Panthers Should Buyout Keith Yandle Before the Expansion Draft

The Seattle Kraken expansion draft is a little more than a week away, and each team must have their protection list submitted by July 17, ahead of the July 21 draft. After a phenomenal regular season, the Florida Panthers are doing everything in their power to keep their star players together. However, one major problem might prevent them from doing so. Defenseman Keith Yandle, who accounts for $6.35 million of the Panthers’ cap space, has a no-movement clause (NMC) in his contract, and management must therefore use one of their protection slots on him. Florida must find a way to get Yandle off of the books. If a trade is not possible, the only other option is to buy out his contract.

The Yandle Situation

Former Panthers general manager Tom Rowe signed Yandle to a $6.35 million contract with a NMC in 2016. Yandle was brought in to boost an already strong power play that would become almost unfair. While his power-play skills were there, his poor defensive play plagued the team and cost them both regular-season and playoff games in his three seasons with the club. In 2020-21, he finished with a minus-8 rating. In the 2020 Playoffs, he was a minus-2, and back in 2018-19, he had his worse plus-minus rating as a Panther, at minus-17. His defensive struggles have made his NMC feel like a ball and chain for the team’s general managers – first Dale Tallon and now Bill Zito.

Related: Panthers Need to Find a Way to Protect Forsling in Expansion Draft

The buyout window opened last week, so Florida has a chance to get him off of the books before the expansion draft. Of course, they could wait, but it would be a grave mistake to use up a protection slot on Yandle when they could protect a more valuable player.

Buyout Will be Worth Every Penny

If the Panthers buy out Yandle’s deal before the expansion draft, the team will save over $4 million in cap space next season, and his cap hit would only be roughly $2.3 million. However, the following season would hurt them when his cap hit rises to around $5.4 million, and the team would only save roughly $950,000. On the bright side, the last two seasons of his deal carry only a $1.2 million hit.

Keith Yandle Florida Panthers
Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

That second season has a steep price tag to buy out Yandle’s contract. But, considering it would only be one season, the team should be willing to take that risk as the cap space they will gain from the initial buyout will give them a boost to re-sign some of their key players and bring in some new faces to bolster their defensive corps. Ultimately, the buyout has more pros than cons and should be an option in Zito’s playbook.

After Last Season, This Should be Expected

Last season, there were rumors that Yandle would be scratched for the home opener, potentially ending his iron-man streak. He was eventually scratched for two games in Round 1 of the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It seems that the Panthers are trying to phase him before the start of next season.

Will Yandle Still Be in a Panther Uniform?

Nothing is set in stone, but Florida should be considering a buyout. A trade will be very difficult given his NMC unless he is willing to waive it for an interested party. Also, the Panthers will need as much cap as they can possibly get if they want to make a push towards the Stanley Cup in the next season or two.

Related: Panthers 2021 Expansion Draft Projections

At this point, Yandle must be aware he’s on the way out. His defensive play cost the team more than it helped them. Although he is a great locker room personality, that will only take a team so far. Unfortunately, the Panthers need to cut him loose now, as it will benefit the team more than hurt them, especially with the expansion draft looming.