Flyers’ Expansion Draft Outlook

2017 Expansion Draft, Editor's Choice, Michal Neuvirth, NHL Expansion, Philadelphia Flyers, Scott Laughton, Top Story

Most summers, free agency and the entry draft are the marked and bolded dates on the NHL calendar. This summer, those events may take second and third place in anticipation of the Expansion Draft less than a month away.

Like the 29 other teams that will have one player selected by the Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers have much to ponder on who they’ll protect, and leave available for the Knights to choose from.

On June 21, the Knights will select one player from every one of the 30 NHL teams. Those teams are allowed to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. First and second-year pros are exempt from the draft making things slightly easier for teams.

For the Flyers, they’ll choose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie since they don’t have as many important defensemen as other teams. Breaking it down by position may be the easiest way to figure out what Philadelphia will do when the protected lists are due June 17.

Protection & Flyers Forwards

Claude Giroux (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Any prospect that has signed an ELC, but hasn’t played a game yet is exempt, so German Rubstov, Pascal Laberge and a number of other prospects are of no concern. However, there are Lehigh Valley Phantom and Flyers forwards that will also fall into that category including:

Exempt Forwards

  • Travis Konecny
  • Mike Vecchione
  • Roman Lyubimov
  • Nicolas Aube-Kubel
  • Cole Bardreau
  • Radel Fazleev
  • Tyrell Goulbourne
  • Danick Martel

From there, players with no-movement clauses have to be protected, unless they agree to waive them. The Flyers’ forward protection list already has two names on it:

Protected Forwards

  • Claude Giroux
  • Valtteri Filppula

Giroux wouldn’t be asked to waive his NMC and while Filppula is signed to a one-year deal, with a $5 million cap hit, he still serves a purpose with the team and general manager Ron Hextall said he preferred keeping him. From there, there are four easy additions to the protected forwards.

Protected Forwards

  • Claude Giroux
  • Valtteri Filppula
  • Wayne Simmonds
  • Jake Voracek
  • Brayden Schenn
  • Sean Couturier

Jake Voracek (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It wouldn’t be surprising for some Flyers fans to argue that Voracek should be unprotected given his underwhelming point totals these past two seasons and $8.25 million cap hit, but he’s still valuable and should not be lost for nothing. Simmonds may be the best value player on the Philly roster and Schenn and Couturier are young, middle-six players that can’t be replaced.

That leaves one protection spot open among the forwards, and a three-way debate for it.

First off, Matt Read and Dale Weise can be counted as unprotected. Read has one year left at $3.625 million cap hit and Weise was lackluster in his first year in Philly and has three years left on his deal.

Nick Cousins also needs protection, but with the Flyers’ depth, he saw time as a healthy scratch toward the end of the season. He’s more valuable than Read and Weise, but not enough with a shortage of protection spots.

Jordan Weal is an unrestricted free agent. UFAs can be protected, but it’s pointless to do so. If Vegas does sign a team’s upcoming UFA, it counts as a selected player from that team, but the Golden Knights could just wait till the summer to do that, selection-free. Hextall’s best bet with Weal, who should catch the eye of the Knights, is signing him after the draft, and eliminating the need to use a protection spot on him.

Michael Raffl (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So that leaves the Flyers with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton as legitimate forwards with a chance of protection.

Bellemare, often maligned by the fan base, is a management favorite and a leader in the locker room. He shouldn’t be protected, but given the Flyers’ infatuation with him, it does seem like a possibility.

Raffl seemed like the obvious choice for the seventh protection spot, but injuries and a down year has moved him out of a locked spot. Laughton, a first-round pick in 2012, spent the entire 2016-17 season with the Phantoms, except for two games, after 107 with the Flyers in the five previous years.

But a tough choice has to be made and Raffl is the most valuable to the Flyers. He can play anywhere in the lineup and is on a reasonable $2.35 million cap hit for the next two seasons. That leaves a protected forwards list of:

Protected Forwards

  • Claude Giroux
  • Valtteri Filppula
  • Wayne Simmonds
  • Jake Voracek
  • Brayden Schenn
  • Sean Couturier
  • Michael Raffl

Flyers Defense & Goaltending

Things get much easier for the Flyers once the forwards are out of the way. The exempt players are to thank for that. Here’s Philadelphia’s list on defense:

Exempt Defensemen

  • Ivan Provorov
  • Robert Hagg
  • Travis Sanheim
  • Samuel Morin
  • Philippe Myers
  • Reece Wilcox

If those defensemen weren’t exempt, there would be some serious discussions for the Flyers. But the team’s lucky now and the two defensemen that absolutely need protection can easily slot in.

Protected Defensemen

  • Shayne Gostisbehere
  • Radko Gudas

Nothing else needs to be added about these two that isn’t already out there. They’re both top-four defenders on the Flyers and would be on most other teams. If either was unprotected, they would be Knights in June.

That leaves one spot on defense between Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning. Like Bellemare, MacDonald is a perplexing favorite of management. He’s better than Manning, but his $5 million cap hit is too much to hold onto freely.

Radko Gudas

Radko Gudas (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Protected Defensemen

  • Shayne Gostisbehere
  • Radko Gudas
  • Brandon Manning

Moving onto goalies, there’s only two that really need protection; Michal Neuvirth and Anthony Stolarz. Neuvirth is the veteran and just re-signed to a two-year deal and Stolarz is a 23-year-old prospect with hopes of taking the Flyers net some day soon.

Protected Goalies

Stolarz is clearly the more valuable netminder and would be a commodity for the Knights. The Flyers also have him in their future plans, more than they do Neuvirth. That leaves Philadelphia with a strong protected list.

Protected List

  • Claude Giroux
  • Valtteri Filppula
  • Wayne Simmonds
  • Jake Voracek
  • Brayden Schenn
  • Sean Couturier
  • Shayne Gostisbehere
  • Radko Gudas
  • Brandon Manning
  • Anthony Stolarz

Golden Knights’ Selection

For Vegas, this is the unprotected list of players that should interest them when they make their pick at the end of June:

Unprotected List

  • Matt Read
  • Dale Weise
  • Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
  • Nick Cousins
  • Andrew MacDonald
  • Michal Neuvirth

There isn’t an easy option for the Knights from that group, but no matter who they select they’ll be getting an NHL player.

If they’re looking for a middle-six scorer, Read and Weise fit the bill, with Read a little more attractive given his short deal and speed. Cousins could also fit that bill in a smaller role and has the benefit of being 23-years-old. Bellemare is nothing more than a fourth-liner, which Vegas will have no issues finding.

In a perfect world for the Flyers, MacDonald is selected by the Knights, but his contract and shortage in talent will keep him off their radar.

Neuvirth could be a dark horse pick given his past with Vegas GM George McPhee, who drafted him, but there should be better goalie options at the draft and in free agency.

Scott Laughton (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That leaves just Laughton, who has struggled in the NHL but has done well in the AHL. While making selections, Vegas will see an abundance of middle-six scorers like Read, Weise and Cousins. What it won’t be seeing is former first-round picks with some potential left.

At this point, Laughton isn’t the best player left unprotected, but he has the potential to be that as a strong two-way player down the road. For the Golden Knights, who will need time to develop, that’s a perfect player to get for free.

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