By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
The past five years the Philadelphia Flyers have been very successful drafting players. Now, there is a big problem starting to occur: they are all becoming NHL ready at the same time. With Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers showing up to development camp determined to make the Flyers roster, to both Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz getting one year deals to hold over until Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom are AHL eligible in net next season.
Let’s start with the newest problem, the goaltending. On July 15 the Flyers signed both Lyon and Stolarz to a one-year contract extensions. A good move, as they both excelled in the AHL last season, but that does raise some questions heading into the future. With Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth signed for two more years and both Sandstrom and Hart AHL eligible in one year (2018-19), what does that mean for Stolarz and Lyon? Well, my only answer right now is who knows? It has seemed like the organization has lost some faith in Stolarz, and Lyon’s chances of NHL time are slim, especially with the Flyers, both might find themselves on the trade block next summer.
The other option is letting both sets of goalies in the NHL and AHL battle it out for starting roles and the winner of both battles are the NHL duo next season. Meaning whoever emerges as the starter between Elliott and Neuvirth stays in Philly while the other is shipped out-of-town, and the best of Stolarz and Lyon earns the backup NHL job in the future while the other is not re-signed or traded.
That leaves both AHL spots open for the 2018-19 season when both Hart and Sandstrom will show up and start their journey to becoming NHLers.
The defense is experiencing similar problems, but at the NHL level instead. The Flyers vast crop of young stars on the blueline are all showing they’re ready for the NHL at the same time. With Sam Morin and Robert Hagg making their NHL debuts last season, they are both ready to make the jump full-time jump, but their spots are being challenged by Sanheim and Myers.
Chances are Myers wont make the team. He hasn’t had a full AHL season under his belt, so for him to make the leap straight to the NHL would very uncharacteristic of general manager Ron Hextall. Sanheim, on the other hand, does have AHL experience and should have a better chance to make the NHL.
The Flyers’ blueline only has two openings, that currently belong to Morin and Hagg. With Andrew MacDonald wasting a roster spot for at leasr another season, and possibly three more, plus Radko Gudas playing a solid game right now, there aren’t any more openings.
It’s still a longshot for Sanheim to make the roster, but anything’s possible. Until then though, the defense will be Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Gudas, Brandon Manning, MacDonald, Morin and Hagg. All things considered it will be a much improved blueline in the 2017-18 season.
The Flyers forward corps has a bit of a different problem. The roster is filled with less talented players that are taking roster spots and cap space away from more talented younger players. But the Flyers don’t have as deep of a prospect pool at forward as they do on defense, and some of their most promising players are years away from the NHL.
Luckily, the forwards that are locked into bigger money deals aren’t around for more than two more seasons. Matt Read and Valtteri Filppula’s contracts both expire at the end of 2017-18 while Michael Raffl and Jori Lehtera expire at the end of 2018-19.
The issue is while they are not signed long-term, they are taking away roster spots from younger players now. Scott Laughton was protected in the expansion draft which means he will probably make the Flyers roster out of camp. If Nolan Patrick makes the team (which still seems 50/50) that means there is no room for Mike Vecchione. Though Vecchione could benefit from conditioning in the minors, he should still have a roster spot over players like Dale Weise or Read.
On the bright side the team is quickly getting better. On the down side, the logjam that is created in the process is frustrating. In a perfect world, the Flyers could integrate all of their young stars easily but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The youth movement is in full swing in Philadelphia, and while the payoff may still be a few years down the line, there are only good problems ahead for the Flyers.
photo credit: Dan Esche via Shop.NHL.co