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How Scott Laughton’s new contract affects the Flyers’ expansion plans

The Flyers re-signing Laughton essentially takes away one option, barring any major moves.

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror and their playoff hopes growing smaller by the day, the next big event for the Philadelphia Flyers looks to be the pending Seattle expansion draft. The NHL’s 32nd team is set to hit the ice for the first time in the 2021-2022 season, but before doing so will get to select one player from each current franchise, excluding the Vegas Golden Knights.

Teams have two options when curating their protection lists. Most will choose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. However, if a team wants to protect four or more defensemen, they can opt to protect eight skaters regardless of position, along with one goaltender.

Barring a substantial trade, the Flyers’ decision won’t be tough. There are a couple of players that they will undoubtedly protect; let’s get them out of the way.

With no-movement clauses, neither Claude Giroux nor Kevin Hayes will be available for Seattle. Even without the NMCs, it’s hard to imagine a world in which the Flyers expose either just three months from today. Joining them will be Sean Couturier, who remains the team’s most important player, and Travis Konecny, who, despite having a down year, is a must-protect here. You don’t give up on a 24-year old who’s scored at a first-line level in the NHL, and you especially don’t let an expansion team take that player for nothing.

Then there’s Scott Laughton.

Once you protect five forwards, you’re locked into only being able to protect three defensemen. Laughton, who recently signed a five-year extension, is clearly a highly valued member of this team. Yet, using the crowd-sourced “quick protect” option found in CapFriendly’s expansion draft tool, we see that the general public does not — or at least, did not — see the Flyers protecting Laughton. With the extension, it’s clear that Laughton is a part of the team’s long-term plans. Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher spoke to this in his press conference following the trade deadline.

“The thought of creating an additional hole, to me, wasn’t very appealing. He’s part of the solution going forward. If we subtracted him from our lineup, that would be a big hole, not just for this year but going forward. So we thought it was important to address that.”

Beyond Fletcher’s comments, it would be a massive failure if the Flyers were to not trade Laughton while in a position to sell at the deadline, only to then lose him for nothing to Seattle just a few months later. That cannot happen. With Laughton in the fold, the layout of the Flyers’ protection list has already been made. Seven forwards, three defensemen, one goaltender.

Now, you might be thinking, “Duh, the Flyers don’t even have four defensemen that they’d want to protect if they could!” and you’d probably be right! After all, they did waive Shayne Gostisbehere earlier this season and all 30 teams passed on the opportunity to acquire him for free. The reason that this is even a bit interesting is that teams may be looking to make trades ahead of expansion, and the Flyers are a bit limited here with their current roster.

For one such scenario, take the Nashville Predators. As their roster currently stands, the Predators have four defensemen worth protecting; Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Dante Fabbro. This leaves them four forward slots, two of which certainly get used on Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. After that, things get a bit messy.

There’s no guarantee that they will protect their big contract forwards having underwhelming seasons in Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, but there’s no guarantee that they won’t either. That potentially leaves Luke Kunin, Mikael Granlund, and Calle Jarnkrok all unprotected. To take it a step further, Tanner Jeannot has to come into play here after utterly tearing up the AHL this season, and already having an impact in a handful of NHL games. There’s a legitimate chance that he plays well enough through what’s left of this season that Nashville wants to keep Seattle’s hands off of him. For a team that had already been exploring Ekholm and Ellis trades, losing one of these forwards could entice them even further to make such a move happen.

Of course, we’re working with a lot of ifs here, but Nashville isn’t the only team that could be open for business ahead of the draft. If the Flyers want to bolster their blue-line, they’ll either have to wait until after the expansion draft concludes, potentially missing out on being on the right side of a panic deal, or swing a second trade with Seattle to select someone in particular. That is, unless they send either Konecny, or one of Philippe Myers or Travis Sanheim, the other way in a trade. And all three appear to be in the team’s long-term plans.

Essentially it’s not impossible, but it is improbable that the Flyers make a trade until after the expansion draft. The Laughton extension has all but locked them into a seven-forward, three-defenseman protection list.