The protection list the Flyers will put together for this summer’s expansion draft isn’t as clear as it looked before the season.
Things are more complicated because of the emergence of Scott Laughton, James van Riemsdyk, and Shayne Gostisbehere, coupled with the struggles of Nolan Patrick and Phil Myers.
In the July 21 expansion draft for Seattle, teams can either protect 11 players (must be seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie), or eight skaters (any combination of forwards and defensemen) and one goalie. The Flyers are expected to select the first option.
Centers Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes have no-movement clauses, meaning they have to be protected.
That leaves five more forwards to protect. Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny are locks. Jake Voracek is likely to be protected, though the Flyers could gamble that Seattle doesn’t want to pick up his big salary (three more years after this season, with an annual $8.25 million cap hit) and leave him available so they can protect someone else.
In a scenario where Voracek was protected, the Flyers would be able to protect only two of the following four players: Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, van Riemsdyk, and Laughton.
Patrick is healthy after missing last season because of a migraine disorder, but he has been unproductive. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, Patrick entered Thursday with five points in 23 games, and he was on a 16-game point-less streak. He has fallen below the much more versatile Laughton on the depth chart.
What at one point seemed inconceivable has become a possibility – that the Flyers may leave Patrick unprotected.
A protected forward spot could come down to Lindblom, who has battled his way back from a rare bone cancer, and van Riemsdyk, 31, who is off to the best start of his career (11 goals, 27 points in the first 23 games). Or maybe the Flyers gamble and expose Voracek, 31, allowing them to protect Lindblom and van Riemsdyk – or decide Patrick belongs on the protection list over one of them.
The Flyers could decide to expose van Riemsdyk and hope his salary ($7 million annual cap until the end of 2022-23) causes the Kraken to pass, but that would be risky.
By the way, Joel Farabee, who is having a breakout season, and the injured Morgan Frost don’t have to be protected because first- and second-year NHL players are exempt from the expansion draft.
As for the defense, Provorov and Travis Sanheim will undoubtedly be protected. Myers has struggled this season – he was a healthy scratch Thursday against Washington – and is no longer considered a lock. Gostisbehere, who is having a bounce-back year after an injury-plagued 2019-20 campaign, has spent a lot of games on the top pairing and might be protected.
The Flyers could also trade for someone such as Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm and make him one of the three defensemen on their protected list.
Unless there is a crazy development, Carter Hart will be the goalie the Flyers protect.
The expansion rules stipulate that each team must expose one defenseman who is under contract for 2021-22 and played in at least 40 NHL games in 2020-2021 or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
Teams must also expose at least two forwards who meet the same conditions, and make one goalie available who is under contract for 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent on July 1, 2021.
Each NHL teams will lose only one player in the expansion draft, and Seattle will get a pretty good one from the Flyers.
Andy Andreoff came off the taxi squad and played left wing on the Flyers’ fourth line Thursday against Washington. Michael Raffl missed his third straight game with an injured right hand. ... Brian Elliott was the starting goaltender for the third time in the last five games. ... The Phantoms’ game Wednesday in Newark against Binghamton was suspended after a 1-1 first period because of the league’s COVID-19 protocol. Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon played his first game in about a year. On Thursday, Lyon returned the Flyers’ taxi squad and Felix Sandstrom went back to Lehigh Valley.