In the past few days, we’ve taken a deep dive into the forwards that the Flyers will have to make a decision on in the expansion draft, as well as the defensemen and goalies. On Wednesday, we came and pulled all of those groups back together, and tried to make an initial guess as to who the Flyers will protect and who they’ll lose.
While guessing what the Flyers and the Golden Knights will do at this point is nothing more than throwing darts — only they know how they feel about the 11 players that we took a closer look at over the past three days — right now we should have a fairly good grasp on the Flyers’ situation and what the options are in front of them. We know what the key decisions they’ll have to make are, even if we can only guess how they’ll handle them. Assuming that the team’s situation doesn’t change between now and June 17 when expansion lists are due, we know what the key questions to ask are.
But what if the situation did change a bit? What if, at some point in the next seven or so weeks, the Flyers made a move of some sort that rendered at least some of what we’ve said in the past few days to be irrelevant, and that (ideally) gave clarity to some of the question marks they’re currently facing? What if they swung a trade to shore up those questionable areas?
What we’ll be getting into here is pure conjecture, tossing out some ideas that are almost certainly not going to be acted on. But this is the time of year for baseless speculation and armchair GM-ing anyways, so let’s get down to it.
Where they stand now: The Flyers have, depending on how you think they feel about certain guys, probably nine forwards that they’d really prefer to protect: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Valtteri Filppula, Jordan Weal, Michael Raffl, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. They only have seven guaranteed protection slots, with a possible “eighth spot” in play if they can “protect” Weal by way of his unrestricted free agency (as we discussed here on Wednesday).
That does still leave them with at least one protection-worthy forward that they’ll have to expose, though, and while having too many “good” forwards is obviously not a bad thing (not to mention, the whole point of expansion is to force deep teams to lose good players), this all does underscore the fact that the team may have a bit of a logjam in place here.
All nine of the players listed above, were none of them to be taken, figure to be locks to make the team next year. That’s theoretically three-fourths of a forward lineup on a given night, and it doesn’t even include Travis Konecny (who is exempt from expansion and is also a lock), Dale Weise or Matt Read (one of whom could be a semi-regular healthy scratch, but probably not both), Scott Laughton or Nick Cousins (who are both waiver-eligible as of next year), any free agents (be they returning ones or new ones), or any prospects (I see you, Oskar Lindblom).
Essentially, the Flyers are going to have to lose someone from that group in the near future. The question is whether or not they can control how they do it, and if they get anything in exchange for it.
What can they do? Dealing a forward to a team that either:
a) needs to find forwards in order to fill its quota of two exposed forwards that have meaningful NHL experience in the past two seasons, or,
b) just doesn’t have enough forwards that it really wants to protect
... is something that would make sense for the Flyers. They may not get a ton back in exchange for some of these bottom-of-the-roster kind of guys, but even a mid-round draft pick would be worthwhile given the fact that something is going to have to give here pretty soon.
Of course, this requires a team that wants one of those guys like a Laughton or a Cousins or even one of the protection-worthy guys enough to give up something of value for them. And that’s not a given. But you have to think the Flyers are going to try and make a deal work here, even if it’ll likely just be a minor one.
Where they stand now: As of right now, the Flyers are looking at two stone-cold locks to be protected in Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas, two guys that they’ll have to choose between for their last spot in Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning, and then a bunch of AHL players and young expansion-exempt defensemen.
I happen to believe MacDonald is going to get that final protection spot, because I think the Flyers like him as a defenseman. But I don’t think that they’re dead-set on that, and they certainly could go out and look for an upgrade.
It’s tough to say how they feel about getting NHL-level defensemen to play meaningful roles right now, though. Michael Del Zotto said pretty definitively two days after the season ended that he is not returning to the Flyers, noting that Ron Hextall essentially told him they were looking to move in a younger direction. Del Zotto will be all of 27 years old next season — not typically the age at which you are told “we’re going to go younger here”.
The most logical conclusion is that, with three or four quality defensive prospects banging on the door, any gaps that stand in the team’s defense now are going to be filled by those players. And if you’re looking for a good NHL defenseman that’s meaningfully younger and better than Del Zotto, you’re probably going to have to pay a hefty price to get him.
So the idea that the Flyers will definitely look to shake up their defense with an NHL-level piece seems questionable. But again, we’re saying what we think would be fun, not what we necessarily think is going to happen. So the question is this: can the Flyers find a player with NHL experience that they could swing a deal for in order to use their third and final protection slot on him, and would it be worth it given what the cost will be?
What can they do? Expansion is going to force a lot of teams to make tough decisions, not just the Flyers, and some teams are being squeezed hard when it comes to their defensemen. The Flyers, who may have an opening in their third defensive spot, could look to make a deal with one of those teams, giving them a chance to add an NHL-caliber player while allowing another team to get something for a good defenseman rather than lose one for nothing.
The most common name you’ll hear mentioned in these kinds of scenarios is Anaheim, who currently has four very good, young/prime-age defensemen (Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson) who are all expansion-eligible, plus Kevin Bieksa, who has a no-movement clause and as such will either need a protection slot or a buyout. Assuming they can’t get Bieksa to waive said NMC, they have no other options for a player to fulfill their obligation to expose someone who’s played at least 70 games in the past two seasons. They’d have no choice but to expose one of those first four players, who would probably then be a lock to go to Vegas.
