Dave Tallon takes control of the roster once again as its General Manager, with the hopes of getting the Cats back on track where he left them. Thankfully Dave, and all us fans, have been privileged enough to see the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr chug along as one of the team's leading scorers (4th), playing all 82 games at the tender age of 45! JJ's predictably a lock to return next year but the expansion draft could force this team to lose a piece of the promising young core looking to learn from him.
Protection list structure
- Yandle (*NMC)
- Yandle (*NMC)
The Panthers are stuck with a problem most teams wish they had: too many young defencemen, not enough protection slots. Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle are 100% locked in as the top pair, while Jason Demers has heard his name thrown around by several media outlets as a borderline protection pick. With Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk expansion eligible, there is concern that losing either of them could be more damaging to the team moving forward than that of 28 year-old Demers. No matter the protection list structure Florida so happens to choose, at least one of these 3 will be available come June 20th. How they stack up statistically could be the deciding factor in who stays and who goes.
The 7-3-1 model will protect all prominent roster cogs up front, allowing this youthful group to continue making strides as a dangerous 3 line scoring unit. Going with the 8-1 structure would blatantly leave Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad for the picking, a decision too unrealistic for an organization that has both guys locked up long term. Critics may rag on Bjugstad for his overall despicable showing in 2016-17 - *note his location well below the acceptable standard on our positive impact plots - but a new coach should be able to breath life back into the 6'6'' centre, as a significant portion of the team also saw a drop in statistical output under Gerard Gallant (Vegas' new coach).
So for our analysis moving forward, we're going to enact the 7-3-1 structure and breakdown the decision between the three competing defencemen.
DEMERS, PETROVIC, PYSYK - WHO STAYS, WHO GOES?
Distinguishing these guys based upon advanced stats alone looks like a challenge. Jason Demers assuredly is playing against stronger competition on a nightly basis and carries along with him the additional responsibility of playing with a rookie on his left side. History does, however, play to his favour in our analysis, as years of experience in the league allow for a more predictable expectation of the player next season. Possession numbers display a clear strength in his game, whereas on ice save percentage is acceptable but not exceptional. His first year in Florida may have been unimpressive in comparison to seasons past - hence the trade rumours of late - but an average Corsi of 53.35% over the past 4 seasons on 3 different teams is just absurd (in the good way). For this reason alone, Demers remains too valuable an asset to let go and will remain protected by the Panthers.
Petrovic and Pysyk operate at a complementary rate. Locked in as the team's 3rd defensive pairing for the majority of the year, the 25 year-olds put up almost identical statistics. Distinguishing the two (at least on paper) requires a further look at the 2015-16 campaign and the statistical measure of their on ice outputs in comparison to the team when they are not on the ice (*Rel).
Mark Pysyk appears to have the slight edge in possession numbers and places 2nd on our list of three. His on-ice CF% remains well above that of his team when he is off-ice, showcasing his personal impact on Corsi events. For a guy on a terrible 2015-16 Sabres team, playing in front of Chad Johnson (starting goalie that season) his positive impact totals remain well above average and remain above average - albeit at a smaller margin - after crossing over to the Panthers in 2016-17.
Alex Petrovic saw a small gain this year in his Corsi (unadjusted & relative) but a fall from his ridiculously high goal differential (GF%), on ice shooting percentage, and on ice save percentage. Last year's totals were so high in these categories that any expectation to maintain them was beyond unrealistic. For now we can take them as a marker for his ceiling, and instead find the average over his past 2 years as a more reasonable value point. Although last on our list, Petrovic is still an extremely valuable contributor to D-core and frankly may be the more important player for the Panthers (even if he's not overall the better player) with his physical presence.
With Demers already locked in as our pick to stay as the 3rd D-man in the 7-3-1 model, the decision on the other two will be left to George McPhee of the Golden Knights.
THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS SELECT
Roberto Luongo was right, he is "old as dirt" and definitely safe from the expansion process. The Golden Knights will instead select one of the available defencemen mentioned above. Unless the Panthers feel compelled to protect more D-men and give away Reilly Smith, a decision between Petrovic and Pysyk is most likely to occur. Head Coach Gerard Gallant luckily has an inside track on these two, having coached them for at least parts of 2016-17, so an outsider's selection will struggle to account for his opinion. Despite an underlying 'Gallant preference' that may exist for the more physical player in Petrovic (who once fought Evander Kane three times in the same game), our choice rests with Mark Pysyk. His potential to move up the lineup into a top-4 role and maintain a strong possession game while on a bottom barrel team gives him the upper hand in our analysis.
The Panthers are destined to return to the playoffs next season, barring catastrophic injury problems. They have invested heavily in defence the last few years and wisely provided the forward group ample time to develop. Although rumours continue to swirl around their need for more offensive punch, the real answer lies in finding a coach that can squeeze more out of the current roster. It's sickening how good this team could be if Darryl Sutter brought his strong possession game to South Beach... sorry, I mean Sunrise.
Next up: Los Angeles Kings