For the first few months of 2021, when looking at the NHL draft, I had the Flyers pegged to pick a blueliner. Assuming they (barely) miss the playoffs, they would have been picking in the mid-teens. I didn't expect the team to spectacularly nosedive, but that doesn't change the needs as much as the team's ability to address the needs (i.e. their draft position) and the urgency in addressing those needs (via free agency or trade).
Fletcher was candid in the fact signing Gus was a mistake. Not sure what he was hoping to accomplish in securing another offensive-minded blueliner--except he probably thought the younger players would play to near their potential (they did not) and Ghost would struggle (he didn't--much).
While I don't think Fletcher is going to burn the house down, he isn't going to sit on his hands and engage in wishful thinking again this offseason. It makes predicting his moves difficult--especially when he and his assistants have difficulty gauging the roster based on so many subpar performances. How much doubt should one have? How much optimism should one use?
The other wildcard is the expansion draft. Who will the Kraken take? Is the blueline further depleted? Does the offense take a hit? Do the Flyers get cap space?
I can see Fletcher making a deal with the Kraken--sweetening the pot to take JVR or Voracek if he adds the second or third-round pick. Then he has cap space to land a UFA blueliner. Not necessarily Hamilton, but it becomes an option. I don't expect Fletcher to hedge all his bets on making one large move. That's what Homer did, and the win-now approach worked only until the Flyers completed depleted their farm system.
Assuming the Flyers hold onto their first-round pick, and I suspect they will unless Seth Jones agrees to a long-term deal, then they will focus on defense unless a top five offensive player (William Eklund) drops to their spot.
In past years, Flahr and Fletcher have tipped their hat. When they drafted York over Caufield, they noted that if the talent available at their slot was equal, they would focus on defense to restock the depleted farm. When they traded down after Caufield was available, it was clear they were intent on drafting defense.
Last year, they hinted that they were seeking a shoot-first player--looking to address the team's need of a sniper.* And sniper they got, with Foerster.
This year, Flahr said something interesting. I was looking for him to talk about blueliners or the pursuit of defense, but he said most of the top defensive would go early, but he and Fletcher were both convinced they could get a solid player at 13. What caught my attention was goalies. In most drafts, Wallstedt is predicted to go by 11, and Sebastian Cossa in the late teens. But, Cossa has been climbing mock drafts, and Corey Pronman has Cossa at 10--right above Wallstedt.
Point here is up to last month, Cossa was slated to go after the Flyers' pick. Right now, it looks like he's on their radar.
Assuming the Flyers keep their pick, here's my prediction:
1) Wallstedt (top goalie in the draft)
2) Cossa (second best goalie in the draft)
3) Cuelemans (projected to be a solid top 4 blueliner)
If two of those guys are gone before the Flyers' pick, then it means some other top talent has dropped down. That makes things interesting. If a top C drops, then the Flyers could draft said C, then look to move on from Nolan Patrick--moving him and other players/picks for Seth Jones or other players to patch holes in the roster--especially ones created after the expansion draft.
The argument against drafting a goalie is that the Flyers have Hart. Yes, but placing all of a team's hopes on one player is great until the player struggles or goes down with a season-ending injury. Remember how Eagles fans felt when Wentz tore his ACL? Hope just died. But Foles saved the team and won the Super Bowl.
By comparison, look at the Lightning or Boston or the Capitols or Penguins. These are teams that had bona fide talent in goalie that either retired or was traded due to cap issues, and they were successfully able to replace said talent and remain competitive. The Flyers are not, and have never been in that situation. To be competitive, they have to afford themselves the roster flexibility to take a hit when a player (or players) go down.
*Here's hindsight. If the Flyers had jumped conventional wisdom in 2017 and gone with Cale Makar over Nolan Patrick (fans would have screamed bloody murder if that happened--with the team using three of its last four first-round picks on Morin, Sanheim, and Provorov), then they wouldn't have felt need to draft York in 2019, BUT...if that happened, I don't think they would have been so bad to be in position to draft Caufield (twice). Then again, Makar playing under Hakstol might have been problematic. Hindsight isn't necessarily 20-20.