This is how it will work: you’ll look at those lists of unprotected players, and you’ll think there’s some interesting names there.  But it’s mostly an illusion.

The New York Islanders are not going to let Vegas take any of their vast list of unprotected forwards.  They’ve made a side deal.  It’s rumoured that deal involves their first overall pick, and a glance at the list of forwards unprotected should make you ask if you’d pay a first for any of them, but that kind of sense has gone out the window.  The protection price is steep, but teams will pay it for the love of their roster as it stands.

Most of the eyebrow raising names — like Anaheim’s Josh Manson — are not really up for grabs.  At least that’s how it seems.  But the Anaheim protection price to Vegas has to be huge, because the Golden Knights  could get a lot for Manson, so the Ducks have to outbid that to keep him.

Scott Cullen asked how high that price would be.  My smartass reply has some truth in it:

This is the danger of the protection game. You might be outbidding a motivated buyer, and you might be overpaying for the guy you already think of as yours.

The Florida Panthers, though, have the most interesting list, and there doesn’t seem to be any rumours yet that they’ve made a side deal.

First, they protected James Reimer, not Roberto Luongo, making them one of a very, very short list of teams who did not protect their starter. The Flyers protected their AHL goalie, and the Coyotes don’t have a starter, while the Winnipeg Jets also picked their prospect, but that’s it.

After the one goalie they could protect, Florida chose who to expose in an interesting way.  They left open Jason Demers, but not the rumoured trade target Mark Pysyk.  They also left Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Jussi Jokinen open.  All those players are regular members of their lineup.

Add to those names a handful of UFAs led by Jaromir Jagr, and they have a long list of really good players open to be taken.

The length of the list might be the point. I speculated that one way to protect two goalies was to have such a juicy target elsewhere, no one would even think to look at the second part of your tandem, and that plus Luongo’s age and contract likely protect him.

But the really juicy targets Florida has open come in a pair.  One cheap centre who will be a UFA soon in Marchessault, and one expensive defender in Demers who is still worth most of his contract.

The Florida strategy might be to simply have so many competing offers out there for those two players that Vegas can’t really get a bidding war going.  There are teams who would want either from Vegas if the price was right, but the more supply, the lower the price, so is Florida actually baffling the auctioneer, by having too may things that could be sold.

At the end of the day, they can only lose one, and it’s possible they will protect their inexpensive mid-range centre by simply having too many other things in the shop window that might outshine him in the current market.

If Florida just says no to a side deal, holds their nerve, and lets Vegas pick the player who is worth the most on the open market, what’s the chance that actually is the most valuable to Florida?  I think the most valuable to the Panthers is Marchessault.  I think the Panthers won’t be that upset if Demers goes.

Maybe their social media insouciance is feigned, or maybe it is real.  If it is, they might come out of this with the players they want to keep, a lot of cap space to sign a younger defender, and their first round draft pick.  That sounds better than what the Islanders or the Ducks are managing.  And the worst that can happen is Vegas knows the just cut it with a sword trick, and Florida lose one player they’d have rather kept, keep their pick, and move forward with both their goalies as they transition from Luongo to a new starter.

I don’t know if it’s the computer boys, the army guys or the new/old GM running the show, but this seems like a good play given the hand they were dealt.