The Flyers may have recently wrapped up their 50th Anniversary season, but the Vegas Golden Knights are just getting ready to enter their very first year as an NHL franchise. The NHL’s 31st Franchise, their team will be comprised of players from each of the NHL’s current teams.
Each team will be required to surrender one player to the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft, but teams will be able to protect certain players. For one, players with less than two years of NHL/AHL experience will be exempt from the draft. Teams will be able to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goaltender, (11 total players) or a mix of 8 skaters and 1 goalie (9 total players, but no position limits). Also, players with no-movement clauses must be protected in the draft.
So who on the Flyers gets protected, and who will be left exposed for Vegas to take a gamble on? Here’s Overtime’s preview of the Philadelphia Flyers’ Expansion Draft Plan.
Forwards (7): Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Jordan Weal (Exempt: Travis Konecny, Mike Vecchione)
The first five names on this list are no-brainers. Despite subpar offensive seasons, the Flyers have to protect these players. They are the heart and soul of the team, comprising almost all of the offensive skill the Flyers have. Additionally, if the Flyers really did want to get rid of any of these players, it would be much better to do so in a trade and acquire back valuable assets. The Flyers’ top five forwards are set in stone.
The Flyers’ acquisition of Valtteri Filppula paid big dividends for the Flyers late last season. The Finn scored 5 goals and 8 points in 20 games, ironically helped Sean Couturier out by pushing him down the lineup, and played a strong two-way game. Filppula deserved to be protected anyway, and his no-movement clause officially ensures that he will not be playing for the Golden Knights next season.
The last spot is a tough one to figure out. Seeing that Travis Konecny and Mike Vecchione are exempt, the Flyers can use their final protection slot on a variety of bottom-six forwards. After sorting through the list, it comes down to Jordan Weal, Nick Cousins, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Dale Weise, Matt Read, or Michael Raffl. While all of these players have had their ups and downs in Philadelphia, the choice as to who to protect is clear: it has to be Jordan Weal.
Weal completely revitalized the Flyers’ top-six after his recall in early February, and proved that he deserves to be treated as a core member of the team. He put up 8 goals and 12 points in 23 games, and had instant chemistry with the Flyers’ top playmakers. He played with speed, grit, and perseverance. There is just no way the Flyers could go on without Weal in their lineup next season, and there’s a good chance that Vegas would’ve poached Weal had he been made available.
Defensemen (3): Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning (Exempt: Ivan Provorov)
The Flyers have to protect three defensemen in the draft, and it is all but a given that Gostisbehere and Gudas will be the first two names protected. Gostisbehere slumped last season, but his unique skills and sky-high potential will keep in Philadelphia for a long time. Gudas has continuously improved over his tenure in Philly, growing from a healthy scratch in his first Flyers game to one of the Flyers’ top shutdown defensemen.
The Flyers’ best defenseman, Ivan Provorov, would be the obvious choice to protect in the third slot, but he is exempt from the draft. The Flyers’ other top defense prospects, such as Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Philippe Myers, are exempt as well. This fortune will allow the Flyers to protect either Andrew MacDonald or Brandon Manning. For most fans, this is an easy choice. Manning is little more than a fifth defenseman at best and a backup at worst, but it might behoove the Flyers to protect him over MacDonald.
While MacDonald has surprisingly become a large part of the Flyers’ defense corps, the Expansion Draft gives the Flyers a chance to get out from under his mammoth contract. If Vegas were to select MacDonald, a perfectly average NHL defenseman, the Flyers would be completely rid of his contract, which is too good an opportunity for the Flyers to pass up. The coaching staff really likes MacDonald and would hate to lose him, but the Flyers need to look at this with the future and the salary cap in mind. This might the Flyers’ best (and final) chance to purge MacDonald’s contract without a significant cap penalty, which is a risk worth taking.
Goaltender (1): Anthony Stolarz
The Flyers may have made the unpopular decision to rid themselves of Steve Mason in favor of keeping Michal Neuvirth, but what if the Flyers really didn’t have any intentions of keeping Neuvirth either? Letting Mason go and re-signing Neuvirth allows the Flyers to protect top goalie prospect Anthony Stolarz if the Flyers so choose.
Seeing as every team had to have two goalies under contract before the draft, the Flyers had to sign one of their duo. However, their main plan may have been to to go with Stolarz all along. Stolarz has shown that he can play NHL hockey and deserves an extended chance, at least as a backup. He doesn’t have much more to prove in the AHL, and his future as an NHL netminder could begin as soon as this coming season.
The Golden Knights might be interested in choosing a player of Stolarz’s caliber as they look for an identity. Thus, the Flyers cannot afford to expose him. On the other hand, exposing (and possibly losing) Neuvirth wouldn’t be the worst possible outcome. Despite Neuvirth’s excellent 2016, he was among the worst goalies in the NHL this past season. However, he earned a 2-year contract with a pay raise for his efforts. Did the Flyers sign Neuvirth to this deal for Las Vegas’ benefit, or does Philadelphia just like Neuvirth much more than we think?
GM Ron Hextall has hinted that the Flyers will sign a goaltender this summer, which would lead to a three-goalie logjam in the Philly crease. And with Stolarz looking ready for his close-up, perhaps leaving Neuvirth as an option for Vegas to ponder could be the best route to take.
Who Will the Golden Knights Choose?
As tough as it is to project who the Flyers should protect in the expansion draft, it’s even tougher to predict just who the Golden Knights will choose. From the Flyers, I’m projecting that Vegas’ field to choose from will look as follows:
Forwards: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Dale Weise, Matt Read, Michael Raffl, Nick Cousins, Scott Laughton, Chris VandeVelde (UFA)
Defensemen: Andrew MacDonald, Michael Del Zotto (UFA), Nick Schultz (UFA)
Goalie: Michal Neuvirth
There will be enough talented goalies in the draft (Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jimmy Howard, etc) where Vegas will be able to select a top goalie and no longer be interested in Neuvirth. As for the forwards, Vegas will likely see a shortage of top quality centers available. Thus, they could target Bellemare or Cousins. However, I think they will opt to choose Andrew MacDonald to shore up the defense.
MacDonald would provide experience and can be a good-enough defenseman for the Golden Knights. This is of course contingent on the Flyers actually exposing MacDonald, of which there is a decent chance they do not. Given that MacDonald is (like it or not) such a large part of the defense, the Flyers may view him as an essential piece to the team. But if the Flyers do decide to leave MacDonald out there, I suspect that the 30-year-old defenseman could be moving to Las Vegas over the Summer.