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Lightning opt to shield defensive core ahead of expansion draft

The team protects defensemen like Ryan McDonagh while leaving forwards like Yanni Gourde and Alex Killorn vulnerable.
Yanni Gourde is among the players Seattle will have a chance to swoop up in Wednesday's expansion draft.
Yanni Gourde is among the players Seattle will have a chance to swoop up in Wednesday's expansion draft. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 18
Updated Jul. 19

One of hockey’s tenets is that defense wins championships. That seems to be part of the Lightning’s mentality ahead of Wednesday’s expansion draft.

The Lightning, coming off their second straight Stanley Cup title, opted to shield their defensive core from the Seattle Kraken, who begin play next season, and leave key veteran forwards exposed on their list of players protected in the draft that was released Sunday. Players with a no-move clause automatically made the protected list unless they agreed to waive it.

The Lightning’s protected players are forwards Anthony Cirelli, Nikita Kucherov (no-move clause), Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos (no-move clause); defensemen Erik Cernak, Victor Hedman (no-move clause), Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev; and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (no-move clause).

Lightning Players Protected
Forwards Defensemen Goaltender
Anthony Cirelli Erik Cernak Andrei Vasilevskiy (no move clause)
Nikita Kucherov (no move clause) Victor Hedman (no move clause)
Brayden Point Ryan McDonagh
Steven Stamkos (no move clause) Mikhail Sergachev

Teams had two options for making their protected list: a combination of seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender, or eight skaters regardless of position and a goaltender. The Lightning went with the latter.

The unprotected include forwards Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, rookie Ross Colton, Mathieu Joseph and three-time Stanley Cup winner Pat Maroon; and defensemen Cal Foote and Jan Rutta.

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Here’s what may make some of the forwards attractive to the Kraken:

Yanni Gourde

Lightning center Yanni Gourde battles to control the puck while down on his knees against Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech during Game 7 of the semifinals.
Lightning center Yanni Gourde battles to control the puck while down on his knees against Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech during Game 7 of the semifinals. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Much of the identity of the Lightning’s gritty third line, which has paid dividends the past two years in the postseason, started with Gourde, who finished his sixth season with the Lightning with 17 goals with 19 assists in the regular season and seven playoff points (six goals).

Gourde adds value on special teams, too, on the second power-play unit and stepping in on the second penalty-kill unit as needed.

Related: Lightning’s Victor Hedman talks knee injury, Stanley Cup run in TSN interview

“You just can’t get enough Yanni Gourdes in your lineup,” linemate Blake Coleman said during the postseason.

Tyler Johnson

Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) battles along the boards against Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final.
Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) battles along the boards against Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Johnson could be an attractive choice for Seattle given he’s a Spokane, Wash., native and can play center and wing.

Last offseason, Johnson’s name again was thrown around in trade talks as the Lightning looked for ways to become salary cap compliant. He has a cap hit of $5 million through 2023-24.

Nikita Kucherov’s hip surgery and trades to acquire injured-player contracts allowed the Lightning to become cap compliant through the use of the long-term injured reserve list, and Johnson stayed.

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Then Johnson was put on waivers just before the season opener so the Lightning could be cap compliant on opening night. He wasn’t claimed.

With a rehabilitating Kucherov out for the regular season, Johnson had six goals and 14 assists, both career lows for a full season, while often centering the fourth line and logging significant time on the second power-play unit.

He assisted on the game-opening goal against the Panthers in a 4-0 Game 6 win that clinched a second-round playoff berth for the Lightning. He had four playoff goals total and three assists.

Alex Killorn

Lightning left wing Alex Killorn stops a charge by Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi during game 1 of the final.
Lightning left wing Alex Killorn stops a charge by Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi during game 1 of the final. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The Lightning’s longest-tenured player, Killorn, drafted in 2007 (a year before Stamkos), doesn’t bring the high-powered scoring that Kucherov and Point do, but his value in the locker room can’t be overstated.

In 2019-20, Killorn had a career-high 49 points (26 goals). In this year’s abbreviated regular season, he had 33 points (15 goals). He added eight goals and nine assists in the playoffs.Killorn played on the team’s top power-play unit and even logged some shorthanded minutes on the second penalty-kill unit. He skated on the second line with Cirelli and Stamkos, too.

Killorn skated on the second line with Cirelli and Stamkos, played on the top power-play unit and even logged some minutes on the second penalty-kill unit.

After breaking his fibula blocking a shot in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against the Canadiens, Killorn had a rod inserted three days later and was skating by the weekend in an effort to return to the series. He didn’t.

Ondrej Palat

Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) mans the net as Nikita Kucherov (86) beats Canadiens goaltender Carey Price for a score in Game 1 of the final.
Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) mans the net as Nikita Kucherov (86) beats Canadiens goaltender Carey Price for a score in Game 1 of the final. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Palat often flies under the radar skating on the top line with Point and Kucherov. His simple style of play doesn’t always make headlines, but his consistency has kept him as a notable top-six forward over the years.

In his ninth year with the Lightning, Palat had one of the best seasons of his career this year, scoring 15 goals and getting 31 assists for 46 points in the regular season, second on the team to Point’s 48 points. He contributed another 13 points (five goals) in the postseason.

Palat’s effectiveness on the power play also makes him a valuable target for Seattle. He averaged the third-highest time on ice per game among forwards on the power play at 3 minutes, 12 seconds, behind Stamkos (3:37) and Point (3:24).

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Other notable players left exposed from around the league

Notable NHL Players Left Exposed to Seattle
Team Player Position Division
Montreal Canadiens Shea Weber Defenseman Atlantic (Eastern)
Montreal Canadiens Carey Price Goaltender Atlantic (Eastern)
L.A. Kings Jonathan Quick Goaltender Pacific (Western)
Pittsburgh Penguins Jason Zucker Forward Metropolitan (Eastern)
Calgary Flames Mark Giordano Defenseman Pacific (Western)
Washington Capitals Brenden Dillon Defenseman Metropolitan (Eastern)
Toronto Maple Leafs Jared McCann Forward Atlantic (Eastern)
Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog Forward Central (Western)
St. Louis Blues Vladimir Tarasenko Forward Central (Western)
Nashville Predators Ryan Johansen Forward Central (Western)
Columbus Blue Jackets Max Domi Forward Metropolitan (Eastern)
New Jersey Devils P.K. Subban Defenseman Metropolitan (Eastern)
Vancouver Canucks Braden Holtby Goaltender Pacific (Western)
Carolina Hurricanes Dougie Hamilton Defenseman Metropolitan (Eastern)

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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