If the conjecture is true, left winger James van Riemsdyk, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, and right winger Jake Voracek will be among the players the Flyers leave unprotected in the July 21 expansion draft for Seattle.
Voracek’s big contract — the point-producing veteran has an $8.25 million annual salary-cap hit through the end of 2023-24 — is expected to scare away a Kraken team directed by former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol.
Van Riemsdyk and Gostisbehere also have hefty contracts, but they aren’t as long or as painful to absorb as Voracek’s.
For that reason, it wouldn’t be shocking if van Riemsdyk or Gostisbehere were selected by the Kraken. Van Riemsdyk has two years left on his contract ($7 million annual cap hit), and Gostisbehere has two years remaining at $4.5 million per season.
Both are still productive. Both have had long ties to the area. Both want to remain here.
The expansion draft is weighing on their minds, but they say they can’t be preoccupied about something they cannot control.
Seattle will draft one player from each NHL team except Vegas.
“Obviously I want to stay here,” Gostisbehere, who is getting married in August, said at the end of the season. “I’ve built a nice life here with my fiancee, and obviously I want to be here, but it’s a business. It is what it is. The expansion draft is gonna happen. If you get picked, you’re wanted and you could definitely take positives from that. But it definitely weighs on your mind. I think in general, you’ve just got to go and put your best foot forward, go into the summer and do what you can control.”
Gostisbehere had a strange season, one that included some benchings because of defensive shortcomings, and being put on waivers but going unclaimed, primarily because teams didn’t have cap room at the time.
He also regained mobility after two knee surgeries the previous season, and the Florida native showed flashes of his old offensive self.
“I think Ghost was their only defenseman who had a better year this year than last year,” Mark Howe, the Hall of Fame defenseman who is the Detroit Red Wings’ longtime director of pro scouting, said recently. “I think he gained a little confidence and it showed.”
The rookie-of-the-year runner-up after the 2015-16 season, Gostisbehere, 28, finished this season with nine goals, 20 points, and a minus-2 rating in just 41 games.
Van Riemsdyk, 32, accumulated good numbers (17 goals, 42 points, plus-2 in 56 games) despite enduring a 17-game streak without a goal. He remains a force in the paint, and his 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame creates havoc for opposing goaltenders.
“I knew when I signed my contract that obviously this expansion situation was coming,” said van Riemsdyk, who signed a five-year, $35 million deal on July 1, 2018, “and when you don’t have sort of protections in your contract, you know there’s possibilities like that. Ultimately, it’s all going to work out the way it’s supposed to work out. Obviously, those things are outside of my control.”
Will Hakstol whisper to Seattle GM Ron Francis that he wants van Riemsdyk or Gostisbehere?
“I’ve loved my time here,” said van Riemsdyk, who is in his second stint with the Flyers, the team that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2007. “It’s been a great place to play and great place to live. I’d love to continue to be here. I think I still have a lot of good hockey left and a lot of good years left in me.”
Gostisbehere, who late in 2016 was benched by Hakstol on the day he was named the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s pro athlete of the year, respects his former coach.
“A lot of people think he’s a glum, emotionless guy,” Gostisbehere once said. “But behind closed doors, there’s a lot more to it. I respect him in that he doesn’t care what people think — the fan base, whoever’s been on him. He doesn’t care. He only cares about what the guys in the room think, and that’s really what matters to me.”
In the expansion draft, 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 figure to use Option No. 1, and they will have some difficult choices. At the moment, it appears these will be the players they protect if they aren’t traded before the expansion draft:
Forwards: Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, and Nolan Patrick. (Giroux and Hayes have no-movement clauses, so they have to be protected.)
Defensemen: Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers.
Goalie: Carter Hart.
Joel Farabee, Cam York, Wade Allison, and Morgan Frost are among those who don’t have to be protected because first- and second-year NHL players are exempt.
If Seattle believes Gostisbehere and van Riemsdyk are too expensive, it might select underrated defenseman Robert Hagg, a cheaper option ($1.6 million cap hit) who would give the team a physical presence on the back end.