By Dan Silver (@dsilver88)
Intro – Looking at the Long Game
Most sports fans are very impatient. We want gratification. We want a winning team. We want championships. And we want all of that now.
Philadelphia sports fans are more impatient than most. This is due to many factors, but highest on that list are the passion that we have for our four teams combined with the lack of recent championships they’ve won. There’s only been one parade down Broad Street in the last 34 years – the Phillies in 2008.
Flyers current general manager Ron Hextall took over from Paul Holmgren during the summer of 2014, and the most successful aspect of his tenure has been drafting. He has accumulated picks, made good selections top-to-bottom, and has let those young players develop at their own pace.
The organization has been widely recognized as having the best farm system in all of hockey, which you can read more about in my updated Top 15 Flyers prospects article.
However, the sheer quantity of talented NHL-ready youngsters that the Flyers have has become somewhat of an issue due to a few veterans on the team with unwieldy contracts.
Topping that list are the oft-maligned 31-year-old defenseman Andrew MacDonald, signed through 2020 at a $5 million average-annual-value (AAV) and forward Dale Weise, also signed through 2020 at a $2.35 million AAV.
This has created a situation where (arguably) NHL-ready young players like defenseman Sam Morin and forward Oskar Lindblom have to bide their time with the Flyers minor league affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
In addition to that, while dynamic blueliner Travis Sanheim made the Flyers roster this season, he has sat in the press box for two of the team’s five games so far in lieu of Brandon Manning – for whatever reason.
In this article, I am not going to bemoan the current situation, as that has been done ad nauseam in articles and by Flyers fans all over social media.
Instead, I want to paint a picture of what this team’s roster could look like in 2019-20, when all of the young players are in the lineup and this team will assuredly be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
It’s a rosy picture indeed!
2019-20 Flyers Potential Roster
Pretty nice, eh?
Pretty much all of the young players that the fans are clamoring to see are in this lineup, the older, ineffective veterans are gone, and the Flyers still have almost $14 million in cap space to sign 2020 free agents like Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Mikhail Vorobyev, and Philippe Myers.
Let’s take a look at the assumptions I made that results in this roster:
- The Salary Cap increases from the current $75 million to $80 million
- Subtractions from current roster
- Valteri Filppula’s contract is up at the end of the 2017-18 season – $5 million
- Matt Read’s contract is up at the end of the 2017-18 season – $3.625 million
- Brandon Manning’s contract is up at the end of the 2017-18 season – $975,000
- Jori Lehtera’s contract is up at the end of the 2018-19 season- $4.7 million
- Michael Raffl’s contract is up at the end of the 2018-19 season – $2.35 million
- Brian Elliot’s contract is up at the end of the 2018-19 season – $2.75 million
- Michal Neuvirth’s contract is up at the end of the 2018-19 season – $2.5 million
- Buy out Dale Weise during the summer of 2018 – saves approx $1 million
- Trade Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald at some point over the next two years, assume we will have to retain $2 million of MacDonald’s salary – saves approximately $6 million
- Players re-signed to new contracts (highlighted in green)
- Ivan Provorov signs an 8-year contract with a $7 million AAV
- Wayne Simmonds signs a 5-year contract with a $6.5 million AAV
- Travis Konecny signs a 6-year contract with a $4.25 million AAV
- Jordan Weal signs a 3-year deal with a $3.25 million AAV
- Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim sign 4-year deals with $2.25 million AAVs
- Scott Laughton signs a 2-year deal with a $1.75 million AAV
- Sam Morin signs a 3-year deal with a $1.5 million AAV
- Taylor Leier signs a 3-year deal with a $1.25 million AAV
- Current non-roster players on the team
- Sam Morin
- Oskar Lindblom
- Mikhail Vorobyev
- German Rubtsov
- Philippe Myers
- Connor Bunnaman
- Mark Friedman
- Felix Sandstrom
- Carter Hart
Is this potential Flyers 2019-20 roster realistic?
Yes, I think it is – with a few caveats.
Let’s go position by position…
- 1st Line – Giroux-Couturier-Voracek
- The newly formed first line of Giroux, Couturier, Voracek has been terrific to start the season – they were utterly dominant in the team’s 8-2 evisceration of the Capitals last night. Fans have well-founded concerns about how well Giroux and Voracek will perform in the latter years of their contracts (through 2022 and 2024, respectively), but moving Giroux to the wing will likely extend his NHL lifespan. I think this line is probably here to stay.
- 2nd Line – Lindblom-Patrick-Konecny
- Konecny has been one of the Flyers most creative offensive players this season, and him and Patrick have discovered some chemistry at even strength and on the power play. Throw a seasoned Lindblom on the left wing and you have what could be a sensational line.
- 3rd Line – Weal-Vorobyev-Simmonds
- Vorobyev was one of the most impressive players to me in the preseason – he’s big, strong, terrific defensively, a very good passer, and simply does almost everything well. He’s borderline NHL-ready now and I think he’ll be Filppula’s replacement next season. I’m guessing Simmonds and Weal are re-signed by the team and you’ve got a very nice 3rd line.
