Written by Kevin Fortier – follow me on Twitter @ksfortier
The Phantoms are on the brink of making the AHL playoffs for the first time since 2009. Flyers GM Ron Hextall made it an objective, when he joined the Flyers executive team, to return the Phantoms to a winning program. He felt believes it is necessary for the optimal growth and experience of prospective players.
Since then, Hextall has made the Phantoms into a diverse mix of young up and coming talent and veteran players, at both ends of the ice, backed up by prospective goaltenders looking to become an NHL starter. Hextall believes that nothing promotes development like a winning environment and he has created that opportunity with the current Phantoms players.
Not since the Calder Cup winning team of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Patrick Sharp Anteri Nittymaki etc have the Phantoms been so organically built for success. During much of Bobby Clark/Paul Holmgren eras draft picks were bargaining chips at the trade deadline to land the next big deal. Most years the Flyers did not keep their first and or second round picks to make it to the Phantoms.
That is not the situation any longer. In fact, there are so many young prospects that this year’s Phantoms need to graduate some players just to make room for the next crop of young players in the system. That is a very good problem to have and something the Flyers organization has not had in a very long time.
On defense, the Flyers have so many high end prospects there are not enough spots on the starting rotation for them all.
About a third of the current Phantoms players have contracts that must be addressed in the post season. There are 3 UFA players Boyd Gordon, Andy Miele and Chris Conner. In addition, there are 6 players who are RFAs at the end of the season. Alex Lyon, Scott Laughton, Anthony Stolarz, Taylor Leier, Cole Bardreau and Mark Alt.
Boyd Gordon – Gordon was signed to be a penalty kill and faceoff specialist for the Flyers. He scored a goal in his first game, but was pointless in his next 12 and was twice injured leading to his being waived to the Phantoms. He played a few games for Lehigh Valley, but was injured again and on IR for rest of the season. He will not be resigned.
Andy Miele – Miele is 3rd on the Phantoms in scoring with 10 goals and 42 assists for 52 points. He is a minus player at -18. He is 28 and a perennial high scoring center never scoring below 50 points in the AHL. The Phantoms are thin up the middle currently and his playoff experience is also a plus. He will most likely be resigned with a modest pay increase. We are assuming 2 years at $650K.
Chris Conner – Conner is another AHL veteran who consistently puts up solid scoring totals. He is 2nd on the Phantoms current roster with 54 points; 22 goals and 32 assists. The experienced RW will also most likely be extended given the lack of prospects on the right side. 1 year at $625K seems like a reasonable contract for the 33 year old veteran.
Alex Lyon – Lyon was signed as a free agent out of college last year. He was the top free agent goalie from the college ranks. The Flyers were so interested they agreed to burn the first year of his contract immediately. He has been steady all season for the Phantoms posting a record of 25-14 with a GAA of 2.73 and SA% of .911. He leads the Phantoms with 4 shutouts.
The Flyers have a handful of very promising young prospects in net. However, they are all younger than Lyon and are not ready to be a regular starter in Lehigh Valley. Lyon only has one more year being RFA eligible. That makes things a little more complicated. Right now we are assuming he signs a one year deal for $975K and will still an RFA at the end of that deal.
Cole Bardreau – The 23 year old is in his second full season with the Phantoms. He has amassed a respectable 23 points, down slightly from 30 the prior year. He has mostly played a 4th line role on the much deeper team this season. He is very well respected by his teammates as well as his coach Scott Gordon and Ron Hextall. We anticipate he will sign a 2 year deal in the $735K range up from his $680K salary this season.
Mark Alt – Alt came to the Flyers in a trade with Carolina and nearly broke into the NHL on a few occasions. Injuries and timing kept him from making it. He has however been a very solid AHL blueliner. He does not put up big numbers, but he is a steady, calming stay at home defender. With the recent draft crop of defenders graduating to the Flyers the Phantoms will need his services as a regular and a veteran mentor to younger players. He will probably be signed to a 2 year deal with a modest raise to around $650K.
Taylor Leier – 23 year old Leier had another solid season for the Phantoms. He finished with 11 goals and 33 points. The left wing is expected to resign with Lehigh Valley. A 1 year contract seems to make sense to help determine what Leier can do. He did play well in his 10 game callup this year. He really showed off his speed and play with and without the puck. A 1 year deal leaves him with 2 years of RFA time leftover should he take a significant step forward allowing him to push for a 2-3 year deal after next season.
Scott Laughton – Laughton looked to likely make the Flyers roster out of camp, but then he was injured and things solidified by the time he was ready to play so he was sent down. While he may have been frustrated at not getting a shot he has made significant strides in his 2 way game this season. The 22 year old former first round pick is in a strong position to push for a roster spot again. Had not Hextall inexplicably extended Bellemare for 2 more years he would have been likely to start on the 4th line. Laughton may start with the Phantoms, but expect him to be the first forward called up. Look for him to sign a 2 year deal with a raise to around $899K.
