NHL expansion 2017: Which forward could the Flyers lose in the expansion draft?
Our look at the Flyers’ expansion draft situation begins with a look at the seven forwards vying for the team’s final open protection slot.
As we trek through the Flyers offseason, trying to determine what kinds of moves the team is likely to make when we reach June and July, there’s one thing coming that we know is going to happen but that we’re really left in the dark on when it comes to the specifics: the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft, set to take place on June 21.
Yes, the Flyers will lose one player to the NHL’s 31st team this summer, and we won’t know which player it is until late June and we have really no way of figuring out which one it’ll be. We here at BSH took a look last year at who the Flyers could lose and tried to make sense of what their strategy may be in the draft, but now that we’re weeks away from expansion rather than a year away from it (and are armed with another year’s worth of information), it’s time to really take a close look at the Flyers’ situation and try and guess what they’ll do and how Vegas may respond.
We’ll be discussing this over the course of the entire week, as such:
- Today (Monday) (in this post that you’re reading right now), we’ll look at the seven Flyers forwards who could realistically be taken by Vegas, trying to break down why they would and wouldn’t be a fit for the Golden Knights and whether or not the Flyers may look to protect them.
- On Tuesday, we’ll repeat that process, but with the team’s two defensemen and two goalies that Vegas could feasibly have an eye on.
- On Wednesday, we’ll sum up the lineup of Flyers that could be protected or taken, try and guess a) which players the team will protect as well as b) the odds that each player remaining gets chosen by Vegas.
- On Thursday, we’ll take a look at potential moves the Flyers could make between now and June 21 that would change their expansion draft outlook.
- And finally, on Friday, our staff will submit their guesses as to what will happen to the Flyers in the expansion draft — who they’ll protect and who they’ll lose./
With that, let’s get started.
Before we look at the Flyers’ potential candidates to head to the Golden Knights, which we’ll be doing both today and on Tuesday, let’s make a couple of notes and assumptions about some guys that we don’t think we’ll have to consider here:
- First, here are some noteworthy Flyers and Phantoms who will not be subject to the expansion draft due to their limited professional experience: Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Mike Vecchione, Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Alex Lyon, as well as basically anyone else who was drafted in 2013 or later. (Thank you to CapFriendly’s excellent expansion draft tool for that list.)
- Next, let’s assume that Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Valtteri Filppula, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Radko Gudas are all going to be protected. Filppula has a no-movement clause that guarantees him draft protection, and all of the other players listed can reasonably be considered key pieces that the Flyers are simply not going to be willing to lose for nothing in an expansion draft. This leaves the Flyers with one forward, one defenseman, and one goaltender to protect.
- We’ll also guess that no unrestricted free agents will be signed to new deals prior to the expansion draft. This includes the likes of Steve Mason, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Boyd Gordon, and Chris VandeVelde. While this does not preclude those players from being chosen, it probably makes it less likely that they will be, to the point where we shouldn’t spend much time spilling digital ink on their potential expansion draft fates. (There is one exception here, which we’ll get to later.)
- Finally, for now, let’s predict that there are no significant trades that the Flyers will make between now and June 21 that will meaningfully change their outlook in this expansion draft, and that the roster that they have now is the one that they’ll be making protection choices on — and that Vegas will be selecting from. (We’ll revisit this on Thursday.)/
Of the names that are left over and under contract/team control through next season, we’ll look at a group of 11 players that we’d reasonably consider as guys who could get taken by Vegas. For each player in this group, we’ll evaluate what his appeal is to the Golden Knights, as well as why Vegas may not be interested.
Here, we’ll look at the seven forwards in that group of 11, and we’ll go through that list by how likely it is that each one gets the Flyers’ final protection slot. Enjoy.
(Before we begin: please note that any claims made here are speculative, semi-educated guesses, and that I speak with zero inside information on what the Flyers’ or Golden Knights’ front offices are thinking.)
7. Matt Read
Contract Status: Read is signed through next season for $3.625 million against the cap.
Chances of Being Protected: Zero. Read’s had a solid career as a Flyer since being signed as an undrafted free agent six summers ago, but his offense has dried up in the past few seasons, he’s a bottom-six forward (probably a fourth-liner on a good team), and he’ll be 31 when next year starts. $3.625 million is a lot to pay for that, and he’s only under contract for one more year anyways. The Flyers probably wouldn’t have any qualms about him getting taken in the draft.