- 4th Line – Rubtsov-Laughton-Leier
- Laughton has been a wonderful reclamation project success story this season and him and Leier are terrific together on the penalty kill and even strength. Add in another tenacious player in Rubtsov (who has 2nd or 3rd line potential), and you’ve got a really nice 4th line that is excellent defensively and can also score.
- Projected pairs
- The biggest problem right now with the Flyers defense is that Morin is blocked. This is due to the fact that Hakstol likes MacDonald on the top pair, Ghost likes playing with Hagg because the latter can play the right side (unlike Morin), and you can’t pair Gudas with Morin because their styles are too similar. I feel that this problem will get worked out in the next year by the team ultimately moving both Gudas and MacDonald to make room for Morin and Myers. I’m guessing one will be moved at this year’s trade deadline or in the offseason and the other will be moved next season. By next season, barring any serious injuries (he had to leave last night’s Phantoms game early after getting hit with a shot on the knee), Myers will likely be NHL ready and his ultimate projected spot would be on the top pair playing the right side with Provorov, who should get a mega-deal extension next season.
- Let’s just take a moment to consider how tremendous these defense pairs could be. Provorov may already be one of the best defensemen in the NHL, and the towering Myers has all the tools to eventually join him on that list. Ghost and Hagg have been a revelation together so far this season. I thought Hagg was their best defensemen against the Caps last night – he’s been terrific with his defensive positioning and just as good with his outlet passes. Morin and Sanheim played together much of the season for the Phantoms last year, and they give you a great combination of speed, size, and snarl that should be better than any other NHL teams can dream of having for their third pair.
- Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Right now the Flyers have two mediocre veterans in Elliot and Neuvirth. Both of them have contracts that expire at the end of 2018-19. The Flyers also have two elite-tier goaltending prospects in Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom, both of whom will likely be playing on the Phantoms in 2018-19. My sense is that one of those two goalies will excel with the Phantoms and ultimately become the Flyers starter in 2019-20. It’s possible that the other one will be the backup. However, it’s plausible, and perhaps likely, that Hextall will want one veteran goalie on the team to help the chosen youngster along. In that scenario, Elliot or Neuvirth could be re-signed to a 1-year deal, or perhaps they could acquire someone in free agency. A wild card is Alex Lyon, who is the starter for the Phantoms this season. If he is sensational, there’s a chance he could push to be the Flyers back-up next season and starter in 2019-20.
- As I’ve written in a few different articles for this website, including my recap of this past summer’s 3v3 Development Camp Tournament, I prefer Sandstrom to Hart. It’s admittedly a small sample size, but all three times these two players have been on the same stage (2017 World Junior Championships, 2016 and 2017 Flyers Development Camp Tournaments), Sandstrom has outplayed Hart. This season, while Hart has not played yet for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League due to a case of Mononucleosis, Sandstrom has been sensational early for Brynas of the Swedish Hockey League, with a 2.27 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage. They are both tremendous prospects, but I prefer Sandstrom. The bottom line is that hopefully one of these two will develop into the Flyers franchise netminder.
Obviously it is fairly unlikely that everything I have predicted will come true.
Unless I have a time machine and have just returned from 2020.
Hmm…I’ll let you ponder that.
In the case that I don’t, there are obviously a lot of variables that could come into play.
Here are a few…
- It’s possible the NHL will have a lockout during the 2019-20 season, which would really suck for the Flyers
- Simmonds might get traded during the 2018-19 season if the Flyers don’t feel they’ll be able to meet his salary demands
- Hextall has not had much success in free agency, but depending on whether or not he re-signs Simmonds and Weal, he could have a lot of money to go after someone, hopefully a winger who can fill the net with pucks
- If the Flyers don’t want to move Gudas or MacDonald, they will have to trade some of their young defensemen, personally I don’t think this is very likely until they’ve all had a chance to prove their NHL worth
- I’m obviously making my best guesses on the projected contracts that players like Provorov, Simmonds, Konecny, Weal, Laughton, etc… will sign, and I’m going to be wrong on some of them. Hopefully not too wrong.
Moving Past 2020
I’m already well into the future with my projections, but it should be noted that Patrick, Lindblom, Vorobyev, and Myers will all be restricted free agents at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
I’d say Hextall will need to budget at least $15 million to retain all those players. With my projections, he’ll have $14 million in cap space. I’m pretty confident that he will figure something out.
In addition to the players on my projected 2019-20 roster, young kids like Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, Pascal Laberge, Wade Allison, Maksim Sushko, and Tanner Laczynski might be knocking down the door. It’s a great thing having an abundance of prospects to compete for NHL jobs.
The Bottom Line – Things will continue to improve for the Flyers
I know that there is a ton of frustration right now among the fan base about MacDonald, Weise, Sanheim, Morin, and Lindblom. Games like last night’s pummeling of the Caps certainly help mitigate some of that frustration, but it still exists.
However, if we keep the long game in mind, it’s absolutely incredible how bright this franchise’s long-term prospects are looking.
They might not make the playoffs this year, but I will honestly be shocked if the Philadelphia Flyers don’t make the Eastern Conference Finals within the next three years, and the Stanley Cup Finals within the next four.
**Photo Credit Yong Kim – Philadelphia Inquirer**