As the Flyers prepare to submit their protected list by Saturday’s 5 p.m. deadline, there are some intriguing questions that will be answered when Seattle holds its expansion draft and fills out its inaugural roster on July 21 (ESPN2), starting at 8 p.m.
Will the Flyers lose a productive but expensive player such as Shayne Gostisbehere, James van Riemsdyk, or Jake Voracek to the Kraken?
If Seattle feels those players are too pricey, will it opt for a steady, physical player such as defenseman Robert Hagg, or a quick, feisty winger with bottom-six potential such as Nic Aube-Kubel?
Did Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher learn from his mistakes in Minnesota in the 2017 expansion draft, when Vegas got the best of him?
In that expansion draft, Fletcher was in a tough spot numbers-wise when he traded young right winger Alex Tuch to Vegas so the Golden Knights would select Erik Haula over unprotected players such as Matt Dumba and Eric Staal, among others.
Tuch has become a big part of Vegas’ success, and Haula erupted for 29 goals and helped the Golden Knights stunningly reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Fletcher was asked if he learned anything from the 2017 draft and if it will affect how he operates this time around.
“Not necessarily,” he said. “Every situation is different. Our team in Minnesota was a lot different than the team here in terms of the makeup and the composition of the players. Your goal is always to do the best thing for the organization, and in our case here I think in our decisions, we had pretty good unanimity in what we wanted to do when we had our pro scouts in town. It think our list is pretty straightforward.”
Barring a trade, Fletcher said his protected list has been put together, and he hinted that because of a flat salary cap, it made it easier not to protect expensive players. Gaining cap space if Seattle takes one of those players would help the Flyers restructure their roster.
Fletcher didn’t name players, but Voracek ($8.25 million annual cap hit for three more years), van Riemsdyk ($7 million annual cap hit for two more years), and Gostisbehere ($4.5 million cap hit for two more years) have significant cap hits and probably won’t be protected. It should be noted, however, that Gostisbehere is owed only $3.25 million per year in “real” money over those two seasons. That, and his relatively strong season (nine goals in 41 games), might make him attractive to the Kraken.
In the expansion draft, teams can protect either 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. 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, who led the Flyers with 20 goals last season, 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.
“For this expansion draft, we’ve had more time [to prepare], vs. the Vegas expansion draft,” Fletcher said. “From that standpoint, it’s been a little simpler.”
Flecther said he has had “several conversations” with Seattle general manager Ron Francis about a potential trade, but “we’re certainly comfortable in submitting the list and having them select a player. I just indicated to him that if they had ideas on something else they wanted to accomplish to let us know.”
The Flyers, coming off a disappointing 25-23-8 season in which they missed the playoffs and finished last in the NHL in goals allowed per game (3.52), are expected to be active in the trade and free-agent markets. Fletcher said his phones have been extremely busy, but he doesn’t expect many teams to make moves until after the expansion draft.
“There will hopefully be some exciting additions to our club over the next couple months, and probably a few moves around the league that your normally wouldn’t see because of expansion and the flat cap,” Fletcher said.
Among the players who could be on their radar: right-handed defensemen Dougie Hamilton, Seth Jones, Adam Larsson, and David Savard; center Jack Eichel; wingers Brandon Saad, Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, and Gabriel Landeskog; and goalies Linus Ullmark and Jonathan Bernier.
Chicago’s acquisition Monday of defenseman Caleb Jones (Seth’s brother) from Edmonton might make the Blackhawks the favorite to acquire Seth Jones from Columbus.
The Flyers have $68.4 million committed to 17 players and $13.1 million in cap space, according to capfriendly.com. They must still sign restricted free agents Hart, Sanheim, and Patrick to a roster that will have a minimum of 22 players.
Minnesota is buying out left winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. Both were signed by Fletcher when he was in Minnesota, and it will be interesting to see if he pursues one of them for their veteran leadership. Both will become unrestricted free agents July 28.
Parise, who turns 37 on July 28, had 25 goals two years ago but dipped to seven goals in 45 games this season. Suter, 36, is a top-pairing left-hander who had 19 points and a plus-9 rating in 56 games this season.