After a disappointing 2020-21 NHL season, the Philadelphia Flyers face several questions that will need answering this off-season. For starters, none of the goaltenders that saw NHL time with the team are under contract for the 2021-22 season. Carter Hart will most certainly be extended, but deciding on number and term will be tricky considering his poor form last season. Additionally, there is a major hole in the team’s defense that desperately needs filling.
In a normal year, an off-season like this would already be tricky, but the expansion draft is rapidly approaching and it will force general manager Chuck Fletcher to answer a new set of questions as he decides who to protect and who to leave exposed for the Seattle Kraken.
A Refresher on the Rules of the Expansion Draft
Now only a month away, the 2021 NHL Expansion draft will see the Seattle Kraken select a player from 30 of the NHL’s 31 teams, with the Vegas Golden Knights being exempt. Each participating team must expose at least two forwards, one defenceman, and one goaltender who meet the following criteria:
- Each skater must be under contract for the 2021-22 season.
- Each skater must have appeared in either 27 games during the 2020-21 season or 54 games total over the last two seasons.
- The goaltender must either be under contract for 2021-22 or a restricted free-agent (RFA) at the end of this season.
The Flyers will have no issue meeting the above criteria. They have a surplus of forwards and defenders with NHL experience, and the recent re-signing of Felix Sandstrom means that the team now has a goaltender under contract to make available to the Kraken.
Where the problems lie for the Flyers is in selecting their list of protected players. Each team can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender (7F, 3D, 1G), or 8 skaters and a goaltender (8F/D, 1G). Teams are also required to protect players who have a no-move clause written into their contract. This begs the question, who should the Flyers protect in the upcoming expansion draft?
Which Flyers Players Are Eligible for Selection?
Per CapFriendly.com, the Flyers players that will be eligible for selection are as follows:
Forwards: Andy Andreoff, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Connor Bunnaman, Sean Couturier, David Kase, Travis Konecny, Pascal Laberge, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick, German Rubtsov, Carsen Twarynski, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, Mikhail Vorobyov
Goalies: Brian Elliott, Carter Hart, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom
Captain Claude Giroux and centreman Kevin Hayes must be protected by the Flyers as they each have no-move clauses. Additionally, a group of promising young players, including Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Cam York, Wade Allison, and Tanner Lacyzinski will be exempt from the expansion draft as they have each played two seasons or less in professional leagues.
Who Should the Flyers Protect
The Flyers have a wealth of talented forwards who are eligible to be selected by the Kraken. Because of this, they will likely opt to protect seven forwards, three defenders, and one goaltender. There have been some rumblings that the Flyers may choose to protect eight skaters and a goalie instead, but unless the team acquires a top defender before the expansion draft, this seems unlikely.
Assuming the Flyers do choose to go with the 7F, 3D, 1G format, who should they protect?
Starting in net, Hart is the only real choice to be protected. The 22-year-old holds the keys to the Flyers net for the foreseeable future, and despite a season-long slump in 2020-21, he is expected to bounce back and resume the level of play that he showed in seasons past.
If not for Hart, some consideration may have been given to Felix Sandstrom, a goaltending prospect who split time between the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Sweden’s Vasterviks IK last season.
As for the other options, as solid as Brian Elliott has been for the Flyers, he’s 36 years old and a pending free agent. The final candidate, Alex Lyon, is also a pending free agent and played in only 10 games last season across the NHL and AHL.
The situation on the blueline isn’t as clear-cut as it is in net. The team’s number-one defenceman, Provorov, is the only true no-brainer. While he had a poor, by his standards, 2020-21 campaign, he still managed to take home his third Barry Ashbee Trophy, awarded by the Flyers to the team’s most outstanding defenseman.
Going into this past season, protecting both Sanheim and Myers seemed like a foregone conclusion. The two defenders had just come off of a promising playoff campaign and seemed to be primed to take the next step in their progression. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Like many players on the Flyers roster, both Sanheim and Myers had a down season. The two defenders that had both shown poise beyond their years in the season prior suddenly looked like they lacked confidence.
Their shaky play has led some to ponder whether the two will be able to live up to their potential and grow into bona fide top defenders. Myers, in particular, seemed to be especially prone to errors, resulting in him watching multiple games from the press box as a healthy scratch. Despite the downward trend in their play, the duo is still likely to be protected. They still have plenty of room to grow at only 25 and 24 years of age and hopefully have many solid seasons ahead of them.
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If the team decides to expose Sanheim or Myers, a dark horse candidate to be protected is Morin. The towering 6-foot-6 defender had a storybook 2020-21 campaign that saw him start the year in an unfamiliar position. A lifelong defender, Morin shifted to the left wing in an attempt to jump-start a career that had stalled due to injury. Unfortunately, the experiment failed after a five-game stint on the wing, where he failed to make an impact. Morin persevered and earned another NHL opportunity in late March, this time in his natural position as a defender.
