The NHL Board of Governors has approved the application of the Seattle franchise to join the league starting with the 2021-22 season. That means endless and probably unnecessary debate on protected lists, speculation on back room dealings and probably nowhere near as much acceptance as Flyers fans expressed when the Vegas Golden Knights selected Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - meaning the Flyers are highly likely to lose a much more valuable player to the Seattle (Sasquatch? Grunge? Kraken? iCloud?) franchise. Here’s a quick primer on what we can look forward to.
First off, the rules for expansion will remain the same as they were for Vegas. Each team will lose one player and have two ways to construct their protected lists. Teams will be allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen & a goalie or eight skaters regardless of position and a goalie. Players with under two seasons of North American professional experience are exempt and do not need protection. Teams can make deals with Seattle to guarantee they will take or not take a particular unprotected player. Players with NMCs will be required to be protected.
So, where does that leave the Flyers? Well first off, the two professional seasons item will make the choice a more complex one. Basically, anyone playing in the AHL this season on a non slide contract will have to be protected. That means the Flyers will have to expose or protect names like German Rubtsov, Mikhail Vorobyev, Mark Friedman, Philippe Myers and Carter Hart. Players like Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, Joel Farabee, Jay O’Brien and Yegor Zamula will be exempt.
As of now, the Flyers have five players who are signed to contracts that will be in force when the Seattle draft starts. They are Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere. Giroux has no move protection, so unless he agrees to waive that, he would be automatically protected and take up one of the slots by default. The high number of young players that are going to be on their next contract when the draft hits could lead the Flyers to leave some of these players exposed.
The current list of non-exempt players that are not signed through the 2020-21 season is long and worrisome: Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Nic Aube-Kubel and Carsen Twarynski, as well as the aforementioned Hart, Rubtsov, Vorobyev, Friedman, Myers & Friedman. The Flyers will obviously be facing a tough choice and will likely lose a player more valuable than the hard working Bellemare. Could they trade a draft pick and/or a prospect to get Seattle to agree to select a player like Scott Laughton, who seems to project as a solid 3rd or 4th liner to retain a more highly skilled guy? Or could they broker a trade to have Seattle select a productive veteran like Voracek or van Riemsdyk, instead?
New Flyer GM Chuck Fletcher will get to make the decision, and while with Minnesota he faced a somewhat similar conundrum. The Wild ended up protecting Zach Parise (NMC) Mikko Koivu (NMC), Jason Pominville(NMC), Mikeal Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle at forward, Ryan Suter(NMC), Jonas Brodin & Jared Spurgeon on defense and goalie Devan Dubnyk. That left them forced to expose Eric Staal, Eric Haula, Martin Hanzal, Matthew Dumba, Marco Scandella, Christian Folin and Darcy Kuemper.
Staal, coming off a 28 goal, 65 point season in his first year in Minnesota, on a very reasonable $3.5mm AAV would be appealing. So would Dumba, a promising young defenseman coming off a 34 point campaign. So Fletcher swung a deal with Vegas GM George McPhee. He agreed to trade former 1st round pick Alex Tuch (who didn’t record a point in 6 games with the Wild in 2016-17) for a 3rd round pick and a promise to select center Erik Haula, a 25 year old who was coming off a 15 goal, 26 point season.
It was a logical move, to protect Staal and Dumba, as well as Hanzal and Scandella. But Haula got top six minutes and scored 29 goals for the Golden Knights and Tuch chipped in 15 goals in a very solid rookie season. It’s easy to assume that GMs wouldn’t repeat such a move, or the kind of move that Columbus made to ensure that Vegas would select William Karlsson (who ended up scoring 43 goals), but in reality, most GMs would roll the dice that players like Haula and Karlsson wouldn’t explode offensively with a new team, rather than risk losing proven producers like Staal or rising youngsters like Dumba.
Even losing two solid players, the Wild got 42 goals and 76 points out of Staal last season and he’s off to another good start this season. Dumba continued to improve, too, hitting the 50 point plateau last season and scoring ten goals already this season. So Fletcher’s decision to make the Tuch-Haula trade was certainly not an awful one, but was costly either way you look at it. Assuming he remains the Flyers’ GM, he’s going to face a similar Sophie’s Choice in the spring of 2021 when it comes time to submit the Flyers list and work out any potential trades with his Seattle counterpart.