Seattle’s expansion draft won’t be held until 2021, but it will affect moves Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher makes this summer.

Right now, the expansion draft is low on teams’ priority list, though it’s on general managers’ minds, especially with the NHL season on hold and possibly over because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Front-office personnel are preparing for the draft and kicking around which of their own free agents they will try to re-sign. They are mindful that all moves they make, including summer trades, will have an effect on which players they protect in the expansion draft.

They are also mindful of the expansion rules: 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.

They 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.

All of those factors will be considered as Fletcher negotiates salary and contract lengths with his free agents this summer, including Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Phil Myers, Robert Hagg, Misha Vorobyev, Derek Grant, Tyler Pitlick, Nic Aube-Kubel, Justin Braun, Mark Friedman, Brian Elliott, and Nate Thompson.

Flyers center Nolan Patrick has not played this season because of a migraine disorder.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Flyers center Nolan Patrick has not played this season because of a migraine disorder.

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.

Difficult decisions

The Flyers figure to use Option No. 1, and they will have some difficult choices.

As the team is currently formed, the Flyers would lose a more valuable player than they did in 2017, when Vegas plucked fourth-line center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare from them in the expansion draft.

Bellemare was a leader and a solid penalty-killer. He was a nice role player, but he was replaceable.

Before examining whom the Flyers might lose in 2021, let’s look at the team’s expected protected list as it now stands.

First, centers Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes have no-movement clauses, meaning they have to be protected.

That leaves five more forwards who need to be protected. Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny are locks. Jake Voracek is close to a lock, though the Flyers could gamble that Seattle doesn’t want to pick up his big salary and leave him available so they can protect someone else.

From here, it’s too risky to make Voracek available. He’s one of the Flyers’ best forwards and should be protected.

In that scenario, the Flyers would be able to protect only two of the following four players: Patrick, Lindblom, James van Riemsdyk, and Scott Laughton. There is also a possibility the Flyers could ask the ask the league for a health exemption, in which case Lindblom or Patrick might not need to be protected.

Health uncertainties

It’s difficult, of course, to project the health of Lindblom and Patrick, forwards who are restricted free agents this summer. Lindblom has been undergoing treatments as he battles a rare bone cancer, and Patrick has missed the season because of a migraine disorder.

If Patrick and Lindblom re-sign, return to good health, and are playing next season, they would almost definitely be protected in the expansion draft. If that were the case, the Flyers might try to trade Laughton – a solid two-way player who was coming into his own this season -- for a draft pick instead of losing him for nothing.

Laughton figures to get protected, however, if Patrick or Lindblom is not able to play next season. (Promising forwards Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost don’t have to be protected because first- and second-year NHL players are exempt.)

Flyers forward Scott Laughton scoring against Ottawa Senators goaltender Anders Nilsson this season.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Flyers forward Scott Laughton scoring against Ottawa Senators goaltender Anders Nilsson this season.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers would probably be the defensemen the Flyers protect. That would leave Shayne Gostisbehere available, though he could have a bounce-back season in 2020-21 to give the Flyers a reason to pause.

Carter Hart (duh) will be the one goalie protected.

If Lindblom and Patrick are healthy, the protection list might look like this:

Forwards (7): Giroux, Hayes, Couturier, Konecny, Voracek, Lindblom, and Patrick. (Laughton would probably be added if Patrick or Lindblom isn’t healthy.)

Defensemen (3): Provorov, Sanheim, and Myers.

Goalie (1): Hart.

The Flyers’ unprotected list may include van Riemsdyk, a highly consistent scorer; Gostisbehere; Laughto; and the underrated Hagg. Losing any of the four would be painful

Seattle might also have Aube-Kubel (assuming he’s signed), Michael Raffl, and goalie Felix Sandstrom available, among others.

Teams will lose only one player, and Seattle will get a pretty good one from the Flyers. In a way, the quality of the players the Flyers potentially will leave exposed shows the strides they have made since Vegas’ expansion draft.

It also means Fletcher may be more inclined to deal someone like Gostisbehere this summer for a draft pick or prospect who doesn’t have to be protected. Better to stockpile draft picks or prospects than lose a promising player and get nothing in return.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere might be one of the players the Flyers leave unprotected.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere might be one of the players the Flyers leave unprotected.