We’ve spent all week talking about the Flyers’ situation as it pertains to this summer’s expansion draft, where they will lose one player to the NHL’s 31st team, the Vegas Golden Knights.
We’ve looked at the forwards, as well as the defensemen and goalies, and then all of them at the same time. And yesterday, we tried to look at possible trade opportunities that the Flyers could take advantage of in the lead-up to the expansion draft.
Finally today, we here at BSH will make our initial guesses as to what will happen with the Flyers regarding expansion — specifically, who they’ll protect and who they’ll lose. Please note that we will all likely change our minds at some point between now and the draft itself, as that is how these things go. But until then, enjoy.
I found it really difficult to decide who would get that last forward protection spot. You could make an argument for just about any of the logical choices: they gave PEBs an A and don't want to lose him, Jordan Weal was a big time spark when he finally got his chance with the team, they've spent a lot of time developing Scott Laughton and don't want to lose him for nothing, Michael Raffl is a potential first-liner who brings a lot to the team when he is on his game, Matt Read brings leadership and reliability they don't want to lose, Nick Cousins has a ton of potential, and Dale Weise ... okay you can make a case for ALMOST any of the logical choices. But really my choice came down to Weal and Laughton, and I chose Weal because I think that he's the most likely to be taken by Las Vegas if he's available. He's a proven high-end AHL talent that has shown he can also bring scoring to an NHL lineup, he's on a pretty cheap contract, and if you're building an organization from the ground up that seems like a pretty easy guy to take a chance on.
The defense choice was easy for me, because I've settled into acceptance of the fact that the Flyers value Andrew MacDonald and want him to remain on their team. We've all got to live in this reality, folks. As for the goalie, since I do not subscribe to the Bill Matz Theory of Ron Hextall Long-Conning, I think that the Flyers will protect the goalie they just signed to an extension, again, because they actually want him on the team.
And with all of that, I think we say goodbye to Scott Laughton. Of the players that will be available, he has the highest potential upside and, at worst, will help LV fill out an AHL lineup of reliable talent they can pull from if necessary. Should've traded him for some picks when we had the chance smdh.
Having little faith in the front office and coaching staff at the moment, this is the worst case scenario I'm planning for with Bellemare and MacDonald being protected. I actually think its a forgone conclusion with Bellemare based on how much they value him and what he does on/off the ice. With picking another defenseman along with Ghost and Gudas, MacDonald is the only one that makes sense to me. I don't see them protecting Manning.
There is also the fact that MacDonald played 73 games this season and averaged 20 minutes of ice time. The coach values him enough to pair him with our most promising young defenseman after a year in which the front office deemed him not valuable enough to even play for the team.
If Michael Raffl is left unprotected, he will most certainly be the forward taken by Vegas. He is a versatile winger who can play up and down the lineup. Raffl is also signed to a fairly team-friendly deal for the next two seasons. So folks, get ready to be angry when the expansion draft comes around!
Let's get the easy stuff out of the way. Anthony Stolarz will be the goalie they protect. They are able to protect Steve Mason if they want to leave both Michal Neuvirth and Stolarz exposed but they will almost certainly not do it. Could they protect Neuvirth? Sure. They did just give him a new contract, one has to assume they like him and want to keep him around. Do they consider him a long term solution? Who knows. I hope not. I believe they will protect Stolarz. He is young and unproven, but he was the goalie of the future before Carter Hart so there's a good chance management sees him as a building block. They're not going to want to lose that guy for nothing.
Defense. I said it on my Facebook Q&A, they are going to protect Andrew MacDonald. Let's all have one collective meltdown now so that we won't feel feelings when the time comes. They played him like a top defenseman this year. They apparently think he's valuable. Las Vegas isn't going to take that disaster of a contract. They could go rogue and protect T.J. Brennan which would be fun. Or they could protect Brandon Manning. Here's why the shouldn't: he's bad. If Las Vegas somehow sees value in someone who should be a 7D, and even that is being generous, that would be great for this hockey team. Addition by subtraction. Would it be better for a team to claim MacDonald? Sure. But no one would. Why not give them the option to take both? Ok I change my mind, protect New Jersey Native T.J. Brennan.