Anthony Stolarz – Presumably, Hextall extended Neuvy in order to protect Stolarz for the expansion draft. Stolarz is expected to start with the Flyers as the backup goalie in the fall. Among the young netminders in the Flyers system, Stolarz is the most ready to assume a role in the NHL. There are other goalie prospects with potentially more skill and higher ceilings, but they are not yet at the stage to assume the net at the NHL level. Stolarz will most likely sign a 2 year NHL contract for around $950K.
There are a handful of prospects assumed to be part of the Phantoms roster in the coming season.
Philippe Myers was undrafted, but came to Flyers development camp two years ago and was so impressive he was signed to an entry level contract. The 20 year old 6’5″ 209 pound right handed blueliner had not made much of an impression in his first two years of junior hockey posting a total of 12 points. After returning to juniors, with a contract in hand, he exploded on the scene putting up 17 goals and 45 points and was a plus 52 for the season. He missed half the season this past year due to having two separate concussions, but he still managed to tally 35 points in 34 games and was plus 21. He also made team Canada at the WJCs and looked very good tallying 3 points in 4 games before receiving his second concussion.
Myers looked very good in training camp last fall, with the Flyers, leading to speculation that he had a strong chance to leap over other defensemen ahead of him in the waiting line to break into the Flyers roster. The two concussions and limited playing time have dampened that speculation and he might do well to start with the Phantoms.
Mark Friedman finished his college career this spring and signed an entry level contract and reported to the Phantoms. He could play down the stretch or in the playoffs. The 21 year old blueliner is more of an offensive minded player, but he is not deficient as a stay at home guy if needed. He is another right handed defenseman which the Flyers have been sorely in need of. He is 5’10 weighing about 195 pounds. He is a solid skater and has a strong shot and can help the Phantoms power play.
Samuel Dove-McFalls was selected in the 2015 NHL draft by the Flyers. He was taken in the 4th round with the 98th overall pick. He turns 20 tomorrow and is, therefore, eligible to play with the Phantoms. He brings needed size at 6’2″ and 207 pounds. He scored 17 goals and 53 points in 65 games in his final junior season. He was also a plus 21. He plays left wing, but can also play center.
Mikhail Vorobyov the Russian center drafted in the 4th round in 2015, taken 104th, made a huge impression in the last World Junior U20 tournament. He lead everyone with 10 assists in 7 games. His KHL contract expired a few weeks ago and he has made noise about coming to North America instead of resigning in the KHL. Like Dove-McFalls he brings size also going 6’2 and about 205 pounds.
Phantoms to Flyers – In addition to Anthony Stolarz making the leap to the NHL ranks, there will be at least 2 openings on the Flyers blueline for current Phantoms defensemen under contract.
Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin are expected to make their rookie debuts next fall as well. The Phantoms will replace them with the recently signed college graduate Mark Friedman and CHL standout Philippe Myers.
There is an outside chance Myers could overwhelm in camp and force the Flyers to keep him. That was more likely had he not suffered two concussions last season and had been able to play a full season. Either Myers or Robert Haag are expected to be first called up if an injury knocks someone from the lineup.
The Phantoms will have to sign a free agent goalie to backup Alex Lyon for the upcoming season assuming Stolarz cracks the Flyers roster.
Nick Cousins is also a free agent. As he has been a Flyer all season he will be addressed at a later time with the rest of the Flyers roster.
Below is what the new Phantoms roster and cap would look like using the assumptions in this article.
Using the restructured roster with new players and updated RFA/UFA contracts the Phantoms lines could look something like the below forward lines and defense pairings.
Cap management has become more and more important in the salary cap era in the NHL. Even the minor league rosters are playing a larger impact to the overall professional system hockey players progress through. Some assumptions are more likely than others, but we should be pretty close to what the end result will look like.
Some assumptions for what the 2017/18 Phantoms roster would be were adjusted after the trade deadline, in March, when Hextall added Valteri Filppula to the Flyers roster and he extended Bellemare. That meant there were two fewer roster spots available for existing players to fight for. Most fans assumed that Bellemare would be let go when the season was over being the last year of his contract and being 32. His age and lack of offensive production did not fit with Hextall’s stated objective of getting better and younger each year.
There are still other factors which could change our assumptions. The upcoming expansion draft and the 2017 NHL draft could bring additional adjustments being made to players and contracts.
The expectation is that one forward will be taken in the expansion draft, but they could possibly take Neuvirth or an unprotected defenseman. Hextall could possibly trade down to take an NHL ready player in the draft which would take a roster spot from an existing player or contender. There could also be a trade or two after free agency opens up.
It will be exciting to watch how things play out over the post season regardless.