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Could Florida Panthers lose Driedger and Vatrano to Seattle?

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The Florida Panthers reportedly have a deal in place with the Seattle Kraken that it can sign free agent goalie Chris Driedger in exchange for taking forward Frank Vatrano on Wednesday. // Photos by Roger Topalian, 21st Century Photography (561) 488-0000

Three years after losing two players to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, there is a report the Florida Panthers have a deal in place with the Seattle Kraken in which it would not only sign pending free agent goalie Chris Driedger, but get forward Frank Vatrano for doing so.

Frank Seravalli, formerly of TSN and now with the Daily Faceoff, reported on his latest podcast that he heard Vatrano would be part of a side deal with Seattle.

Since Driedger would be a free agent starting at noon on July 28, if Seattle were to sign him before the expansion draft, he becomes the selection from the Panthers meaning Florida wouldn’t lose anyone else.

Per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the Kraken are on the verge of signing Driedger to a three-year deal worth $3.5 million per season.

So, it appears that side of the deal is done.

Seattle, of course, wouldn’t just sign a player that it could get a week later on its own. The Kraken want something in return.

There could be a deal in the works where Seattle signs Driedger and, in return, the Panthers trade Vatrano to the Kraken (perhaps with a draft pick) for one of the players it selects from another team.

We shall see how this all works out between now and Wednesday’s expansion draft (8 p.m./ESPN2).

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Seattle will select at least one player from each team in the league — save for Vegas — and deals of all shapes and sizes are being made as you read this.

On Saturday, the Panthers submitted their protected list; Vatrano was left unprotected as were the likes of Radko Gudas, Noel Acciari and Markus Nutivaara.

Losing two players to an expansion team may feel like what happened in 2018 when the Panthers gave Vegas Jonathan Marchessault for taking Reilly Smith (and his five-year, $25 million contract with a no-movement clause kicking in) off their hands.

It is and it isn’t.

The Panthers are losing Driedger, either to Seattle or someone else.

A free agent who is about to become paid to be an NHL starter (although the Kraken could take Montreal’s Carey Price on Wednesday), Driedger is moving on regardless of what happens with Seattle.

Vatrano is a player who is popular among his teammates and has a knack for scoring big goals.

Over the past three seasons, Vatrano has scored 58 goals — with 12 counting as game-winners. This past season alone, Vatrano scored seven game-winning goals which was most on the team.

Despite his numbers, Vatrano spent much of his time, at least this season, on Florida’s third line.

Vatrano goes into this season on the final year of the three-year extension he signed before the 2019 trade deadline and is playing with a very team-friendly $2.5 million cap hit.

“I sat down with my agent, and I said I felt this was the best spot for me,’’ Vatrano said when he signed his extension. “I am really getting an opportunity here, top-six, power play. I love it here, I don’t want anything to change.”

Based on his offensive production, Vatrano would be due a nice raise in 2022 with a little bit longer of term.

Heck, if the Panthers do trade Vatrano to Seattle they could bring him back as a free agent in 2022 although the thought here is Vatrano could become a breakout star with the expansion Kraken and sign his new deal in Seattle.

For GM Bill Zito, losing Vatrano means gaining at least a little more salary cap space and with rumors circulating he may trade defenseman Anton Stralman before Friday’s entry draft, the Panthers could potentially be getting close to $8 million more in cap room going into free agency.

With the NHL cap staying flat at $81.5 million for this coming season, Zito has already shown (by giving Chicago Riley Stillman for taking Brett Connolly’s contract) he is willing to move assets for more space.

The Panthers also have a number of young players — including Grigori Denisenko — who could use more playing time. Freeing up another forward spot would facilitate that.

Again, we’ll see what happens between now and Wednesday.

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