Florida Panthers: Is There More to Bringing in Henrik Borgstrom Now Than Meets the Eye?

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 26: Denver University forward Henrik Borgstrom September 26, 2017. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 26: Denver University forward Henrik Borgstrom September 26, 2017. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images) /

Not even 24 hours after Henrik Borgstrom’s Denver Pioneers were eliminated from the NCAA tournament, Henrik Borgstrom has signed with the Florida Panthers.

After his play skyrocketed from his start at Denver to now, it never seemed likely that he would be there longer than two years, nor did it seem very likely that Borgstrom could potentially be the piece that puts Florida over the top in a playoff race.

But him signing immediately rather than waiting until the season ends does have its drawbacks, even if they’re small. As the contract is signed and delivered, what are the Panthers giving to take on Borgstrom now rather than wait until 2018-19, or maybe even the playoffs?

For one, not every player comes directly in from college and hits the ground running, especially at this time of the season. Boston has proven its possible with Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Donato, but not every player is one of the best young defensemen in the league or someone who just played in the Olympics.

Borgstrom is certainly NHL ready, but getting him to directly translate his Pioneer performance to the Panthers is not exactly playing him as the second line winger and letting it ride. If any player could pull that off though, it may well be Borgstrom with his creativity.

Adding Borgstrom now is better than any trade deadline acquisition the Panthers could have made, though there is still a price to pay down the line whether no matter how many games he ends up playing, the biggest of which is burning a year of his entry-level contract.

Unlike with players that start the year with their team, players this late in the season burn a year when they play one game, regular season or playoffs. If Borgstrom is good as advertised, that means the Panthers have one fewer cost controlled year before he inevitably gets paid commensurate to his talent, and it’s not as if the Panthers are swimming in cash.

Trocheck and Barkov will be two years away from free agency, Huberdeau will be three, Dadonov will be a UFA, and there’s no telling who else on the team may be already on high salaries or needing new contracts by then.

For a team that always has budget concerns, getting one more year of Borgstrom on the cheap may well allow them to maneuver that tricky time better, especially when insuring themselves against potential lockout issues. But there’s a better reason why it’s worth it to wait a year to bring Borgstrom to Sunrise: Seattle.

In 2020, the Seattle Totems/Easter Eggs/Sasquatch/Sounders Hockey Club will likely be having an expansion draft. Gary Bettman and other league officials have made it clear that the same expansion rules for Vegas will apply to Seattle. This means that players on their entry-level contracts are automatically protected and do not count to the 7-3-1 or 4-4 rules.

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Without knowing who else could be on the roster at that time, the Panthers could avoid a major headache by having Borgstrom still be on his entry-level deal, allowing them to avoid exposing someone they value, unlike with what happened in Vegas.

The Panthers are lucky in that Borgstrom is 20, meaning that if he plays this season, he’d have to play 10 games to accrue a full season according to the CBA, which would mean though he would not be on his entry-level contract after 2020, he would only have two professional seasons, meaning he would still be automatically protected.

However, if he plays in say eight games and the Panthers make the playoffs, that would mean he’d accrue a full professional season per the CBA, assuming the Panthers don’t for whatever reason scratch him to play Micheal Haley (you’d hope not, at least).

Avoiding an expansion draft headache is probably the major reason why it might be worth waiting to sign Borgstrom, but there is a template on how to avoid this conundrum altogether from a contractual perspective while still getting Borgstrom to the Panthers eventually. That model comes from Zach Werenski in Columbus.

After Werenski’s 2016 season at Michigan ended, he signed his ELC with Columbus, but also an ATO with the then Lake Erie Monsters. The Blue Jackets weren’t making the playoffs that season, but the Monsters did, and Werenski played the entirety of those Calder Cup playoffs on that ATO before starting the clock on his ELC that fall with the big club.

While Springfield isn’t making the playoffs this year, they do have seven games left this regular season (six before Florida’s regular season ends). If the Panthers wanted to wait and see whether they’re going to be in the playoffs before bringing Borgstrom up for those contractual reasons outlined above, they could do exactly what the Blue Jackets did with Werenski without having to eventually expose him down the line in the expansion draft, burn a year off his ELC, or both.

It also allows him to get his feet wet with the organization without potentially disrupting chemistry with the big club where their playoff margins are so thin, though for him that is probably not an issue.

So while it seems Borgstrom will be on the Panthers sooner rather than later, the decision to bring him in now isn’t as cut and dry as it seems, even for a team fighting for their playoff lives. There is salary, expansion draft and chemistry considerations that might make it worth the Panthers holding off on putting Borgstrom in the lineup until they know their playoff fate, even if he could help get them there.

Then, Borgstrom would still be auto-protected from the expansion draft and help the Panthers make a postseason push anyway. It would be the best of both worlds for the present and future.

It’s not as if the risk outweighs the reward, however, it’s something an organization like the Panthers, who were over a barrel with Vegas, might be wise to consider, even briefly.

But now that Borgstrom is a Panther, the team has decided the reward of Borgstrom in the lineup is worth the contractual and expansion draft risks down the line. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. For those few games, are the Panthers risking more than it would seem by playing Borgstrom?

Next: What Happens if the Florida Panthers Don’t Make the Playoffs?

If they make the playoffs and he plays a key role, most certainly not, Seattle Sasquatch aside.