The NHL is expanding. Maybe not right this second, and maybe not in the next year or so even, but I would basically bet my life on expansion coming at some point over the next five years. Too many cities want teams, be it Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City or elsewhere, and there aren't enough teams to relocate -- if any even wind up moving from their homes.
With league expansion comes an expansion draft, which means the Philadelphia Flyers (and the other 29 existing teams in the league) will each lose one player to the new team. For this current crop of Flyers, that could be quite the good thing.
In 1998 and 1999, the last two times the NHL brought one team into the league with an expansion draft, teams had the option to protect either ...
- 9 forwards, 5 defensemen and 1 goaltender
- or 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 2 goaltenders.
We'd also have to assume that prospects and players on entry-level deals would be automatically protected -- in '98 and '99, rookie and sophomore players were exempt -- so guys like Shayne Gostisbehere and Scott Laughton wouldn't be eligible for claim by other teams. Alternatively the league could set some minimum NHL games played threshold, but for now we'll just say that players on ELCs will be auto-protected.
Who would Flyers protect if expansion draft happened today?
We'd have to assume that the Flyers would go with the 9 forwards, 5 defenseman and 1 goaltender option. The only benefit to the other option is that you get to protect two goalies, but the Flyers certainly don't need that.
So here's our best guess as to who the Flyers would protect from the expansion draft if it were to happen today.
Forwards (9): Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Michael Raffl, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Zac Rinaldo.
Defensemen (5): Mark Streit, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn, Michael Del Zotto.
Goaltender (1): Steve Mason.
At forward, there are a lot of no brainers, but the Flyers also would have to see this process as a way to potentially get rid of burdensome contracts. Remember, we're assuming that players on ELCs are automatically protected, so there's no need to use the spot on Scott Laughton. And the Flyers would probably (hopefully) leave Vincent Lecavalier and R.J. Umberger unprotected with hopes that the expansion team would take the contract.
In my mind, the ninth and final protected forward would be Umberger or Zac Rinaldo, but we gave Rinaldo the nod here because he has an easy contract to manage. Umberger does not.
On defense, same deal: Ron Hextall would leave Andrew MacDonald unprotected in hopes of losing that terrible contract, while he'd also leave Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen unprotected because they're never playing hockey again. (Even if Kimmo does play again, an expansion team wouldn't waste a claim on him since, at the absolute best, he has one more season left in him.)
The only rules on unprotected players are that a team must leave one forward and one defenseman who have played 40 or more NHL games available to the draft. The Flyers would clear that hurdle easily. Here's who would remain unprotected:
Forwards: Vincent Lecavalier, R.J. Umberger, Ryan White, Chris VandeVelde, Jay Rosehill, Blair Jones, Zack Stortini, Jason Akeson, Andrew Gordon.
Defensemen: Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Andrew MacDonald, Carlo Colaiacovo, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Oliver Lauridsen.
Goaltenders: Ray Emery, Rob Zepp.
Which player would Flyers lose?
theScore did a big ole breakdown on Friday in which they discussed what a new Las Vegas team could look like after an expansion draft, and they have the Flyers losing Vincent Lecavalier to the new team. That would probably be a good deal for all: the Flyers rid themselves of the contract, Vinny gets a new start, and the Vegas team gets a big name to market to their new fan base. I think we'd all be pretty pleased with that.
And it seems like the most likely scenario. A team could also take MacDonald or Umberger, especially since they'll likely be nowhere near the salary cap after the expansion draft is complete, but Lecavalier still has hockey left in him and again, is a marketable name. He's simply just the best player on the list.
We've never had an expansion draft in the salary cap era, though. It's possible that if the entire league leaves their bad contracts unprotected, the Vegas team could quickly reach the cap, and that could potentially lead to savvier shopping. Maybe they take somebody like Jason Akeson or Brandon Manning, hoping that AHL success would carry over to the NHL if they were given a bigger role on a bad expansion club.
Who knows? There are a lot of questions and it's been 15 years since the last expansion draft in the NHL, so it's hard to predict exactly how it would go. But we do know one thing: an expansion draft would be a great opportunity for the Flyers to get rid of a bad contract on their books. Now all we need is for it to actually happen.