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NHL expansion 2017: Flyers’ protected list includes Laughton, Manning, Stolarz

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The Flyers’ expansion list went largely as expected, with one minor surprise in the forward ranks.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After months of anticipation regarding the NHL’s 31st team joining the fold and speculation on how teams will try and prepare themselves for an expansion draft, the NHL formally released its 30 team protection lists this morning, and with that came the Flyers’ list of 11 players that will be off-limits for Vegas to choose in the expansion draft on Wednesday.

The Flyers’ protection list — first released in full by the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac and since confirmed by the Flyers — is as follows.

Forwards

  1. Sean Couturier
  2. Valtteri Filppula
  3. Claude Giroux
  4. Scott Laughton
  5. Brayden Schenn
  6. Wayne Simmonds
  7. Jakub Voracek

Defensemen

  1. Shayne Gostisbehere
  2. Radko Gudas
  3. Brandon Manning

Goalies

  1. Anthony Stolarz

Of the 11 names on that list, eight of them — Couturier, Filppula, Giroux, Schenn, Simmonds, Voracek, Gostisbehere, and Gudas — come as no surprise at all. All eight of them have been on everyone’s projected lists since this exercise began, as well they should be.

The other three names — one last forward, defenseman, and goalie — were the ones that no one was quite sure of heading into this morning, and it turns out that those respective spots have gone to Laughton, Manning, and Stolarz. Let’s break those three selections down a bit further.

Up front, there were a few possible names that seemed to be in play for that seventh and final forward spot — chief among them, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Michael Raffl, and Jordan Weal. Laughton getting the spot, frankly, comes as a bit of a shock given the fact that he spent only two games in the NHL this past season and was otherwise stuck in Lehigh Valley for the entire year. Does this decision — protecting him over the likes of Bellemare, who was just given an extension and a letter on his jersey, or Raffl, who this team has regularly used as a top-line winger over the past three years — suggest that Laughton may have an inside track to make the Flyers for good next year? It’s a fascinating decision by Ron Hextall, in any case.

On defense, by all accounts it appears the question the Flyers had to answer was “do they think there’s a benefit to exposing MacDonald and his big contract?” If so, then Manning would more or less get the team’s third protection slot by default over MacDonald, who played a top-4 role on the team this past year. We see now that they believed that MacDonald was worth exposing, which puts him on the expansion block.

And in net, the selection came down to Michal Neuvirth, the seasoned veteran coming off of a bad and injury-plagued season but who has shown he can play well, or Anthony Stolarz, the young netminder who’s on the cusp of the NHL after three seasons with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Protecting Stolarz shows that the Flyers have some faith in him even despite a bit of an average season with the Phantoms — could it also show that they may be willing to play him in a backup role in the off-chance that Neuvirth goes to Vegas in the expansion draft? That remains to be seen, but it’s a vote of confidence for the young guy to get the nod here over the veteran.

So who does this leave as eligible to be chosen? Below is a list of players who will be eligible for selection by Vegas in the expansion draft. (Players with a double-asterisk [**] are pending unrestricted free agents, meaning that Vegas will now have the chance to negotiate with them exclusively over the next three days. If Vegas reaches an agreement with one of them, then that player becomes their selection in the expansion draft.)

Forwards

  1. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
  2. Matt Read
  3. Michael Raffl
  4. Jordan Weal**
  5. Dale Weise

Defensemen

  1. Michael Del Zotto**
  2. Andrew MacDonald

Goalies

  1. Steve Mason**
  2. Michal Neuvirth

The biggest wild card on the unprotected list here is Weal, who the Flyers clearly like and have been saying since the season ended that they’d like to have around next year. Reports as recently as this past week suggested that the two sides had made pretty good progress on negotiations, and it’s at least possible that Weal and the Flyers have a wink-wink agreement in place for him to tell Vegas not to select him — a scenario we discussed in more detail back in April. Granted, there’s nothing the Flyers can do or say at this point that would 100 percent guarantee he won’t go to Vegas if the offer he gets from George McPhee is enticing enough, but the hope here is that Weal and the Flyers have some sort of informal agreement in place that isn’t likely to be broken in the next four days.

Otherwise, it’s tough to say which way Vegas will go here, and it’s also tough to say — in all honesty — which of these guys the Flyers will be that disappointed to lose. Much talk was made this past week and on Saturday of side-deals that Vegas is making with teams that are hoping to steer them away from drafting certain players, but it seems unlikely that the Flyers are in a position where they’d need to make such a deal. Does the urge to protect someone like Bellemare, Raffl, or Neuvirth seem like enough to force the Flyers to make a deal here? I doubt it.

With that, we’ve got three days before the expansion draft. We’ll have plenty more thoughts between now and then.