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NHL expansion 2017: How are we feeling about the Flyers’ situation?

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In which the Broad Street Hockey staff gives its thoughts and reactions to Sunday’s NHL expansion news.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Sunday was a big day in the NHL, as all 30 existing teams released their protection list for Wednesday’s expansion draft. There’s a lot to take in across the league, and that’s also the case for our team, the Flyers, who — among other things — mildly surprised us by protecting Scott Laughton over several alternatives up front. They also protected defenseman Brandon Manning and goaltender Anthony Stolarz, meaning in turn that they exposed Andrew MacDonald and Michal Neuvirth.

What does it all mean? We as a staff spent our Sunday (and some of Monday) talking it through via email. Below is all of our assorted thoughts on the matter, edited lightly for clarity in some cases. Enjoy.

***

Kurt:

Some immediate questions that come to mind for me based on the Flyers' list (and the lists around the league):

1. Is Scott Laughton a thing again? The guy who only played two games on the roster getting a protection slot means the Flyers either really hate everyone who's currently in their bottom-6 or that they're inclined to give Laughton a good chance to make the team next year, and the latter seems more likely to me.

2. AMac wasn't protected! I still think the team sees him as a good-enough defender, but at the very least, this seems like a sign that the team, at the very least, won't let him block any of the young guys on defense if/when they're ready. That's a good thing, yeah?

3. Stolarz was protected. Anyone got any Neuvirth conspiracy theories? There are a few good goalies in expansion that people maybe weren't expecting to be there.

4. Are you at all concerned about Jordan Weal? His agent apparently said on Sunday that he and the Flyers are "not that far off" from a deal, but Darren Dreger suggested that he's someone that could be of interest to Vegas, and Dreger's not typically a guy who says stuff like that for shits and giggles. What are the odds Vegas goes hard after him?

5. Of who's left among Flyers, who are you realistically expecting to get taken? Who would you most and least like to see get taken?

6. Any other surprises around the league that you need to say something about? Especially any that affect the Flyers?

So far, I'm thinking the following things:

  • The Flyers have themselves in a position where Vegas is either going to take a pending unrestricted free agent or a veteran who they probably wouldn't get much for anyways. This is a very, very good thing.
  • Among players I could realistically see Vegas taking (not MacDonald, in other words), the one that I'd like to see Vegas take most is probably Bellemare, but I'd be 100% fine with anyone other than Raffl or Weal getting taken (and neither of those would be devastating, though I'd like to see them both stay). I think Vegas takes Raffl, but really, I have no idea. Could depend on what roles they think they need to fill with who else is available around the league.
  • If I'm Hextall, I'm calling whichever general manager has Petr Mrazek's rights on Thursday morning at 8:01 a.m. and asking what the price to get him may be. Detroit leaving him unprotected is shocking to me, and if Vegas is willing to deal him for something not terribly valuable, you've got to at least give them a call.
  • I'm still pretty surprised about Laughton. Not complaining, though — I think he got an unfair shake this past year and am curious to see what happens with him in the fall.

Your thoughts?

***

Bill:

Protecting Scott Laughton from Vegas after dumping Nick Cousins on another desert team makes the bottom-six forward group a little more clear. I think the uncertainty of Jordan Weal's contract status, potentially already having agreed in principle to re-sign but waiting until after the expansion negotiating period as to put the onus on the Golden Knights to pay up for a 25-year-old with 37 games of NHL experience rather than take an established role player under contract like Michael Raffl or Matt Read, or target UFA defender Michael Del Zotto in the exclusive free agent window, is its own protection slot.

In the end, I still think Michal Neuvirth ends up in Vegas, either as their selection or as part of a trade that may bring the Flyers the goaltender they need heading into 2017-18, and send some other assets (maybe Hextall knows Vegas likes Laughton and plans to use him as a trade chip) to Sin City. I don't see Hextall acquiring Filppula, and his no-movement clause, knowing he was going to take up a protection slot even though he doesn't really fit into the long-term plans, without having an idea that he wouldn't be losing another asset in that place.

Hextall has taken the long view of everything so far, and the timing of the Neuvirth extension and the Filppula trade just seem like major indicators of a bigger picture.

No matter what, Philadelphia will not be losing a player of great consequence to expansion on Wednesday, and then the Flyers will make the second overall selection in the entry draft on Friday. Good times. And who knows? Human error happens. You ever swipe right when you mean to swipe left? Maybe George McPhee will do that and accidentally end up with Andrew MacDonald.