Now forwards. For me it comes down to three guys, but there is a fourth. This isn't going to pretty but I'll break down my thought process.
Michael Raffl. Reasons to protect: in his prime, one of the top two defensive forwards on the team, is a complimentary piece to all lines, can produce on the top line or lower in the lineup, has good hair. Reasons to not protect: You think someone younger can bring more value to the team
Jordan Weal. Protect: had a strong end to the season, great underlying numbers that show what may be a solid foundation, could slot into the top 6. Reasons to not protect: already 25, hasn't been able to crack an NHL line-up and it’s fair to question how good he really is, the chance that he has been an undervalued asset is much lower than the chance that he performed at an unsustainable rate for the short period of time he was with the Flyers
Scott Laughton. Protect: young, first round draft pick, has spent time with the Flyers, is too good for the AHL, can be effective at wing, has been at C in the AHL to work on defensive side of his game, team has invested a lot of time on developing him, could fit in the top 6 if he can get his shit together. Reasons to not protect: also hasn't been able to stay consistently in the NHL, may not be that good
Then there is Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The reason to protect him is because the club obviously thinks highly of him — this is evident in his ice time and the A on his chest. Ultimately, I think they may try to trade a few of the lower priority forwards for assets, knowing that any of them can be taken for nothing.
You can get a draft pick in return for Nick Cousins. Probably also for Meat Read, although I think it makes more sense to keep him around. I would pay another team to take Dale Weise and I would hire someone to pack his bags and I would personally drive him and his family to the airport. He is a nice guy, but I do not want him on my hockey team anymore.
I also need everyone to pump the brakes on Jordan Weal. Yes he looked good, but we're talking 37 total NHL games over an entire six-year pro career, 27 of which were with the Flyers. This is not a superstar in the making. I'd love to be wrong, but he didn't make the team out of training camp, temper expectations.
I think Raffl will be the player they protect. He is someone they know; he's a consistent player that they have relied on for years. On top of that, he's on a good contract (read as: cheap). If this is the scenario, I think Vegas takes Scott Laughton. The first round pedigree carries weight, and he has solid AHL numbers. He's only 22, can start in the NHL tomorrow, and has versatility. If the Flyers choose to protect Laughton (or Weal), Raffl will be the player selected by Las Vegas. It would be shitty to lose a steady and solid NHL player for nothing. We don't know if we have those things in Scott Laughton or Jordan Weal.
I cannot agree with the idea that Hextall will keep Andrew MacDonald as a protected player. If I were Hextall, I'd be jumping at the possible opportunity of unloading MacDonald's contract for free.
Although he is arguably better than Brandon Manning, I don't know why they wouldn't jump at this opportunity. Of course, I don't think MacD will be taken, but it's worth a shot leaving him unprotected.
This organization values AMac too much to leave him exposed. I want to punt a chicken all of a sudden. Michael Raffl gets protected since his contract is more manageable than Read's. They take a pass on Cousins, Laughton, Manning and any one else who might be available on the Phantoms, since they are either too old to be considered future stars or not eligible to be taken. That leaves Read, who helps the Knights reach the floor for this year on a low-commitment contract.
Thankfully, this silly exercise will be in done with soon enough. This has been the most over-exaggerated, over-thought thing in the league since the lockout. Everyone will lose someone, and while minimizing the loss is something that should be done, it should not come at the expense of something else. If they signed Neuvy to protect Stolarz, that would have been a classic overthought on management's part, Stolarz had almost no chance of being selected as is and the team has plenty of talent in goal in the pipeline to replace him. Instead, they resigned Neuvy and may have hacked off Mason to prevent something that may have had a 2% chance of happening and even if it did, there were other solutions available. Ugh.
On defense, I really, really, really wanted to not put AMac on this list. But … well ...
/goes to NHL.com/stats, //selects Philadelphia Flyers defenseman, ///sorts by time on ice ...
