By Dan Silver (@dsilver88)
Expansion Draft Process
By now, most of you probably know how the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft process works. But if you don’t let’s go over briefly.
Each NHL team can protect either 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie, or they can protect 8 skaters and 1 goalie. All first- and second-year professionals are exempt, which for the Flyers purposes, means that they don’t have to protect Ivan Provorov or Travis Konecny.
The Vegas Golden Knights, the new expansion team, has to select one player from every team, and they must select at least 14 forwards, 9 defensemen, and 3 goalies.
There are a number of additional rules involved, and you can read about those in this article.
Expansion Draft Timeline
On Saturday at 3 p.m. an NHL trade and waiver freeze went into place that will last until Thursday morning, after Vegas has made their selections. Additionally, no free agents (restricted or unrestricted) can be signed during this time.
The only exception to this is Vegas, who is allowed to make trades with other teams and negotiate with free agents during this time.
Basically, the next four days are all about Vegas and allowing them to do what they need in order to draft their team.
At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Vegas must submit their picks to the NHL, along with any contracts signed with free agents. That night, the NHL Awards Show begins at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Network. The full list of picks made and contracts signed by Vegas will be unveiled throughout the show.
For more details on the timeline for the expansion draft process, check out this article.
Minor Trade to Reduce Forward Glut
Before we cover the Flyers protection lists, we should mention that the team made a minor trade on Friday, sending forward Nick Cousins and goalie prospect Merrick Madsen to Arizona for a 5th round pick in 2018 and forward prospect Brendan Warren.
At the end of this season, Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall said that one of his mistakes was having too many defensemen on the roster, and he wouldn’t make that mistake again in 2017-18. Part of the problem with having too many defensemen was that it led to poor player usage decisions by Flyers Head Coach Dave Hakstol.
The same logic is clearly being applied to the forwards, which is a good thing. Cousins is a serviceable NHL player – a feisty forward with 27 points in 107 NHL games and some pretty good advanced stats metrics.
But with the potential roster additions of Swedish prospect Oskar Lindblom and the #2 pick in the NHL Draft, either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, the Flyers were looking at 14 forwards for 12 spots, and that doesn’t even include free agents Jordan Weal, Mike Vecchione, and Scott Laughton.
So if Hextall doesn’t want a similar glut of forwards like he had with defensemen last season, he has to start figuring out ways to trim the fat, and the Cousins trade was emblematic of that. Expect more forwards to be traded before the season starts.
Flyers Protection List
OK, let’s finally get to who the Flyers have protected for the NHL Expansion Draft. Six of the forwards and two of the defensemen are no brainers – it’s the 7th forward, 3rd defensemen, and goalie they protected that are very telling.
- Protected Forwards
- Claude Giroux
- Jake Voracek
- Brayden Schenn
- Wayne Simmonds
- Sean Couturier
- Valteri Filppula
- Scott Laughton
- Protected Defensemen
- Shayne Gostisbehere
- Radko Gudas
- Brandon Manning
- Protected Goalie
- Anthony Stolarz
What does this mean?
The biggest surprise on this list is that the Flyers protected Laughton. A first round pick (#20) in 2012, he’s had multiple stints in the NHL and simply hasn’t been able to stick. This season, as a 22yo, he battled some injuries and only played two games in the NHL, spending most of the season (60 games) in the AHL with the Phantoms.
It’s a very good sign that Hextall ultimately decided to protect Laughton. Even if you don’t think he’s going to work out as an impact NHL player, it signifies that the team values his potential more than they value what a 4th-liner like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare brings to the team. After the team extended Bellemare at this year’s trade deadline and made him an alternate captain, many feared that the Flyers might protect him. The fact that they didn’t is very encouraging and signifies that Hextall isn’t overvaluing the older role players, as his coach seems to do.
The same applies to the fact that the Flyers protected Manning as the 3rd defenseman. After the over-payed and oft-maligned Andrew MacDonald spent this season playing on the Flyers top defensive pair with rookie phenom Ivan Provorov, many believed that the Flyers might protect MacDonald.
Instead, they protected Manning, a 27yo mediocre defenseman who will likely be the odd man out on the Flyers as soon as this season, with prospects Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers likely to join the team within the next calendar year, give or take a few months.
By protecting Manning over MacDonald, the Flyers basically acknowledged that even though the latter was 2nd on the team in ice time last season, if Vegas wants to take his albatross of a contract, the Flyers will be better off for it.
Lastly, protecting Stolarz is one more indicator that Hextall is not married to the veterans. Many Flyers fans were stupified when, in March, the team extended pending free agent Neuvirth another two years, albeit for only $2.5 million AAV.
At the time, I actually theorized that Neuvirth might get taken by Vegas in the expansion draft, considering the fact that Vegas GM George McPhee originally drafted Neuvirth in 2006 when he was with the Washington Capitals.
McPhee has history with Neuvirth – not impossible he’s taken in EXP
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) March 1, 2017
I still think this may be the case. Vegas needs to draft three goalies, and Neuvirth’s contract would be a pretty decent one for a back-up for a few years.
Either way, the fact that the Flyers protected Stolarz, a 23yo former 2nd round pick, is a great indicator that they are not married to Neuvirth for the next few years. You can mortgage the bank that the Flyers are going to sign or trade for an additional goaltender this offseason, even if the Neuvirth to Vegas theory isn’t proved correct.
Which Flyer Will Vegas Take?
As I just said, I’m a proponent of the Neuvirth to Vegas theory. People in general are drawn towards familiarity. McPhee drafted Neuvirth, and is a fan of his playing style.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) June 3, 2017
If it’s not Neuvirth, it will likely be Michael Raffl or Matt Read, both good 3rd line forwards with excellent advanced stat metrics. Either one would be a worthwhile addition for Vegas.
Some have speculated they will take Bellemare, but it’s hard for me to imagine that Vegas will value him more than Raffl or Read.
Of course, the dream scenario is that Vegas takes MacDonald and his albatross $5 million AAV contract through 2019-20. I doubt this happens without the Flyers having to throw in some draft picks to Vegas, and since the reality is that Hakstol probably will have him on one of the top 2 pairs this season, I doubt the Flyers are chomping at the bit to be rid of MacDonald…yet. Maybe next offseason!
The Bottom Line
Many Flyers fans were worried that the organization would protect older, established, mediocre veterans (Bellemare, MacDonald, Neuvirth) instead of the younger players on the team.
Once again, Ron Hextall has come through with flying colors, and assured Flyers fans that he has not jumped the shark, despite his head coach’s questionable player usage this past season.
It’s a great sign for this team, both today and moving forward.