***

Al:

Obviously, the first thing that jumps out to me is that Laughton is protected, particularly because it leaves Raffl exposed. A guy who has been around for a few years and still can't crack an NHL lineup was chosen over someone who is regularly playing on the first line. That's definitely curious at the very least.

But let's go a bit deeper here. There seems to be a general disconnect with this protection list and what is happening on the ice. Andrew MacDonald was given first-pairing minutes for the vast majority of last season, yet he goes unprotected. Meanwhile, Scott Laughton is a few years removed from getting drafted in the first round and still playing in the minors, yet he is protected. That seems kind of logically inconsistent.

Now, I'm not saying that the Flyers should have protected MacDonald. Even if they absolutely want to keep him, his contract alone is probably enough to keep Vegas from taking him. And I'm certainly not looking for the Flyers to be logically consistent if that consistency is on the side of bad decision making. It's just very hard for me to reconcile what is happening here with my general understanding of where the Flyers were headed. I very much did not see Laughton as a piece in the team's plan.

As for what happens from here, my general feeling is that Raffl is headed to Vegas. The main reason for that is, well, as of a few months ago he was a standard feature of the first line in Philadelphia. Its kind of hard for me to imagine Vegas doesn't take advantage of his being exposed.

But then again, I'm not an NHL GM and I think it's fairly established that opinions of fans can deviate greatly from NHL front office moves. That has me thinking that there is a non-zero percent chance that a guy like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare could be a surprise selection. There's no doubt that "NHL people" really like the guy, and if McPhee is able to pluck, excuse me, actual talent from other teams, he may want the "role player" style that Bellemare brings.

That's at least what I'm hoping for, as the only "role" Bellemare really fills on the Flyers is being bad at hockey.

***

Dylan:

To Kurt’s specific questions:

1. Scott Laughton was, of course, the most interesting protection selection in the expansion draft protection list (say that 10x fast). Although mostly everyone at this point believes that he will never pan out to when he was once the Flyers' top prospect, he can still be a very serviceable player. In my opinion, Hextall views Laughton as someone who can replace Michael Raffl in the lineup if he is selected in the expansion draft. Laughton is due for a contract extension as an RFA and Raffl does have 2 more years in his $2.35 million deal, so Hextall seemingly has more trust in him that most people do.

2. Relief! It was between MacDonald and Manning regarding who would be the 3rd defenseman protected. It could've even been the brilliant TJ Brennan (if you're into that wildcard type of thing) or other AHL defenders. But, thankfully, Manning was the one protected. Never thought I'd see the day where Brandon Manning was for sure the best pick for a protected player. Andrew MacDonald is someone who we know tries his best... but I'm not going to be wishing he stays. Maybe if he didn't have such a big contract, we'd like him more.

3. Most people think I'm crazy for taking this wild guess and everyone from BSH doesn't agree with me, but I do believe Steve Mason will still be a Flyer. I think Neuvirth will be picked up by Vegas as George McPhee has always rated him really highly. I think not signing Mason was a way to dangle Neuvirth in front of the Golden Knights without having to risk leaving either Stolarz or Neuvirth unprotected. After all, an under-contract goalie needed to be left unprotected, and if Neuvy wasn't signed, Stolie would've been that goalie. Mason can easily say no to the Vegas offers and re-sign with the Flyers after the expansion draft. Even with Petr Mrazek being left exposed, there is no way the Golden Knights are willing to spend a combined $9.75 million on 2 goaltenders in Fluery and Mrazek when Neuvirth provides a backup option for Vegas for $1.5 million less than Mrazek.

4. While Vegas does have the ability to talk with upcoming UFAs before anyone else, I don't think Weal is a problem the Flyers will have to deal with. Obviously, there is potential for him as we saw at the end of this past season. Hextall sees that, and with the Flyers being so close to a done deal with him, I don't think there will be a surprise final minute swap here. However, I'd go after him if I was McPhee, but Jordan Weal will still be a Flyer next year.

5. I'd like to see Neuvirth get taken. And it's not because he had an awful past season, it's because I'd like to see Stolarz make the jump to an NHL backup next year. Of course, as I mentioned a bit earlier, I still think Mason will be a Flyer next year, and if Neuvy is picked, my Mason prediction will be in better standing. I would not like to see Raffl get taken. I believe Hextall sees a better future for Laughton as compared to Raffl, which is why I again believe Laughts is protected and not Raffl, who is currently a better player than Laughton. Honestly, the Flyers are one of the best placed teams in position to not lose anyone of huge impact in this expansion draft.