MacDonald played nearly 300 more minutes than Brandon Manning did last year, including more than two extra minutes per game. The Flyers, for better or worse, feel that AMac has value on this team as it is currently constructed. That’s probably a role that’s diminished next season as young talent arrives, but nonetheless.
Maybe his contract is enough to keep him exposed, with the Flyers hoping there’s an outside chance Vegas takes it off their books. There could be a sense that last season was last season, and Dave Hakstol felt he was doing the best with the cards he was dealt, but that this offseason will be about shuffling that deck. We’re only a year removed from AMac playing in Lehigh Valley, after all. But … I don’t know. If there were another option here, fine. But there’s not, and if we’re comparing Manning’s value to MacDonald’s, I think it’s clear which guy the team values more.
Anthony Stolarz should be protected and I think he will be. I don’t think this is about the Flyers’ view of Michal Neuvirth, because they clearly value him based on that contract extension. I think it’s more about chances of selection, and Stolarz clearly has more of a shot to be selected than Neuvy. With that said, there is always the chance that Vegas takes Neuvirth based on familiarity. General manager George McPhee was with Neuvirth in Washington, as was Golden Knights’ director of goaltending David Prior, who was the goalie coach with the Capitals from 1997-2014. I think that familiarity will lead them to current Capitals backup Philipp Grubauer instead, but you never know.
OK, the forwards. Look, I don’t know if the Flyers are actually going to protect Jordan Weal or not. But of the players on the list, I think he has the best chance of being taken by Las Vegas, and he also represents a very specific need for Philadelphia going forward: dudes who can put hockey pucks in hockey nets with hockey sticks. Weal is still young, he’s small and speedy and clever offensively and clearly has the tools to be a top-six player in the NHL. Think about what Pittsburgh’s done with guys like this for the last decade. They plug them into the roster around their core. It works. It’s taken Weal a while to get to the point we’re at now, but even if the end of last season was a flash in the pan, the Flyers are not really in a position to take the risk in losing him.
The other forwards don’t compare in upside. I like Michael Raffl a lot and do not want to lose him, particularly given his play driving ability and the fact that he can effectively play anywhere in the lineup. But he’s reached his max value (still very valuable!), the ceiling isn’t as high as it is with Weal, and I think he’s less likely to be selected by Vegas anyhow given his age. Matt Read is over the hill and it would not be the end of the world if he were taken, as much as I’ve enjoyed him on the Flyers over the years. I don’t see why you would bother protecting Dale Weise or Nick Cousins.
I am terrified that they are going to protect Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Absolutely fucking terrified. I am going to pull the sheets over my head until this scare either passes or becomes the reality I must face.
Scott Laughton is the odd-man out here, but he’s clearly already the odd-man out in Dave Hakstol’s organization anyhow. Let him run free and have a real opportunity in an important role on a bad team. Maybe we’ll regret it as he grows into a solid two-way NHL center with the Golden Knights. But we only see them twice a year anyway, and one of those times is in the midst of a booze-and-whatever-else-fueled romp on the Strip. I think we’ll be OK if we lose Laughton.
In the forward department, I’m pretty much going with the obvious here. Jordan Weal showed that he is a legitimate NHL forward at the end of the season, and even if we don’t have much to go by in terms of number of games played, I can’t imagine the Flyers are anything short of terrified of losing him. The only other person I think could maybe get protection over Weal is Michael Raffl, especially considering how important he has been to the Flyers in recent years.
As for who Vegas takes, Scott Laughton really presents the most upside for Vegas from Flyers that will be available, and with them being a new team and all, they’ll kind of need that. Raffl is another possibility, but I imagine his age and point totals will make Vegas think twice.
No real surprises on defense here. And if you think that the Flyers are going to expose Andrew MacDonald in the hopes that Vegas takes him, I don’t know what to tell you. Hakstol clearly likes him, and Hextall has shown no signs of keeping his coach from playing the guy. Brandon Manning sucks, so whatever. Aside from Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere being protected, though, do you really care what happens here?
