The Flyers falling out of playoff contention has at least made this year’s NHL draft more appealing for them and their fans.
Because the Flyers should get a relatively high pick, for one.
Oh, and because the higher the pick, the more it will be worth if general manager Chuck Fletcher decides to trade it for a top-pairing defenseman or a genuine sniper, both of which should be high on the Flyers’ wish list.
The draft, scheduled for July 23-24, will be one of the strangest in history. Because of the pandemic, most of the top prospects have not been seen too often, if at all, by scouts in person in the last year. That has taken video scouting to another level.
Tougher to evaluate
Watching a prospect in person — where a player can be viewed away from the puck, interacting with his teammates, and in other situations that might give a hint to his strengths and weaknesses — is more optimal, so it adds a tinge of uncertainty to this year’s draft selections.
There will be changes in the draft lottery, with two drawings instead of three to determine the selection order. The team that has the worst record in the league will select no lower than No. 3.
The 15 teams that fail to qualify for the playoffs, along with the expansion Seattle Kraken, will be involved in the lottery. (In 2022, teams will be restricted from moving up more than 10 spots in the lottery, and teams cannot win the lottery more than twice in a five-year period that starts next year.)
Heading into the weekend’s games, the Flyers were the league’s 14th-worst team; they had a 1.5% chance to win the lottery and a 3.2% chance to get the No. 2 pick, according to tankathon.com. Though they were 14th, they would actually get the 13th overall pick if they don’t move in the standings – assuming they don’t advance in the lottery – because Arizona was stripped of its first-round pick due to NHL Combine violations last year.
For what it’s worth, I did the website’s simulated lottery five times, and the Flyers finished 14th four times and No. 2 once.
Let’s assume the Flyers pick in the low teens. Here are some of the players they have drafted in that area in their history:
2019: Defenseman Cam York, 14th overall. The puck-moving defender starred at Michigan and is destined to run the Flyers’ power play, perhaps next season.
2018: Left winger Joel Farabee, 14th overall. He’s had a breakthrough season this year and, at 21, his future is extremely bright.
1996: Right winger/center Dainius Zubrus, 15th overall. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward had a solid 19-year career that produced 228 goals. He played parts of three seasons in Philly.
1992: Defenseman Jason Bowen, 15th overall. He played just 77 games over six NHL seasons, including five uneventful ones with the Flyers.
1988: Left winger Claude Boivin, 14th overall. Like Bowen, he had a short and undistinguished career, playing parts of just three seasons with the Flyers.
1979: Left winger Brian Propp, 14th overall. Propp was one of the best 14th picks in NHL history, finishing with 425 goals and putting together consecutive seasons of 44, 40, 39, 43, and 40 goals with the Flyers.
1978: Right winger Danny Lucas, 14th overall. He played just six games in his career, but at least managed a goal. Leading up to the draft, he collected 50 goals and 117 points as Wayne Gretzky’s linemate for Sault St. Marie in the OHL.
No guarantees, but ...
As you can see from the sample, there are no guarantees. That said, a prospect drafted in the low teens should be a quality NHL player and should generate lots of interest around the league, and with the Flyers having immediate needs, the time may be right for Fletcher to trade his top pick.
The draft will start two days after Seattle’s expansion draft. The Flyers will lose one player to Seattle, and Shayne Gostisbehere (if not protected) and Robert Hagg are among the top candidates. Or will the Kraken go for an established but expensive forward like Jake Voracek or James van Riemsdyk, if they are made available?
The prospect draft (not the expansion one) will finish three days before the free-agency period starts July 28. Unlike past years, however, teams are not allowed to talk to prospective unrestricted free agents before the free-agency period opens. That means Fletcher won’t know if a free agent is leaning toward signing with the Flyers before the draft. (Teams can talk to pending restricted free agents on July 27.)
Among the potential unrestricted free agents that could interest the Flyers:
RH defensemen: Dougie Hamilton, David Savard Travis Harmonic, Adam Larsson, and Tyson Barrie. LH defenseman: Jamie Oleksiak. Wingers: Gabriel Landeskog, Tomas Tatar, Mike Hoffman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nick Foligno (also a center), Blake Coleman, Zach Hyman, Jaden Schwartz, Kyle Palmieri, Brandon Saad, and Blake Coleman. Centers: Mikael Granlund and Phillip Danault. Goalies: Linus Ullmark, Frederik Andersen, Philipp Grubauer, Jonathan Bernier, and Anders Nilsson.
Best-case scenario for Fletcher’s offseason: He signs a hard-nosed player like Savard — Hamilton appears headed back to Carolina – and he is paired with Ivan Provorov. He also adds one of the free-agent goalies to divide duties with Carter Hart, and he trades his No. 1 pick and a high-priced forward — perhaps eating some of the salary — and acquires a potential 30-goal scorer like Johnny Gaudreau or Patrik Laine.
Or maybe he is able to sign Landeskog as a free agent and gets his top-pairing defenseman in a deal.
The Flyers have about $71.5 million earmarked for 20 skaters projected to make the team next year — I’ve included Wade Allison, Morgan Frost and York in that group. They will need to re-sign Hart (RFA) and a backup goalie, whether it’s Brian Elliott (UFA) or someone else. The cap is expected to remain at $81.5 million next season.
Like most teams, the Flyers are hoping to shed some salary in the offseason, paving the way to make a splash in the trade and free-agent markets.
In a flat cap world, major moves aren’t easy, but Fletcher needs to get creative because the fan base is disillusioned — and angry, based on the Twitterverse — at a franchise that has no identity, has little speed and too many pass-happy players, and has missed the playoffs in five of the last nine seasons.