6. If there is one surprise that makes no sense, it is Petr Mrazek being left unprotected while Jimmy Howard was protected by Detroit. Why? It makes no sense; Mrazek has a future down the line. Howard does not. If Detroit figured they'd do Mrazek a favor by giving him a chance on a new team - wait, I can't even rationalize this. Ken Holland, this makes no sense. Maybe the Flyers should go after him if he is somehow not chosen in the expansion draft? Who knows. This is a weird one.

I hope Bellemare is not taken. Yes, he is very poor in almost every statistical area of the game, but he has a leading presence that is hard to measure. Although losing him would not lose much in terms of playing ability, the team would absolutely miss him. He's grown on me. I'm blinded to the truth, guys.

***

Kelly:

My initial reaction to seeing the Flyers' protected list was that of relief. I don't think I was alone in feeling a little on the fence about Ron Hextall heading into the offseason. He's given out some questionable contracts and we've talked a lot here at BSH about his apparent support of what we've considered to be some very...bad player usage by Dave Hakstol. I expected to see at least one of PEBs or MacDonald protected and the fact that neither were makes me feel a bit more hopeful about what Ron Hextall values on this hockey team.

I was also pretty surprised the see Scott Laughton protected. It's not that I think Laughton is bad, I certainly don't, but it has never seemed to me that the front office of this team is particularly interested in having him as a regular on the NHL roster. They've tried several times but he always ends up back in Allentown. With Hextall protecting him, you'd have to assume that the team is going to try and give him more of a permanent role on this team. Or, perhaps, they don't want to lose him for nothing because they'd like to use him in a trade. I don't know. But Laughton was the name on the list that stuck out.

And because it was Laughton's name and not Michael Raffl's, I assume he is who we will lose. Raffl is incredibly reliable and has shown that he can play up and down in a lineup and you have to think that Vegas will see that as a valuable asset. That said, I could also see them taking Leier if they want to build on youth. It all depends on how McPhee is building his team, but I think it's one of Raffl or Leier we'll be saying goodbye to.

I know it's fun to think that Hextall has some super long con running to get Neuvirth off of this team but ... no. Marc-Andre Fleury is already a definite for Vegas and there are some really good unprotected goalies out there. Way better goalies than ours. So yeah, we need to get used to the idea of Michal Neuvirth being our starting goaltender because I think that's the reality we're living in.

All in all, I have no real complaints about Ron's list. He did good. It's pretty cool.

***

Charlie:

Ron Hextall simply doesn't want to lose young talent for nothing. That's my biggest takeaway from the decisions that he made this weekend -- trading Nick Cousins for a pick and a low-end prospect, and then protecting two players (Laughton and Stolarz) who barely played in the NHL this past season. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that he would go this route, as it fits with everything that Hextall has preached since taking the job. Yes, Michael Raffl is almost certainly a better hockey player than Laughton right now, but Raffl is 28 with just two years left on his contract, while Laughton is 23 and under team control for another four seasons. If you view the protection choices through the lens of the Flyers not being a true contender until at least 2018-19, they make perfect sense.

Vegas is in a tough spot when it comes to the Flyers if their plan is to take as much young talent as possible. The only available player from Philadelphia who fits that mold is Taylor Leier, and he's never stood out in brief NHL stints. Jordan Weal would qualify and could be signed by Vegas, but it sure sounds like the Flyers either have a handshake deal already in place with him, or are confident that he'll turn down any overtures from the Golden Knights. That leaves a bunch of relatively nondescript vets, none of whom are better than third line forwards or third-pair defensemen on truly good hockey teams.

The absolute best case scenario is if Vegas takes Andrew MacDonald, but I just don't see it happening. More plausible is George McPhee falling in love with the idea of selecting Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, despite his poor scoring statistics. Bellemare is a guy who has a lot of fans around the NHL, and in the absence of any attractive young talent exposed by Philly, maybe Vegas figures Bellemare would fill a leadership void and set a high-effort example on a nightly basis for a new team. This would essentially save the Flyers from themselves, since Bellemare is almost certainly a lineup lock for 2017-18 despite not providing much in the way of measurable on-ice value. There were also some rumblings a few weeks back that Vegas had some interest in signing Michael Del Zotto, so I wouldn't be blown away if they at least talk with MDZ's agent during the next couple days. If that's the route McPhee goes, it would be a big win for the Flyers, since they've already told Del Zotto that he won't be back. They'd essentially lose a player they were going to lose anyway.