I guess the strangest part of what I think the Flyers will do is protecting Michal Neuvirth over Anthony Stolarz. Sure, Neuvirth absolutely stunk last year, but the Flyers did just give him a new contract, which was totally unnecessary unless they wanted him to be around. We could get all conspiracy theory here and suggest that the Flyers gave Neuvirth a bad contract so that they could keep Vegas from taking him while protecting Stolarz, but I just don’t buy it. For what it’s worth, I don’t think there is anywhere near a worthwhile level of worry that Stolarz gets taken.
While I believe the most shrewd possible move would be to work out some sort of handshake deal with Jordan Weal and protect Michael Raffl instead, my guess is that Ron Hextall, being the fairly risk-averse GM that he is, will want to be absolutely certain that a player who he views as a legitimate top-9 NHL forward isn't going anywhere. He noted in exit interviews that he felt the team finished strong because they finally put together a cohesive forward corps, and that corps included Weal and not Raffl. I wonder if he'd be so interested in protecting Raffl that he'd be willing to risk Weal being impressed by Vegas' pitch, or Weal simply feeling like being part of an expansion draft game implies that the team is lukewarm on him as a player.
Andrew MacDonald vs. Brandon Manning is a toss-up. I believe the organization is far higher on MacDonald than the fanbase would wish, but I think they like Manning as well, and he has the advantages of being younger and on a cheaper contract. I think the Flyers will wager that MacDonald won't get taken due to the monstrosity of a deal, just as they did when they sent him through waivers in 2015. As for the goalies, I don't think Anthony Stolarz's injury has a major impact on their protection decision -- they still don't want to lose the kid, and he remains potentially attractive to the Golden Knights considering his draft pedigree and promising early NHL results.
I really, really hope Michael Raffl isn't taken by Vegas. I believe he's a fantastic middle-six forward and one of the best support play-drivers in the league. But if the Flyers choose to play it safe with Weal, that makes Raffl the obvious best player on their list of available players, and I have to believe that Vegas doesn't let him slip past them. Raffl isn't a guy who will rack up the points, but has succeeded on lines with high-end talent and is on a reasonable contract. If George McPhee is listening to any of the analysts in his fledgling organization, Raffl is the logical choice.
When I originally sent out a call to our staff last weekend asking for expansion predictions, I included an example in which I said that the Flyers would use their final protection spot on Jordan Weal, because I figured that was the case. On Wednesday, I changed my mind and said that I thought the Flyers would protect Michael Raffl and try to wield Weal’s (that was not on purpose, I swear) pending UFA status as if it were another expansion slot.
I nearly waffled on that again two more times between then and now, but for the moment, I’ll stick with my new prediction. Raffl’s exclusively been a top-9 forward over the past few years, frequently playing support roles on the top two lines. While that may say more about the Flyers of recent years than it does Raffl, he’s a player that the team clearly likes and I don’t think they’re going to want to lose him for nothing. So we’ll see if Hextall can thread the needle with Jordan Weal (assuming Vegas wants him) as we draw closer to the draft. I’ll probably change my mind on this again. Whatever.
On defense, I just don't think the Flyers hate Andrew MacDonald's contract enough to risk losing him, given that we know they like him as a player. With no better alternatives, he gets the spot over Brandon Manning. It would be great to see the Flyers swing a trade here to get a better option for their third protection slot, but they may very well think MacDonald is that better option. So it goes. And in net, Anthony Stolarz gets the nod over Michal Neuvirth, who I'm pretty sure the Flyers still only see as a backup goalie. I do not think it's particularly likely that Vegas takes Neuvirth, but what do I know.
Finally, I think the theoretical ceiling of Scott Laughton gets him taken in the draft. The Flyers clearly aren't high on him right now, but Vegas isn't going to have a chance to grab many 23-year-old former first-round picks in this draft the way that they will with Laughton. Gerard Gallant and his development staff may very well think they can find the upside in Laughton that the Flyers thought they saw just a couple of years ago, and I think that leads them to take him over the heart-and-soul-ness of someone like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare or a goalie like Neuvirth.