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NHL expansion 2017: Which defensemen and goalie will the Flyers protect?

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The Flyers have a couple of key decisions to be made when it comes to the last few protection spots heading into the expansion draft.

The 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, explained

Still wondering how the NHL Expansion Draft will work? Let us explain.

Posted by Broad Street Hockey: For Philadelphia Flyers Fans on Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Still wondering how the NHL Expansion Draft will work? Let us explain.

On Monday, we began what will be a week-long look at the Flyers’ situation heading into this June’s expansion draft by going through each of the seven forwards on the team that could either a) get the last protection spot that is realistically up for grabs among forwards, or b) get chosen by Vegas. Today, we’ll do the same for the Flyers’ defense and goaltending, taking a look at the four players who are really a part of the expansion puzzle in those groups.

We’ll assume, as spelled out in Monday’s post, that Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas are locks to be protected, which means that there is one spot for defensemen and one spot for goaltenders that remains up for grabs. There are probably four players that could fit into those two spots, so let’s talk about them now. We’ll go through the two defensemen and two goalies, listed within each group by the likelihood that the Flyers protect them.

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Defensemen:

2. Brandon Manning

Contract Status: Manning is under contract for one more season at a cap hit of $975,000.

Chances of being protected: Pretty low. Manning has admirably played the role of third-pair/press box swing guy for the past two years, and he’s an NHL-caliber player, but it’s fair to say he’s a pretty replaceable player with the talent the Flyers have coming up into the system in the next couple of years. As we’ll get to momentarily, the only way I can see the Flyers protecting him is if they decide they want to expose Andrew MacDonald, at which point Manning may get the spot by default.

Why Vegas might want him: Because they play in the same division as the Edmonton Oilers and it would be funny to have Manning harassing Connor McDavid four or five times a year. Also, he’s inexpensive and only tied up for one more year.

Why Vegas might not want him: Because he’s probably a sixth or seventh defenseman on a typical NHL team and Vegas can find nine guys who are better options than him across the other 29 teams.

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1. Andrew MacDonald

Contract Status: MacDonald, of course, is under contract for three more seasons at a cap hit of $5 million per year.

Chances of being protected: Pretty high. Put your pitchforks down, people, let me explain. MacDonald’s contract isn’t a good one, and the Flyers — who sent MacDonald to the AHL in October of 2015 knowing that his contract was specifically why he wouldn’t get claimed — probably wouldn’t be devastated were they to lose it, as well as the $5 million a year cap burden that comes with it. But MacDonald was second on the team last year among defensemen in average ice time per game, and the coaching staff has stuck up for him when given the chance. And unlike in the forward ranks, where there are three or four guys you know the Flyers would be disappointed to lose for nothing based on their current roles, there’s no obvious alternative to get the Flyers’ third protection spot on defense, no guy that you look at and say “yeah, I bet they really want to keep him around”. From where we stand now, it looks like MacDonald, a nominal top-4 defenseman on this team, is the closest to that kind of player that the Flyers have to account for.

Essentially, the only way Andrew MacDonald won’t get the Flyers’ last protection slot on defense is if they outright decide that they want to expose him, because the costs of his contract outweigh the benefits he brings on the ice and they’re not in a position to overpay anyone. Right now, I think they believe that balance is a favorable one to them, so he probably gets it. We’ll see.

Why Vegas might want him: MacDonald is a guy that it seems a lot of NHL front offices like. He’s seen as defensively responsible, he’s a solid skater who is considered by some to be a solid passer, and he can play on both special teams units. All of this leads to him getting a lot of ice time, here in Philadelphia as well as back when he was with the Islanders. The Flyers paired MacDonald with their top young defenseman this season, Ivan Provorov, and they wouldn’t have done that unless they trusted both of those players to take on big minutes. Multiple teams were interested in MacDonald back before he was traded to the Flyers in 2014, and chances are there are a number of front offices that still like him as a player. Vegas could be one of those, and could decide that they can stomach the hefty cap hit for a guy they may see as a top-4 defenseman.

Why Vegas might not want him: There’s that contract, and then there’s also the matter that MacDonald may actually not be nearly as good as some teams think he is. Possession numbers have always cast MacDonald as somewhere between “a third pair defenseman miscast in the role of a top-4 guy” and “an AHL-caliber player”. And while the “eye test” is certainly subjective, it didn’t seem like MacDonald looked that good on the ice this past season, either. If Vegas has a particularly stats-friendly front office, it’s hard to imagine them deciding that MacDonald is worth a selection. And if the Flyers did decide not to protect a guy that they gave 20 minutes a night to last season, doesn’t that seem like the kind of thing that may set off a warning sign if you’re Vegas GM George McPhee and co.?

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Goalies:

2. Michal Neuvirth

Contract Status: Neuvirth will begin a two-year, $5 million contract next season.

Chances of being protected: A bit below 50 percent. The Flyers clearly like Neuvirth, having given him a contract extension mid-season this past year. They see him as a guy who, at the very least, is a competent backup at this level, and they may decide that’s worth protecting. (Some are convinced that the Flyers signed Neuvirth to that aforementioned extension solely so they could expose him in the expansion draft, but that seems a little conspiratorial when we’re talking about a two-year deal that involved a raise in pay.)

Why Vegas might want him: One interesting aspect here is that of familiarity; McPhee was the GM who drafted Neuvirth back when he was in Washington, and he oversaw Michal’s rise to the NHL. In addition, Neuvirth’s a year removed from a season in which he was one of the NHL’s better goalies, posting a .924 regular season save percentage and then basically winning the Flyers two playoff games by himself. His career save percentage is a .911, and that’s a mark fitting of a quality backup or timeshare kind of guy — in a vacuum, a useful kind of player for a team to have.