(And even if they could get Bieksa to waive his NMC and be exposed, and did decide to protect each of those other four defensemen, then they’d only be able to protect four forward. Due to NMCs given out to Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler, they’d only have room to protect just one more forward on their entire roster. Not ideal.)
Prying one of those players away from Anaheim won’t be easy, because surely a number of teams will call the Ducks about this very situation and pitch them their best offer for one of those defensemen.
But are the Flyers uniquely well set-up for this situation? They’ve got a number of talented, young, just-about-NHL-ready (and expansion-exempt) defensemen — exactly the kind of player Anaheim would rightly demand in exchange for one of their guys. They’ve got an inexpensive defenseman who could fill Anaheim’s expose-a-player-with-experience obligation in Brandon Manning. And they have 11 picks in this upcoming draft, for potential trade sweetener. Heck, Anaheim could even have one of the forwards we were talking about in the last section of this article.
We don’t know if Anaheim would be willing to trade someone like Josh Manson, but if any team could make a trade like that work out, it’s probably the Flyers. And while trading one of the young guys just as they’re on the cusp of the NHL would hurt, you’ve gotta give to get legitimate top-4 defensemen in their early 20s. So it goes.
Anaheim’s the best example (and the one that would probably cost the most and have the best reward), but there are others that may work as well.
Minnesota might be stuck exposing one of Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba, two respectable young guys probably worth taking a shot on.
Nashville has a logjam coming as each member of its talented top-4 (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm) is expansion-eligible, and while the best play for them is probably just to protect all four of them, it may be worth putting in a call to David Poile just to check on it.
And while this would never happen in a million years, Pittsburgh has four young defensemen it probably wants to keep, along with Kris Letang who has a no-movement clause. So while it won’t be the Flyers, some team will probably try and get a player out of them.
There are openings out there. Teams are going to fear losing good players for nothing, and that’s especially true given the expansion restrictions for defensemen. If the Flyers want to make a deal, the opportunity will probably be there.
Where they stand now: Barring an unlikely Steve Mason return, Michal Neuvirth and Anthony Stolarz are the Flyers’ two choices for their one goalie spot in expansion. We also know that the Flyers are going to get another NHL goalie this summer, though we don’t know if that will be a legitimate starter, a guy to timeshare with Neuvirth, or a guy to back up Neuvirth.
The presumption has been, by and large, that that new goalie would come from free agency, and that’s certainly the most likely outcome. Within the context of this exercise, the question becomes whether there’s a team out there that looks like it might lose a good goalie in expansion, and whether they’d be willing to deal one to the Flyers before that happens. It’d have to be one who’s not under contract for a whole lot longer, but there may be some options.
What can they do? The list of teams that have obvious expansion-related goalie targets isn’t long, but it’s out there.
The most talked-about example is in Pittsburgh, where Marc-Andre Fleury’s NMC is standing in the way of their protecting Matt Murray, but again, a deal with the Flyers will never happen there anyways.
Detroit will probably expose Jimmy Howard, and while he’s old (33) and kind of expensive ($5.29 million cap hit per year), he’s only under contract for two more seasons and is coming off of a strong albeit injury-plagued season, and perhaps you could get Detroit to hold some salary in a trade for him.
Jaroslav Halak will be available from the Islanders, and while he’s coming off of a down-year, he’s had good flashes in the not-so-distant past and is only under contract for one more season. Current backups in places like San Jose, Washington, and Boston could be worth a dice roll, as well.
It’s so hard to guess what these guys may cost, for a number of reasons. Goalies don’t always fetch a ton in trades, and the teams looking to deal these players face the alternative of potentially losing them for nothing, so the Flyers likely wouldn’t have to give up much to deal for one of these guys.
But the Flyers do need a goalie, and the free agency options out there aren’t great. They’ve got a choice to make as to whether any options here are worth the additional cost to get, however much or little that may be.
Granted, at this point, the obvious issue becomes the fact that the Flyers would likely protect whichever goalie they deal for here, unless they were willing to spend assets to get a player that they’d then lose for nothing. And if they did so, they’d risk giving Vegas its choice of Neuvirth or Stolarz to take, rather than just one of them. And that may not be something they’re willing to do. It all comes down to how they evaluate the players that may be available.
As of now, we don’t have any indication that the Flyers are actively looking to make a trade between now and the expansion draft. They may be content with their current situation, knowing prospects are on the way to fill in the gaps. But the nature of the expansion draft means that there will be options out there, for them and for other teams, to make mutually beneficial deals that could soften the inevitable blow of losing a player for nothing. We don’t know quite how the league is going to respond to expansion, and how much its presence will lead to increased team activity in the trade market, but the potential’s there if everyone’s up for it. And if they are, the Flyers may be wise to jump in.
Tomorrow, our staff will make its final* predictions for what will happen to the Flyers in expansion. Stay tuned!
* Note that these predictions are definitely not actually final and we reserve the right to change our minds between now and the expansion draft.
If the Flyers could do one of the following between now and the expansion draft, which one would you prefer they do?
This poll is closed
Deal a young bottom-6 forward for a late-round pick to clear up the forward logjam
Deal a good defensive prospect as the center of a package for a legit top-4 NHL defenseman and protect him with the final defensive protection slot
Deal a mid- to late-round pick for a veteran goalie that could play alongside Neuvirth or Stolarz for the next year or two
None of the above