The Flyers, like all NHL teams, will lose one player to Vegas in the June 21 expansion draft.
Will it be a key player like goalie Michal Neuvirth? A former No. 1 draft pick like center Scott Laughton? A veteran winger who had a disappointing season like Dale Weise?
All are candidates, though it would be surprising if Neuvirth wasn't protected. Then again, Vegas general manager George McPhee, who was in Washington when Neuvirth was there, might have an agreement with Flyers GM Ron Hextall to acquire the veteran goalie in a trade or to grab him in the expansion draft.
There are two options for teams in the draft to stock the Golden Knights:
Protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender.
Protect eight skaters (any combination of forwards and defensemen) and one goaltender.
The Flyers are expected to use first option.
In that scenario, here are the no-brainers they will protect: forwards Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Valtteri Filppula; and defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas.
All first- and second-year professionals, such as Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, are exempt from the expansion draft. So are all unsigned draft picks and players on their entry-level deals.
The above list leaves room for one more forward and another defenseman to be protected, along with a goalie.
This is where Hextall has some difficult choices.
Winger Jordan Weal, who scored eight goals in his last 19 games, is a prospective unrestricted free agent and thus can't be protected as it now stands. The Flyers could sign him before the expansion draft, however, and then protect him.
Or they can make a verbal agreement with Weal before the expansion draft, agreeing to sign him after the draft takes place. That would enable them to keep him and protect another player, such as one-time 21-goal scorer Michael Raffl, who was the Flyers' top-line left winger in 36 games this season.
There would be a risk involved, however, because Vegas has a 48-hour window before the expansion draft to sign free agents, and it might make Weal an offer that surpasses the Flyers' offer. If Vegas were to sign Weal, the Flyers would not lose another player in the expansion draft.
Does Hextall take the risk and call the Golden Knights' bluff? Or does he play it safe and sign Weal, whose offense is a much-needed commodity?
Losing Weal - acquired with a third-round draft pick in the deal that sent Luke Schenn and Vinny Lecavalier to Los Angeles midway through the 2015-16 season - would be costly and embarrassing to a team that averaged just 2.2 goals over its last 50 games.
If Weal is signed and protected, the Flyers could lose one of the following: Weise, whose late-season surge will at least make Hextall consider protecting him, Laughton, Raffl, Nick Cousins, Pierre-Edouard-Bellemare, Taylor Leier, or Matt Read.
The third defenseman to be protected?
Andrew MacDonald had a good year - he served as a mentor to his defensive partner, Provorov, and he finished second on the Flyers in blocked shots and average time on ice per game - but his big contract might work against the Orange and Black protecting him. MacDonald has three seasons left on his deal, which carries an annual $5 million cap hit, and Hextall might instead protect hard-nosed Brandon Manning.
Protecting Manning makes more sense because MacDonald's contract would probably scare away Vegas.
The goalie situation is the most intriguing.
On March 1, the Flyers gave Neuvirth a two-year extension for $2.5 million per season, a modest figure if he ends up being their starter.
Neuvirth had a poor season and dealt with more injuries. He had a career season in 2015-16, and if he can regain that form, the Flyers would have a bargain.
But it's curious the Flyers signed Neuvirth and didn't even negotiate during the season with the agent for Steve Mason, who clearly is the more dependable goalie when all things (read: injuries) are considered.
Some believe Neuvirth was signed just so the Flyers could expose him in the expansion draft. If they hadn't signed him, Anthony Stolarz would have been the only eligible goalie to be exposed.
Complicating matters: Stolarz, who played admirably in seven appearances with the Flyers this season but was ordinary in 29 games with the AHL's Phantoms, suffered a late-season injury and underwent knee surgery recently.
It was doubtful Vegas would have chosen Stolarz even before the injury. The surgery makes the odds even longer.
So, from here, the Flyers should protect Neuvirth (again, Mason would have been the better choice if he was signed) and explore the goalie free-agent market for someone like Keith Kinkaid. (Hey, Kinkaid is from Union College, the Flyers' unofficial farm team.) Assuming Stolarz or Neuvirth aren't headed to Sin City, let the three of them battle it out in training camp.
They would serve as a bridge to the promising goalie prospects in the system, including Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.