Why Vegas might not want him: Neuvirth’s coming off of a year in which he was literally the worst semi-regular goalie by save percentage in the NHL, and in which he couldn’t stay healthy (which is a recurring thing for him, it seems). The way the expansion draft is set up, there will be a number of goalies out there who are either more established starters that have shown they can handle a #1 goalie’s workload, or are younger guys who have played well in limited time and might have the potential to be a goalie like that given a larger workload. Neuvirth, who is 29 and hasn’t played more than 32 games in a season since 2011-12, is neither of those, and it’s fair to ask how much appeal he has to Vegas while he’s sitting in the middle of those two more-appealing endpoints, all while holding a contract that’s probably more expensive than that of a typical backup. And while McPhee did draft Neuvirth, he also traded Neuvirth just three years ago (for another goalie who will be eligible to be taken in this very expansion draft). Familiarity swings both ways.

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1. Anthony Stolarz

Contract Status: Stolarz is a restricted free agent.

Chances of Being Protected: Around 50 percent**. Stolarz, whose season came to a premature end due to a leg injury, has manned the net for Lehigh Valley admirably for the last three seasons, even being named an AHL All-Star in 2016, and he’s played well in very limited NHL time. The Flyers surely don’t want to lose him. At the same time, they also have one of the deepest groups of goalie prospects in the NHL, and may think that the certainty of an established NHL backup in Neuvirth outweighs the upside of a young guy who has potential but also has been overall just-OK for the Phantoms.

** (We’ll leave a tiny bit of cushion here between Stolarz and Neuvirth just in case the Flyers and Steve Mason have a Say Anything moment between now and the draft, but I’m not holding my breath on that front.)

Why Vegas might want him: As mentioned above, it’d make sense for Vegas to look for a goalie or two that fit the profile of young goalie who hasn’t had a chance to be a starter for an NHL team yet. Stolarz could be that, and if he doesn’t make the team’s NHL roster out of camp he could be Vegas’ top AHL goalie. He’d make sense to have around as a prospect/potential “goalie of the future” type.

Why Vegas might not want him: Stolarz’s AHL resume is decent but not incredible — he’s been pretty average by league standards during his time with the Phantoms — and Vegas may just see guys out there with higher potential. For instance, Bruins goalie Malcolm Subban, who was drafted 21 picks before Stolarz back in 2012, is a lock to be exposed in the draft, and his AHL career as a whole has been more impressive than Stolarz’s has been. That’s not to say Vegas couldn’t prefer Stolarz to Subban or some other talented but unproven goalie, such as Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo or Washington’s Philipp Grubauer. And it’s possible that the Golden Knights take a number of these kinds of guys — they need at least three goalies, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them take four. But in terms of the “mystery box” types of choices they’ll have in terms of goalies, Vegas may just find some of the other ones to be more appealing than Stolarz.

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While we’ve covered just about everyone at the NHL level that could get taken, let’s briefly run through the remaining names of players that are under contract/team control through next year but are almost certainly not going to factor into expansion matters:

  • T.J. Brennan is the only person not mentioned so far who could, by some stretch of the imagination, feasibly be protected or taken in the expansion draft. Brennan is one of the best defensemen in the AHL, he’s under contract for next year at a six-figure cap hit, and is a crucial part of the best team the Phantoms have had in a decade, one which should only be better next year. If the Flyers decide they want to expose MacDonald and think that Brennan’s value to the Phantoms makes him a crucial part of the organizational depth chart, he could get that spot over Manning. Similarly, if Vegas wants to take a shot on a defenseman who’s torn up the minors but hasn’t really gotten a regular chance at the NHL level (the same way they may like Jordan Weal, as we discussed on Monday), he could be chosen here. But either of those things is a very long shot to happen.
  • Taylor Leier is a restricted free agent this summer, and is maybe the only expansion-eligible “prospect” left that we haven’t discussed. He may get a chance to make the Flyers next season, but he’s got a low enough profile here that it seems highly unlikely that he’s thought highly-of enough by McPhee and co. to be taken over the players mentioned on Monday.
  • There are some other Phantoms who are under contract through next year that are eligible to be taken - Colin McDonald, Greg Carey, Will O’Neill, Jesper Pettersson — but all of them are going to remain with the Phantoms and/or won’t be retained. For expansion draft purposes, they can largely be forgotten.

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Tomorrow, we’ll step back and take another look at the names we’ve looked at so far, and try and pin down which one Vegas would be most likely to take and which ones the Flyers would have the toughest time replacing. Until then, vote in the poll below to let us know what you think the Flyers will do, and feel free to chime in down in the comments as well.

Poll

The Flyers’ last protection slot on defense, and their protection slot for goalies, will go to ...

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Andrew MacDonald and Michal Neuvirth
    (133 votes)
  • 15%
    Andrew MacDonald and Anthony Stolarz
    (226 votes)
  • 8%
    Brandon Manning and Michal Neuvirth
    (116 votes)
  • 42%
    Brandon Manning and Anthony Stolarz
    (617 votes)
  • 14%
    They’re gonna bring back Steve Mason. I STILL BELIEVE, DAMMIT
    (209 votes)
  • 2%
    They’ll protect someone else currently under team control that’s not mentioned here (who?)
    (39 votes)
  • 7%
    They’ll make a trade for a goalie and/or defenseman between now and the draft and protect him (who?)
    (110 votes)
1450 votes total Vote Now