To me, the right choice for Vegas is obvious -- Michael Raffl. Since joining the Flyers in 2013-14, no Flyers player has a better Corsi For percentage (54.1%) than the 28-year old Austrian, and his 5v5 scoring totals were perfectly fine for a middle-sixer in the three years prior to this season. The other NHL skater options currently under contract are either overpaid (Read, Weise), just not very good NHL players (Bellemare), or fit in both categories (MacDonald). But maybe Vegas gets scared away by Raffl's down season in 2016-17 (0.98 Points/60 at 5v5 and he shot the puck less than ever before) and the Flyers luck out and hang on to him.

I could see Leier as a wild card option for Vegas. He's probably the guy they take if McPhee simply doesn't like any of the options that the Flyers presented him. Nor can I entirely rule out the possibility that Neuvirth is the pick, especially if McPhee plans on taking a bunch of goalies with the aim of controlling the market and forcing teams still looking for a netminder to go through him and him alone. But I still feel like Raffl is the no-brainer choice if Vegas has any interest in fielding a remotely competitive team in their first year of existence.

***

Steph:

My thoughts are as follows:

  • Huh, Scott Laughton. Yup, that makes sense. I was convinced Vegas would be taking him, so for those reasons I'm not shocked to see his name in the protected list. I mentioned this on Twitter or BSH Radio or somewhere during the season, but this team has spent a lot of time and resources on Laughton's development. They've been making him work on his defensive game and they've been playing him at C in Lehigh Valley. He very likely will not live up to his draft pedigree but he's a good skater and has great hands, he could be valuable to this team if they can find room for him.
  • LOL Brandon Manning. GUESS MACDONALD DID HAVE TO PLAY THOSE 40 GAMES.
  • I don't know why people are surprised about Stolarz, Hextall said he was going to protect him. This was literally the easiest choice.
  • If I see one more person talk about Michael Raffl on the 4th line I'm going to lose it. I've never seen an athlete that has played so many top line minutes be so thoroughly undervalued. I think he's probably the guy Vegas selects.
  • I'm seeing a lot of names that I've never seen mentioned before in my colleague's selections for Vegas. Bellemare? Leier? Come on guys. I know it's been an exciting weekend in Philly, but stop with the whippets. It will be Raffl or Weal, as it always has been, with Neuvirth being the dark horse.
  • Ah yes, Jordan "may not be that good" Weal. He will probably talk to Vegas. He is already talking to Ron. I think he goes with whichever team guarantees him playing time (which the Flyers cannot because fuck Dave Hakstol). Either way is fine by me.

Overall thoughts, the Flyers don't have it so bad. It was always going to suck losing a player for nothing, but we knew it was coming.

***

Kurt:

STEPH DO NOT READ THIS

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.

.

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Is there any chance we're collectively overestimating the likelihood Vegas takes Raffl? Don't get me wrong, I think his actual value's higher than I'm about to describe it as, but we're talking about a guy who scored eight goals last season. Dale god damn Weise had more points per game this past season than Raffl did. Vegas is going to have its choice of forwards who can do bottom-6 stuff well but don't score that much — do we really think they're going to be bowled over by Raffl?

***

Charlie:

It's the smartest move if Vegas' goal is to get the best player. And NHL general managers always make the smartest possible move, right?

Okay, don't answer that.

***

Kelly:

I'm not sure they need to be "bowled over" by him. The other options they have from us aren't great, so unless they want to do what Charlie said and corner the goalie market Raffl seems like the best option to me. You have to think they're looking past the score sheet, right?

***

Dylan:

I think that they'll pick not necessarily the best player with the Flyers but the best role player for their team. Since there is no clear cut Flyer sticking above the rest, I don't feel strongly in any which way about a player being taken.

***

Kurt:

They don't need to be "bowled over" by him; I just don't think it's this mortal lock or anything. Like Charlie kind of pointed out there, what we think makes the most sense isn't always what GMs think makes the most sense.

Maybe Vegas needs a new team DJ? I think the Flyers have a guy for that...