Written by Kevin Fortier (@ksfortier)
The Flyers roster is close to being set for the 2017-18 season. With the expansion and entry drafts in the books and free agency pretty much done, according to Hextall, the roster is almost settled. UFA and RFA contracts that the Flyers wanted to re-sign are done or qualifying offers have been submitted for Phantoms players.
The 2 unexpected and newsworthy draft week items were Las Vegas selecting Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the expansion draft (much to the delight of most fans) and the trading of Brayden Schenn.
We knew the Flyers were going to select either Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick in the entry draft. Whoever New Jersey did not select would fall to the Flyers.
The Flyers sole acquisition in free agency was to select a replacement for departing goaltender Steve Mason. The Flyers signed former St. Louis Blues and recent Calgary Flames netminder Brian Elliott.
The other free agency signing was the extension of speedy winger Jordan Weal. He became a fan favorite in the spring when he was called up when Travis Konecny was injured and quickly capitalized on his opportunity finding the back of the net eight times in 23 games. The 25-year-old looked right at home on the top line with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds.
Restricted free agent Mike Vecchione accepted the Flyers qualifying offer to return for two more years at $900K. Qualifying offers also are open for Phantoms players Alex Lyon, Anthony Stolarz, Cole Bardreau, Taylor Leier and Scott Laughton.
Laughton is the lone player of that group who is anticipated to make a serious push for an NHL roster position. Although Vecchione could surprise in camp.
Grading the recent moves:
- Vegas selecting Bellemare – A+
- Drafting Patrick – A+
- Signing Weal – A
- Signing Elliott – B
- Trading Schenn – C
Many of the top nine roster spots are locks and were protected in the expansion draft. Realistically, there are few available slots that are up for grabs this season.
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 two years the Flyers carried 13 forwards and eight 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.” Rob Parent – thereporteronline.com
The loss of Bellemare in the expansion draft surprised most and potentially created an opening for a young player on the 4th line. Moving Nick Cousins also helped reduce some of the logjam in the bottom six 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 clutter and free up some additional cap space I would recommend that the Flyers buy out the remaining year of Matt Read’s contract. That would free up roughly $2.3M. His offensive output has dropped off significantly over the past three seasons. While he is still a solid possession and two-way forward, players like Laughton and Vecchione provide the same ability, are younger, significantly cheaper and have higher potential offensive upside going forward.
The cap hit this season is offset by his contract going away and the cap hit next season is a meager $1.2M. This would also be offset if the Flyers choose to buyout MacDonald after this season.
The only real change to the top six forwards, from the prior season, is obviously the loss of 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.
On the third line, I feature the debut of Swedish star Lindblom. He signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers after the completion of his season in the Swedish Elite League. The line will also showcase the debut of Patrick, the Flyers second overall draft pick in the June 23 entry draft.
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 line 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 we will possibly see more success.
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.
A handful of the Phantoms UFA/RFAs have already re-signed – Corban Knight, Mark Alt, Phil Varone (free agent from Binghamton to replace Andy Miele) with the other RFAs anticipated to re-sign as well.
As mentioned above, the Flyers signed free agent netminder Elliott to share goal duties with Michael Neuvirth. He is coming off of an up-and-down season. His $2.75M AAV for two years was a reasonable contract for his services.
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, albeit 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 blueline has begun and will nearly be complete this season.
Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald make up the remaining defense corps with Brandon Manning likely being the 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 $2.5M of cap space. The Schenn trade only saved about $400K given the contract they took back in Lehtera.
I have not assumed buying out Read in this cap figure so that would add another $2.3M to available cap space.
- Nolan Patrick $925K
- Scott Laughton $900K
- Sam Morin $863K
- Robert Hagg $894K
Some feel that the defense corps needs a solid veteran presence to help mentor the young players along. The contract of MacDonald remains somewhat of an albatross for the team. Without moving MacDonald, signing a veteran blueliner is probably not an option.
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 likely need more time before the new management style of grooming an organic goaltending 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 in a few years 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 promise-filled future. 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