Written by Kevin Fortier (Twitter @ksfortier)
What might the Flyers 2017/18 roster look like given the existing contracts, UFA/RFA players, selecting Nolan Patrick in the draft this weekend and the losses of Schenn and Bellemare?
Well, let’s take a look and examine the possibilities.
Many of the top 9 roster spots are locks and were protected in the expansion draft. Realistically, there are few available slots that are up for grabs this season.
Jordan Weal (UFA) – If resigned.
There are 15 forwards who will battle to make up the forward corps which will likely see the Flyers carry 14 forwards this season. The last 2 years the Flyers carried 13 forwards and 8 defensemen, but Hextall has indicated that he was not happy with that combination of players in his season ending presser.
“We had eight defensemen,” Hextall said. “It’s not a good situation for anybody. There were times where we only had seven because of injury, but that’s a tough situation for the coaches, a tough situation for the defensemen, and quite frankly for the team. I look back at what I could have done different, that’s one of the things.”
This assumes we are able to resign Jordan Weal.
The loss of Bellemare to the expansion draft surprised most and looked to create an opening for a young player on the 4th line. Moving Nick Cousins also helped to reduce some of the log jam in the bottom 6 forward group, but bringing Lehtera back as part of the Schenn trade re-fills the opening created by Vegas selecting Bellemare.
To further reduce the log jam and free up some additional cap space I would buy out the remaining year of Matt Read’s contract. That would free up roughly $2M. His offensive output has dropped off significantly over the past 3 seasons. While he is still a solid possession and 2-way forward, players like Laughton and Vecchione provide the same ability, are younger and have higher potential offensive upside.
The only real change to the top 6 forwards, from the prior season, is obviously the loss of Brayden Schenn. I have Filppula sliding to the left wing centered by Couturier with Simmonds on the right. These lines offer balanced offense having speed and scoring punch along with driving possession and being defensively responsible. They also mix up size and strength so each line has creativity and power as well.
The third line will feature the debut of Swedish star Oskar Lindblom. He signed an ELC with the Flyers after the completion of his season in the Swedish Elite League. The line will also showcase the debut of the Flyers second overall draft pick in this weekend’s entry draft Nolan Patrick.
(Flyers #2 selection Nolan Patrick)
At the recent World Championships a “Kids” line was prominent and integral to Canada’s success. The third line of Lindblom and Patrick will have Konecny on the right completing the trio of young talent. This line would be fun to watch highlighting the energy, speed and creativity the young players could provide. It would quickly become a fan favorite if allowed to thrive.
The 4th line should see a significant improvement over the past two seasons. Without Bellemare and Vandevelde the Flyers have the opportunity to roll four quality lines. The 4th will have significant checking and defensive responsibility, but now with the ability to chip in offensively as well.
The prior two seasons, in addition to issues with usage by Hakstol, the 4th line really had no scoring threat. Hakstol used them more like a third line in even strength situations, but they did not have the abilities to perform other than a decent checking line role.
I do not believe there will be any drop-off in penalty killing efficiency either and possibly we will see more success.
Michael Raffl should lock up the left wing slot on the line. His puck possession ability is a significant upgrade over VandeVelde. He also is a strong checking, pressure forward with offensive upside. Weise will provide similar characteristics on the right side and is a dramatic improvement over Bellemare offensively.
The addition of Lehtera likely means that one of Laughton or Vecchione, who would have been expected to center this line, will be sent to the AHL and the other being the 13th forward. That is unfortunate as many fans were looking forward to seeing one of those young players get a shot. Lehtera is 29 with two years left on his contract worth $4.7M/year. He is unlikely to sit for either of them barring an all world camp showing.
The surprising news that came out of the NHLPA was the cap increasing $2M to $75M. This gives additional room and flexibility for Hextall to sign all of the UFA/RFA players he believes are part of the Flyers future and are contributors to team success now.
This roster assumes the Flyers sign the above players in addition to any other already signed and has a total cap hit of $69.1M.
The cap increase provides space for Hextall to sign a veteran goaltender now that Neuvirth was not taken by Las Vegas in the expansion draft. Hextall may be concerned, given the injury history, that Neuvirth is too much of a risk to carry the load for the season. Especially if Anthony Stolarz is the backup netminder given he will be an untested rookie.
Finally, this roster view assumes that Hextall is signs free agent netminder from Calgary Brian Elliott. He is coming off of an up-and-down season. He will not drive a substantial cap investment. He should be able to be signed for less than $3M and I am assuming we can sign him for $2.75M AAV for 2 years. The potential sticking point will be the term. Elliott is 32-years-old and could push for a longer term deal to protect himself.
The Flyers blueline will see some significant changes this season with the losses of Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto. It is expected that both Sam Morin and Robert Hagg will be on the roster coming out of training camp. This injects more youth making the Flyers defense very young and somewhat inexperienced. Provorov is coming off of a successful rookie season and is 20 years old. Gostisbehere who will be playing in his 3rd season with the Flyers recently turned 24.
Hagg and Morin will both be 22 when training camp begins. The turnover from an older, free agent dominated blueline has begun and will nearly be complete this season.
Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald make up the remaining defense corps along with Brandon Manning the likely 7th defenseman.
Additional blue chip defense prospects Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers will be pushing for a roster spot. It is expected however that they will most likely start the season with the Phantoms and will be ready in the event of injuries or surprise changes via trade or demotion.
With all of the above signings including players who will return to the Phantoms the Flyers will have about $5.8M of cap space. The Schenn trade only saved about $400K given the contract they took back in Lehtera.
This includes Signing UFA/RFA players the team values and sees as either part of the Flyers future or core players for a successful AHL team to provide a winning environment for young prospects. Signing a veteran goaltender is included although Elliott would be on the low end of that position and other free agents or a goalie traded for could carry a higher cap hit.
Some feel that the defense corps needs a solid veteran presence to help mentor the young players along. The contract of Andrew MacDonald remains an anchor around the Flyers team. Without sending MacDonald to the Phantoms, or somehow moving him to another team, signing a veteran blueliner is probably not an option. It is unlikely that Hextall would use up the sizeable chunk of that remaining cap space to accomplish that.
MacDonald is also seen as much more valuable, by Hakstol and Hextall, than how most of the fans see him. They are the only ones who really matter.
This roster is younger, faster and the forward lines are more balanced than this past season. The defense is considerably younger. Hextall has been patient with his prospects and that patience is now paying off as we see older players rolling off the roster and younger ones making their debuts.
The Flyers need more time before the new management style of grooming an organic goaltender pipeline will show a payoff. The cupboard is stocked, but more seasoning is required.
There are plenty of other prospects who could be making their debuts before too long on both offense and defense. Older, higher priced veteran players will continue to be replaced with youth carrying significantly lower cap hits.
This season has the ability to be a big step towards that environment. It will be fun to watch the transition and the fruits of that patience paying off on the ice.
Roster image courtesy of dorkos.com