Over the next few weeks we will be breaking down each team’s situation as it pertains to the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. Which players are eligible, and which will likely warrant protection or may be on the block. Each team is required to submit their protection lists by 4pm CDT on June 17th. The full rules on eligibility can be found here, and CapFriendly has provided a handy expansion tool to make your own lists.
The Philadelphia Flyers are coming off a disappointing season of Metropolitan struggles. Thankfully, with the #2 pick in the upcoming draft, they will receive an infusion a top level talent in Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick. There aren’t a ton of success stories from this last season for the Flyers, in which Wayne Simmonds led the way up front. Many players took a noticeable step back and the younger forwards failed to produce at an impactful clip.
The Flyers are in desperate need of embracing a full youth movement. The longer they cling to players like Andrew MacDonald, the worse off their rebuild will be. This is not a team that can compete for a Stanley Cup in the near future and with the expansion draft forcing tough decisions, now is the time to embrace that organizational mentality.
Eligible Players (Non-UFA)
Claude Giroux (NMC), Valtteri Filppula (NMC), Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Dale Weise, Michael Raffl, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Scott Laughton, Greg Carey, Colin McDonald, Taylor Leier
The Flyers have to protect two players – both of whom are probably not deserving of the no movement clause they have been granted. Giroux had his second straight offensively disappointing season. At $8.275 MM a season until 2022, the Flyers have created a really difficult situation for themselves. And although previous GM Paul Holmgren was somehow able to unload Mike Richards prior to his momentous fall from grace, Giroux is already known to be an albatross. He’s still producing, with 14 goals and 58 points in his last outing, but he is struggling to be a difference maker against tough competition. Filppula only played 20 games this past season for Philadelphia, so any criticism might be premature. But the well-rounded center has only broken 20 goals twice in his career, most recently 4 seasons ago. He seems rather redundant on a team with lots of mediocre offensive talents.
Voracek might also be slightly overpaid for what he brings to the team ($8.25 MM), as his possession metrics have trended consistently downward over the course of four seasons. That said, he was Philadelphia’s leading scorer in 2016-17 and has a secure roster spot. He’s only two years removed from an All-Star appearance, but is he dominant enough to carry an offense if another key member struggles again? Simmonds is an obvious keeper for the physical edge he brings along with his consistent production. The net-front presence and leadership skills make him a prime candidate for captain if Giroux were somehow jettisoned in the near future. Both Schenn and Couturier are promising key pieces to the future of the squad, and had solid outings last season.
From here, the decision at forward gets difficult. Weal had solid underlying metrics and showed flexibility in his game. Does GM Ron Hextall believe there is there more to his game, and if so, is he worth signing as a UFA before the expansion draft, burning a protection slot? Probably not. Some believe Cousins is worth protecting, as he is still young at 23 years old, and shown potential at the AHL level. With the other players vying for the position, however, the organization would have to be incredibly high on his ability to piece it all together next season.
The three serious remaining choices – Laughton, Raffl, and Bellemare – a group which likely contains the player to be claimed by Vegas, poses a question which will be entirely decided by organizational philosophy. Laughton is the player who has the highest upside but also the greatest potential for bust. Mike Raffl is a consistent producer whose ability would guarantee a certain amount of offense on a forward corps that can really struggles over long stretches. Bellemare is your classic heart-and-soul player – his latest perfomance in the World Championships put that on display for all onlookers. In the end, based on the praise afforded him by the coaching staff and other players, as well as his assistant captainship, Bellemare could easily find himself as the final protected player. Whether that is the correct long-term decision will be a topic of great scrutiny.
On defense, there are very few players signed. Gudas and Gostisbehere will absolutely be protected, so the third choice is the only one up for debate. Many believe that MacDonald is considered the veteran savvy anchor, but his possession stats have been poor, while his turnover frequency has been disturbing. He plays over 20 minutes a night, but hasn’t performed as consistently as a top-pairing player should. Manning still has room to improve, is four years younger, and posts a positive Corsi influence (51.3%) on a corps that truly floundered all season. Neither is going to be a game breaker for Vegas, but it would seem odd that Philadelphia wouldn’t roll the dice and expose MacDonald in hopes that his $5 MM contract for three more seasons could be removed from the books.
The goaltending decision will be an interesting one for outside watchers. With Steve Mason gone, Neuvirth is obviously their tender going forward, correct? Well, perhaps not. Neuvirth’s stats (.901 SV%) really don’t justify his protection, and especially considering the forward situation, he would almost certainly not be claimed. Stolarz is the goaltender of the immediate future for the team and will see quite a bit of duty this year. The 6’6″ former London Knight is going to be relied upon to take a step forward, and his progression in Lehigh Valley has been quite promising. Exposing him could backfire in a way that leaving Neuvirth open for taking could not. If the team is serious about a youth movement, his value as an asset needs to be shielded.
After quite a few tough determinations, and trying to be realistic about the organization’s valuation of certain players, what follows is the final projection for Philadelphia.
Projected Protection List
Scheme: 7F / 3D / 1G