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Questions looming for the 2019-20 Phantoms

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What will the Phantoms do with the youth influx of Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, Isaac Ratcliffe and Matthew Strome?

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Phantoms 2018-19 season isn’t quite over yet. They will close out it over three more games, including the finale this Saturday at home against Hartford. Their playoff hopes hang on a thread and with their magic number at 13 currently, it is doubtful that it comes to pass. With that, we can start talking about their future and what are the likely questions and the scenarios in which we can see being played out over this upcoming offseason.

Do they roll with the kids or bring back the ‘veteran presence’?

The Phantoms didn’t have too many concerns with a crowded forward corps between the consistent injuries and call-ups they were faced with this season, but that could change in the 2019-20 season. Here is a quick breakdown on who may be leaving via unrestricted free agency (UFA) and restricted free agency (RFA) heading into this offseason:

RFA:
Justin Bailey (RW)
Nicholas Aube-Kubel (RW)

UFA:
Phil Varone (C)
Corbin Knight (C)
Greg Carey (LW)
Byron Froese (C)
Chris Conner (RW)
Colin McDonald (RW)

UFA Group 6:
Mike Vecchione (C)
Tyrell Goulbourne (LW)
Cole Bardreau (C)

Bailey and Aube-Kubel are fairly safe bets to be tendered contracts this offseason, but after that it gets a bit dicey. Varone and Knight have seen some significant time with the Flyers this season, but neither has exactly impressed the front office I would think. Both have shown to be above-average AHLers in their career, but may look for opportunities elsewhere in a less crowded organization. Ditto with Greg Carey. McDonald and Conner are captain and alternate captain of the Phantoms, respectively. Despite this, it’s tough to say what this new GM will have to say in building this Phantoms roster. I know we as fans would prefer a youth movement, but odds are that some of these veterans will be back in the fold.

Mike Vecchione, Tyrell Goulbourne and Cole Bardreau all have reached the end of their contracts and per NHL rules:

Vecchione is a safe bet to leave as he hasn’t sniffed the NHL since his brief debut when he signed as a free agent three years ago. Bardreau and Goulbourne have a favorable reputation with the local beat writers and are looked at as those “spark plug” players that organizations tend to favor. Neither have much of a scoring presence and aren’t strong enough penalty killers to be considered irreplaceable in the lineup. Why would they be looking to shed all these potential UFAs? Well...

The kids are on their way and they’ll need a spot to play

After completing their 2018-19 OHL seasons: Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, Matthew Strome and Maksim Sushko will be joining the Phantoms for the 2019-20 season. They’ll be pairing with youngsters German Rubstov (20), Mikhail Vorobyev (22), David Kase (22), Connor Bunnaman (20), Carsen Twarynski (21), Pascal Laberge (20) and (presumably) Nicholas Aube-Kubel (22)/Justin Bailey (23). Those are 12 forwards all under the age of 24. Rubstov will hopefully be 100% recovered from his shoulder injury that shortened what looked to be a promising season. This doesn’t include the possibility of...

What if Joel Farabee doesn’t make the Flyers season-opening roster?

You may remember Joel Farabee as the outstanding freshman NCAA player (who despite what people will tell you, was part of the one-for-one Brayden Schenn/Jori Lehtera trade) who signed his entry-level contract (ELC) with the Flyers just last month. A player of Farabee’s caliber is likely to push more of the fringe prospects such as Bunnaman, Twarynski and Sushko down the depth chart. Farabee exploded with 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 37 games with Boston University this season and was considered one of the best (if not THE best) freshman in the country. It isn’t THAT crazy to think he may not make the Flyers opening day roster given the solidified (for now) Top-Six forwards. The organization might not feel his “role” is suited for the Bottom-Six. Farabee would crowd the Phantoms roster, but so would two other unexpected players...

Do Wade Allison and Tanner Laczynski forgo their senior collegiate seasons and sign entry-level contracts?

Wade Allison is the more promising prospect, but indications from this morning’s Flyers press conference seems to point that he won’t be leaving college just yet. Tanner Laczynski seems to be leaving it more in the air, but could you blame him if he didn’t sign his ELC? Without resigning any of their veteran forwards, the Phantoms are filled to the brim with young forwards. Staying in college would give him another chance to win a Hobey Baker Award, deliver a NCAA National Championship for Ohio State University and actually graduate from college. Both players have compelling reasons to NOT join the Flyers yet and could rightfully start worrying the fan base whether they join the organization at all. One thing the fan base shouldn’t concern themselves with too much...

Have the Phantoms finally found a functional goaltending tandem?

It was announce today that Felix Sandstrom will be joining the Phantoms for the remainder of the season. It’s possible he might see a game once the Phantoms are officially eliminated from playoff competition. This year he finished his fourth Swedish Hockey league season with a 2.16 GAA and .911 SV% in 19 games with his club, HV71. Unlike last season, he’ll begin the 2019-20 season with the Phantoms and should get significant playing time beside veteran Alex Lyon. Lyon was one of the many goaltenders used by the Flyers this season, but with the Phantoms he currently has a 2.76 GAA and .916 SV% in 38 games. It’s highly unlikely the Flyers will need to address this area with their AHL club. What’s happening in front of the goalie is another story...

What is this defense and how does it get better?

One of the few problems with graduating players like Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers and Sam Morin in recent seasons is there isn’t a whole lot else to solidify the defensive pairings outside of veterans and fringe prospects. In their last game, the Phantoms iced the following pairings:

Philip Samuelsson - Phil Myers

James de Haas - Mark Friedman

T.J. Brennan - Reece Willcox

Phil Myers will (crosses fingers) start with the Flyers next season as long as the new coach isn’t a dummy. Mark Friedman got a one game try-out with the Flyers this season, but I can’t see him outplaying any of the current Flyers defensemen (biases included). de Haas, Brennan, Willcox, and Samuelsson are all signed for next season and should be back. None of them inspire any sort of excellence whether it be offensive or defensive play. Perhaps the Flyers try and lure future college junior Wyatt Kalynuk out of Wisconsin with promises of significant minutes? Which brings us to...

Who is the coach that is going to have to make these difficult lineup decisions?

Scott Gordon led the Phantoms, until his promotion, to a 14-9-4 record. Kerry Huffman inherited the head coaching title and has accumulated a 22-21-3 record. Does either really inspire confidence going forward? You could argue that Huffman didn’t have the same tools as Gordon given the constant injuries (Rubstov/Kase) and promotions (Varone/Knight/Bailey) as his predecessor. Scott Gordon, to much chagrin of this fanbase, could have the “interim” tag lifted off his current position and remain in the NHL. In any case, I do hope the Flyers put someone in charge that will be able to properly coach and develop all of these young players.

What could be the opening night lines look like for the Phantoms?

Let’s assume a few things: 1) Farabee doesn’t make the Flyers, 2) they resign Aube-Kubel/Bailey and 3) they don’t bring back any veterans (they will do this, but for the purpose of this exercise and out of pure fun/joy lets just pretend). Without any further rules and rambling...

Joel Farabee - German Rubstov - Nicholas Aube-Kubel
Isaac Ratcliffe - Morgan Frost - David Kase
Matthew Strome - Mikhail Vorobyev - Maksim Sushko
Carsen Twarynski - Connor Bunnaman - Pascal Laberge
Justin Bailey

David Schlemko - Mark Friedman
James de Haas - Philip Samuelsson
T.J. Brennan - Reece Willcox

Alex Lyon - Felix Sandstrom

This could be a lot of fun...