Making sense of the Richard Panik decision

Richard Panik, like Cory Conacher before him, becomes a casualty of depth in the Tampa Bay Lightning forward ranks.

Richard Panik was waived yesterday.

We'll find out later today if he was claimed by one of the other 29 NHL teams -- they'll each have an opportunity to put a claim in -- and there's a small sliver of a chance that he passes through and is assigned to the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.

Steve Yzerman was wise to wait until opening day in the NHL to make this move, as most NHL teams are at or near the 50-contract limit and have already made their big roster and lineup decisions. There's a small chance that the 23-year old former 2nd round pick clears. If he doesn't, the claiming team would have to keep him on their NHL roster; attempting to assign him to their AHL affiliate would give the Lighting the right to take him back.

Ultimately, an NHL lineup only has so many slots. This is a numbers game. Syracuse Crunch GM Julien BriseBois boiled it down quite nicely:

This issue of burgeoning forward depth is something we've discussed at length:

Ultimately, there's too many top-9 forwards competing for the twelve (or eleven) forward spots available. Consider that guys like Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, and Valtteri Filppula are already locked into their spots and the number of positions actually up for grabs at camp dwindles even further.

More likely than not, a forward is going to be sent down or played in a limited role. A trade isn't entirely out of the question. Depth rears it's ugly head. It's not a bad problem to have, but it's one Yzerman and Cooper will have to deal with nonetheless.

Well, the problem of depth has been dealt with. We don't know as of yet if Richard Panik was dangled in trade talks prior to being waived, but it's a fair bet that he was, as a 0.72 PPG player in the AHL that, as of yet, simply hasn't caught on in the NHL. Kept up out of camp last year as part of a line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, Panik never seemed to carve out a permanent spot in the nightly lineup, while his linemates took their opportunity and ran with it.

He's had some bad luck in the NHL, no doubt; he's a better true talent shooter than the numbers he's put up in the NHL and he hasn't had the best of luck in terms of on-ice save percentages, either. There's reason to believe a new team, new coach, and new situation would be good for Panik, who has carried the "inconsistent" and "lacks motivation" labels with him for some time. Those are good reasons for a team to claim him and see what they can get.

But, like Cory Conacher before him, the Lightning already know what they have in Panik. They've seen him play in their organization for three years and scouted him long before that. Ultimately, they've decided that other bubble players like Brett Connolly -- who like Panik signed a 1-year, two-way extension this summer -- give them a better chance to succeed moving forward. You don't expose a player to waivers you aren't 100% certain you can afford to lose for nothing, and that's the risk the Lightning are now taking.

Maybe Panik goes unclaimed, and maybe he goes down to the AHL, works hard, and eventually finds his way back to the Tampa Bay Lightning. But with so many skilled forwards ahead of him on the depth chart succeeding with the roles and ice time they're getting, even a "bounce-back" from Panik probably wouldn't be enough for him to leapfrog over Connolly, or Nikita Kucherov, or JT Brown, and into regular top-9 minutes. All that operates under the assumption that goes unclaimed -- which is far from a given.

Unfortunately, not every promising young prospect, even properly developed and given opportunities to succeed, makes it with the team that drafts them. Richard Panik absolutely has the ability to still become an impact NHLer -- it just looks like the chance that happens with Tampa Bay is all but gone.