Why Vegas might want him: Read’s a guy who has played everywhere the Flyers have asked him to and has shown he can push play forward. No one would deny that Read is best suited for a bottom-6 role at this point in his career, but he’s very responsible defensively and wouldn’t be out of place in that kind of a role on most teams. And while his cap hit is a bit high, there’s minimal remaining commitment for Vegas — he’s only signed through next season.
Why Vegas might not want him: Read’s ceiling at this point isn’t very high, as it took a miraculous early-season scoring stretch just to get him to 10 goals in 2016-17. And at 31, it’s hard to expect things will get a whole lot better for him next year. Vegas would have to believe they can get the most out of everything else Read does well for him to be worth the selection spot — and the cap hit — they’d be paying him.
6. Dale Weise
Contract Status: Weise is signed for three more years, making $2.35 million against the cap each year.
Chances of Being Protected: Basically zero. While the Flyers are just one year into a four-year contract that they gave Weise last summer, it’s fair to say the first year of that contract didn’t quite go according to plan. The team may still like Weise and expect him to be better next year, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine that he gets the last protection slot over others on this list.
Why Vegas might want him: Prior to this past season, Weise was generally regarded as a perfectly fine bottom-6 player, having scored 29 and 27 in each of the previous two seasons. And this past year, Weise suddenly was an excellent play-driver, with relative possession marks among the best on the team for forwards. Couple this with the fact that he appeared to be playing his best hockey as the season went on, and Vegas’ management group could see him as a guy who they’ve liked in the past and may be able to live up to his contract with a change of scenery.
Why Vegas might not want him: Weise’s first year in Philadelphia was a disappointment, only tallying 15 points (a mark that he wouldn’t have reached without a great final few weeks of the season) and regularly being healthy scratched for unimpressive play. Furthermore, even if Vegas did like Weise as a player and think that a bounce-back was in order, three years at third-liner money is a hefty commitment for a guy who’s probably only worth it if he’s consistently playing at his realistic ceiling.
5. Scott Laughton
Contract Status: Laughton is a restricted free agent this summer.
Chances of being protected: Basically zero. Laughton only played two games in the NHL this year, and spent the entire season with the Phantoms after getting demoted around the beginning of December. The Flyers clearly aren’t very high on him right now — or, at least, aren’t as high on him as they are some of their other depth forwards, many of whom are on this list.
Why Vegas might want him: The pedigree of a former first-round pick may mean something to a franchise that will be starved for potential top-6 forwards. Laughton had a decent first full season back in 2015-16 (better than he gets credit for, in my opinion), and if Vegas likes his skill set and has some confidence in its coaching staff when it comes to development, they could take a shot on Laughton and see if they can find the potential top-6 forward that the Flyers thought they were getting when they drafted him. Also, he won’t be expensive — he’s a restricted free agent this summer and his bargaining position at the moment surely isn’t very high.
Why Vegas might not want him: The fact that Laughton hasn’t grown into an NHL regular after three professional seasons is surely concerning, and he’s coming off of a season in which he essentially didn’t play in the NHL. Also, while he’s posted good AHL numbers, they aren’t ones that really jump off the page, ones that Vegas is going to feel hard-pressed to pass up. And while he was billed as a defensively-responsible forward as a prospect, his play in his own third of the ice might be the part of his game that needs the most work, based on his limited NHL time. He’d be a project, but it’s fair to ask what the best-case scenario is for that project and how likely it is that that plays out.
4. Nick Cousins
Contract Status: Cousins is a restricted free agent this summer.
Chances of being protected: Very low. It’s hard to say how much the Flyers really value Cousins, as he was everywhere from the first line to the press box this past season. But there’s no obvious thing about him that leads you to believe the Flyers would value him over everyone else on this list, the way there are with a few others.
Why Vegas might want him: Cousins is a reliable bottom-6 forward who can play multiple positions and has a bit of scoring upside. His arrival to the Flyers in February 2016 coincided with the post-All Star Break resurgence of their bottom-6, and he’s fit in well in a few different places. Versatility is something Vegas could be looking for, and Cousins brings that.
Why Vegas might not want him: There’s just not a ton of upside in Cousins, who isn’t noteworthy in very many ways and has a skillset that’s pretty replaceable. He certainly wouldn’t be a flashy choice.
3. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Contract Status: Bellemare is under contract for two more seasons for an average cap hit of $1.45 million per year.
