Richard Panik is the new Carter Ashton
Tampa Bay Lightning forward depth pillaged again? Not quite.
The motivation was a little different.
In February 2012, the Tampa Bay Lightning were a mess on the blue line. After Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer, the Lightning dressed a mismatched group of has-beens and never-weres on defense, including Brian Lee, Mike Commodore, Brett Clark, Bruno Gervais, Brendan Mikkelson, and Marc-Andre Bergeron.
So the desire to acquire more organizational depth on the blue line made sense; the Lightning had a nice stable of young, talented forward prospects, but not much of value on D in the pipeline. They decided to trade former 1st round pick (29th overall) Carter Ashton to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Keith Aulie.
The Lightning aren't in a similar situation today; with quality NHL veterans on the blue line (Matt Carle, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison) to play behind #1 defenseman Victor Hedman, and the aforementioned young forwards bursting into the NHL, there was no mandate to move anyone. Richard Panik was just a victim of a numbers game. There are 23 roster spots. He was the 24th best player in camp.
That brings us back to Carter Ashton -- who, at the time, was a fine prospect. But he was also expendable. The Lightning had seen him for a full year with their then-AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. He scored 35 points in 56 games. They had scouted him in the WHL with the Lethbridge Hurricanes well before that. Of all the forwards in the system, Ashton was the one the Lightning were comfortable moving.
Just like Richard Panik.
The bottom line is, with so many forwards on one-way contracts and so many ahead of him on the depth chart, Panik became expendable. There are promising AHL forwards behind him to toil away in the minors and earn their eventual shot in the NHL. There are guys his age already in the NHL and well ahead of schedule. "Inconsistent" play has dogged him his entire career, and it's the final nail in his Tampa Bay Lightning coffin.
It's only fitting, then, that the Toronto Maple Leafs are the claiming team. Again, they'll get a fine young player that became expendable for the Lightning. Again, he might live up to a very high offensive ceiling; but he probably won't. And again, the Leafs, under Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle, will probably try to jam a top-9 peg into a 4th line hole.
Richard Panik is not a grinder; his swan song in Tampa Bay was wasting away on the Lightning's fourth line with Ryan Malone and Nate Thompson -- two more names you won't see in Lightning sweaters this season. Like them, Panik became expendable. But trying to force him into a role he's not suited for will only lead to more bad results. Yes, he's big; no, he's not a grinder. Attempting to add some "sandpaper" to his game has only resulted in more serious problems -- namely, a suspension early last year for boarding Karl Alzner.
Fast forward two years from the Carter Ashton-Keith Aulie swap, and Ashton has played in 47 games with the Leafs and has three assists. He got no help from head coach Randy Carlyle, who often played him with Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren on the Leafs joke of a 4th line. While the Leafs have since demoted their enforcers to the AHL, there's little to suggest that Panik won't be similarly mishandled. He's a top-9 player who will struggle a bit at times. He needs to be used offensively in order to succeed, and he needs to be given a bit of leeway.
If Carter Ashton is any indication, those are things that simply won't happen in Toronto.