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2020 Foresight: Flyers Face Difficult Choices In Seattle Expansion

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Unlike when Vegas entered the NHL, the Flyers are going to be a lot more vulnerable when Seattle becomes the NHLs 32nd team

2017 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With the immediate success of the Vegas Golden Knights, both on the ice and financially for the NHL as a whole, the next stage of expansion was not a matter of if, but when and where. The NHL has allowed a group from Seattle to start the expansion process and it’s expected that they will be going through their expansion draft following the conclusion of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That said, it is possible that the Seattle process may be later than 2020, at least from what The Athletic’s James Mirtle is hearing. Since it’s behind the paywall, the pertinent section is included here:

9. Looking forward a couple years, how are the Leafs currently set up in preparation for the Seattle expansion draft?

It’s going to hurt a lot more than the last one, that’s for sure. They aren’t going to be protecting any Matt Martin types.

Everything I’m hearing points to the Seattle Sasquatch expansion being further out than 2020, however, so we’re looking at a long way off. Who knows what Dermott or even Liljegren looks like in 2021 or 2022 or whatever?

With all the Leafs’ firepower up front, you’d have to think they go with the option to protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie, when the time comes.

So theoretically: Matthews, Tavares, Marner, Nylander, Kadri eat at least five of seven forward spots. Rielly would be a no-brainer for a sixth on D. Other than that it’s really hard to say. So much can change in three years in the NHL.

Just look at the Leafs’ roster in 2015.

But not for too long.

Obviously, if the Seattle draft occurs in 2021, it opens a whole new can of worms in terms of prospects the Flyers will have to protect. So, bear in mind the following is based on a projected 2020 expansion draft.

The rules will be the same rules used to initially stock the Vegas roster, which means existing NHL clubs will be permitted to protect either 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and a goalie or 8 skaters and a goalie. Players with less than 2 years of professional experience will be automatically exempt and no team will lose more than one player. Teams are forced to utilize slots on players with a “No Move Clause” or NMC. Teams are also expected to be allowed to swing trades that would result in predetermined expansion selections, a process that Vegas was very active in utilizing.

During Vegas’ selection process, the Flyers faced few difficult choices. They had 2 NMCs (Claude Giroux and Valtteri Filppula) and chose to go the 7-3-1 route. The others they selected to protect were forwards Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier & Scott Laughton. The three defensemen were Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning & Shayne Gostisbehere. The goalie they protected was Anthony Stolarz. The Flyers were fortunate that several of their key youngsters and prospects at the time were exempt by the 2nd year pro rule. The best players the Flyers faced losing were Michael Raffl, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Andrew MacDonald and Michal Neuvirth-with Vegas selecting Bellemare.

Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Konecny and Travis Sanheim were all exempt, as their 2nd professional season hadn’t been completed. This rule would keep the Flyers from having to worry about prospects like Carter Hart, Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe and German Rubtsov from being exposed. However, players like Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom would face having to be on the protected list, as expansion purposes consider NHL and non-slide AHL seasons to count as a pro season. However a 2021 expansion draft or later, would expose Hart, Rubtsov and any prospect who plays this season in the AHL or NHL. That could definitely complicate things.

However, we’re looking at 2020 for now, and given that time frame, who would the Flyers protect? Assuming Ron Hextall doesn’t hand out any NMCs (He has yet to do so, despite signing long term deals with players like Voracek, Couturier, Gostisbehere and the recently signed James van Riemsdyk), so the only current Flyer with a full NMC is Giroux. Wayne Simmonds has limited no trade protection, but his contract expires well before the expected draft date. That means unless he agrees to waive it, Giroux is an automatic protect.

First off, here are the players under contract or whose rights will be owned by the Flyers at the expected time of the 2020 Seattle and will require protection:

Forwards

Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, Misha Vorobyev, Danick Martel, Nicholas Aube Kubel, Tyrell Goulbourne & Mike Vecchione.

Defense

Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Philippe Myers, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin & Mark Friedman

Goalies

Anthony Stolarz

Unlike in 2017, the Flyers will face losing a key young player or good veteran to Seattle. They could swing a trade to get Seattle to select a player that they’d be more comfortable losing, like Pittsburgh did, sending a future 2nd rounder and getting Marc-Andre Fleury to waive his NMC to agree to go to Vegas, to keep the younger Matt Murray. One would hope that they would avoid the missteps that befell teams like Florida, Columbus and Minnesota, who made a series of trades with the Golden Knights to ensure they would take certain players.

Unfortunately, for the most part, those trades helped Vegas a lot more than they did the other teams. To protect a player like Alec Petrovic, Florida traded 22 goal scorer Riley Smith to Vegas for a promise to take Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft. Marchessault scored 27 goals for Vegas after a 30 goal season the prior year for Florida. Columbus had several guys they wished to protect, so they dealt David Clarkson’s contract, plus 1st and 2nd rounders to Vegas to choose William Karlsson, who scored 43 goals. In order to facilitate a deal with Erik Huala, Minnesota traded former 1st round pick Alex Tuch to Vegas for a 3rd rounder. Huala had a 29 goal season and Tuch chipped in 15 goals himself.

I do have a suspicion that we may see an uptick of trades between existing teams prior to the 2020 NHL trade deadline or even the expansion draft itself. For example, Washington lost defenseman Nate Scmidt to Vegas in the expansion draft. What if the Flyers had offered them a 2nd rounder and Brandon Manning? The Caps could then have exposed Manning and get a return for Schmidt, rather than losing him for nothing. But anyhow that’s just a pet theory of mine. But I expect teams to be less desperate in dealing with Seattle than they seemed in dealing with George McPhee in Las Vegas.

So what would a Flyers’ protected list look like? At this juncture, Giroux has to be one, and Provorov is an obvious choice on defense. After them, it’s hard to envision Couturier, Patrick, Konecny, Gostisbehere being exposed. That’s where it gets murky. Voracek and van Riemsdyk will be in their 30s, carrying significant cap hits. Sanheim and Myers will hopefully be in the Flyers top 4 on D. Vorobyev, Lindblom, Aube-Kubel and Laughton could all be key players in the Flyers top 9, or even top 6. That’s discounting any free agent or trade additions made between now and the trade deadline of the 2019-20 season.

However, in terms of what the Flyers face, there are many uncertainties. If Lindblom comes out and scores 30 goals this season, does that push Voracek or JvR into the abyss? If the Flyers acquire somebody with a NMC, how does that impact their list? It’s hard right now to gaze into a crystal ball with so many variables when it comes to those last few spots. The bottom line is, the 2020 Seattle expansion process will likely hurt the Flyers a good deal more than the 2017 Vegas one did.