Chances of being protected: Not great, but higher than you may think. Remember, the Flyers are a couple of months removed from giving Bellemare a two-year contract extension (and a 100 percent raise) and naming him an alternate captain on the team. The franchise clearly likes what he brings both on the ice and in the locker room, even if he’s mostly just a fourth-liner for the team. There are several more talented options here, but the Flyers have made it clear they value him, and you have to think most teams aren’t exposing guys that have letters sewn onto the front of their jerseys.
Why Vegas might want him: Bellemare’s the kind of guy that you can see a front office falling in love with. (Just ask our team’s front office!) He skates well, works his ass off every shift, kills penalties, is regarded as defensively responsible, and is seen as a good locker-room guy. And he’s got a decent profile around the league — he received a not-insignificant amount of praise for his role on Team Europe last year in the World Cup, and his contract extension was more popular among some big-name hockey types than it seems to have been among Flyers fans. For the same reasons the Flyers like him, one could see Vegas liking him.
Why Vegas might not want him: Offense is pretty limited when it comes to Bellemare, who is literally the single least productive scorer among regular forwards at 5-on-5 in the three years since he came to the NHL. You figure the Golden Knights are going to have plenty of gritty bottom-6 types who don’t score much to choose from — will they really see Bellemare as the best of that bunch knowing how unlikely his team is to light the lamp whenever he’s on the ice?
2. Michael Raffl
Contract Status: Raffl is under contract for two more seasons at $2.35 million per season.
Chances of being protected: Decent. Of the players on this list, Raffl is the only one that’s spent regular time in the team’s top-6 over the past few seasons. And they’re a year removed from giving him a three-year extension, as well. In the right role, the Flyers are clearly fans of Raffl, and I think they’d be disappointed if he was taken. It comes down to whether they’re a bigger fan of someone else.
Why Vegas might want him: Like others on this list, Raffl is a versatile player, having been successful before at center and on the left wing. He’s a solid even-strength scorer for the most part, and has shown to be a good support player on a scoring line. And if Vegas is into play-driving statistics, Raffl becomes that much more appealing: he’s regularly among the best Flyers when it comes to pushing play in the right direction, both overall and relative to the team.
Why Vegas might not want him: Raffl’s coming off of probably his worst NHL season, only having scored 11 points in 52 games while dealing with various injury problems. And while he’s been a strong 5-on-5 player, he’s also regularly spent a lot of time with good linemates (over the last three years, his most common forward linemates are Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier). Vegas may be skeptical that he can replicate his impressive play-driving numbers and respectable scoring numbers without those kinds of players around him.
1. Jordan Weal
Contract Status: Weal is an unrestricted free agent.
Chances of being protected: Fairly high. Weal was a sparkplug for the Flyers in the final two months of the season, providing offense and impressive play-driving ability after years of being stuck in the AHL. While one shouldn’t try to draw too much information out of 23 NHL games, it seems hard to imagine the offensively-challenged Flyers not doing what they can to keep him around. Weal, of course, does not have a contract, so if the Flyers do want to protect him, we can expect the two sides to reach a deal before the protection lists are due (something Weal outright said he’d like to see happen during exit interviews). If he is re-signed, you have to think he’ll have the inside track on the final protection spot.
Why Vegas might want him: Weal would represent a unique opportunity for Vegas amidst an expansion draft field full of bottom-6 types of forwards: a young player that could reasonably be slotted onto the first or second line of an team by merit, rather than just by opportunity. After all, that’s what the just-turned-25-year-old Weal was down the stretch for the Flyers — a second-line forward — and he excelled in the role. It would be a gamble to assume he can do the same over an 82-game NHL season, but he’s done it in the AHL for years and his NHL performance this past March and April suggests he’s ready for the opportunity, and there just aren’t going to be many guys like that for the taking. It’d make sense as a risk for Vegas to take.
Why Vegas might not want him: Again, at the NHL level, we’re talking about a small sample here, and there’s a reason — whatever it may be — that both L.A. and the Flyers weren’t willing to give Weal regular NHL ice time until they basically had no choice at all. There’s upside, but what we saw could just be a flash in the pan. Weal is also a pretty small player, and that’s still a knock on guys in some circles of the NHL.
Tomorrow, we’ll repeat this exercise with the team’s defensemen and goalies. Until then, let us know who you think will be protected.
Assuming Couturier, Filppula, Giroux, Schenn, Simmonds, and Voracek are all protected, which forward will get the Flyers’ final protection spot?
|Some other forward currently under team control (who?)||5|
|Someone they’ll trade for (who?)||26|
|More than one of them — one of the “core” players won’t be protected (who? and why not?)||46|