Morin entered the lineup with the team struggling, scoring his first NHL goal, a game-winner, in his second game back with the big club, against the New York Rangers. His impressive performance against the Rangers was enough to make him a mainstay of the Flyers’ defense for the remainder of the season. With that being said, the 25-year-old’s game still leaves plenty to be desired and he will likely be left exposed.
Another defender that the Flyers may consider protecting is Gostisbehere. The dynamic defender has the most offensive upside of any of the team’s blueliners, but his defensive game is lacking. A healthy scratch on numerous occasions over the past two seasons, Ghost seems to be out of favor with head coach Alain Vigneault and thus will likely not be protected over players like Sanheim and Myers.
The first two protection slots are already locked down by Giroux and Hayes, assuming that neither of them chooses to waive their no-move clauses, a very unlikely scenario. This leaves the Flyers with five remaining protection slots to use on forwards.
Both Couturier and Konecny should be obvious choices to protect. Couturier, the lifeblood of the Flyers, took home the Selke Trophy after a defensively dominant 2019-20 season and earned the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team’s most valuable player for the third season in a row. Konecny’s season wasn’t as good as Couturier’s, but his track record is very impressive for a 24-year-old, boasting three 24 goal seasons, including a dominant 2019-20 campaign that saw him score at just under a point-per-game pace.
While it’s far from a foregone conclusion, Laughton and Lindblom should also find themselves protected from expansion. Making his Flyers debut in 2012-13, Laughton is one of the longest-tenured players on the team’s roster. Now with nearly 400 games of NHL experience under his belt, he’s proven to be a reliable forward who is capable in all three zones. Having been recently rewarded for his loyalty with a five-year contract extension, Laughton should avoid the clutches of the Kraken.
The winner of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey, Lindblom should also be protected from expansion. The young winger returned to the Flyers during the 2020 NHL playoffs after a difficult battle with Ewing’s sarcoma. Both a fighter and a talented scorer, Lindblom was tied for the team lead in goals in 2019-20 before he was forced to bow out of the lineup to treat his cancer. With another season of experience under his belt and what will likely be an off-season full of training, the tough-as-nails Swede will look to make a major impact in 2021-22.
The Final Protection Slot
Here’s where things start to get murky. Having a wealth of skilled forwards should be a general manager’s dream, but with only seven protection slots, Fletcher may end up losing sleep over having to expose some of them. With the first six slots likely being used on Giroux, Hayes, Couturier, Konecny, Laughton, and Lindblom, only one spot remains.
This final protection slot will, in all likelihood, go to one of Voracek, van Riemsdyk, or Aube-Kubel. All three of these forwards have proven themselves to be solid contributors to the team and leaders on and off the ice. All three would remain with the team for the upcoming season in an ideal world, but this unique predicament means that one of them may be wearing a different uniform next season.
There are concrete reasons for protecting and for exposing each of these players to Seattle. Voracek has been a key contributor to the Flyers for a decade, leading the team in scoring twice across that span. While he is one of the team’s most dynamic playmakers, his two-way game slipped this past season, and with a team full of capable playmakers, his skillset could soon become redundant. While Voracek has long been a fan favorite, at 31 years of age, his best years are probably behind him. If the Kraken were to pluck him from the Flyers’ roster, the $8.25-million in cap relief would be a boon to a Flyers team that is nearly at the salary-cap ceiling.
JVR finds himself in a similar position to Voracek. Having signed a contract with a cap-hit of seven million in 2018, losing the New Jersey native to Seattle would provide the Flyers with major cap relief. An undoubtedly talented player, he is among the best net-front presences in the league. When deployed alongside Couturier and Farabee, who both have a knack for playmaking through rebound creation, he is a lethal offensive threat. While he finished in a tie with Giroux and Voracek for the team lead in points last season, his inconsistency and large contract may lead to him being unprotected.
The Flyers still don’t quite know what they have when it comes to Aube-Kubel. Drafted 48th overall in 2014, the chippy winger didn’t make his mark until 2019-20, when he stepped onto the scene and immediately proved that he belonged. Aube-Kubel was one of the team’s best drivers of play that season, helping the Flyers to one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, like many other members of the orange-and-black, he would go through a slump in 2020-21. With uncertainty about whether he’s the forechecking monster we saw in 2019-20 or the average bottom-six player we saw in 2020-21, Aube-Kubel could also find himself unprotected.
A final question-mark is Patrick. A former second-overall pick, the start to his NHL career has been filled with adversity. After being sidelined for the entirety of the 2019-20 season with painful migraines, he returned to the Flyers’ lineup this past season, where he struggled to make a significant impact. The Flyers brass has stressed being patient with the youngster, but it will be difficult to justify using a precious protection spot on him.
While it will ultimately be an extremely difficult decision that could play out in a multitude of ways, the final protection slot should go to van Riemsdyk. The veteran winger brings a unique skillset and scoring threat to the Flyers that would be difficult to replace. His talent and newfound chemistry with Couturier and Farabee could be paramount to a team hoping to make deep playoff runs in the near future.
Who Will the Kraken Choose from the Flyers?
The Kraken has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the Golden Knights and become an immediate contender through their expansion draft choices. With skilled forwards such as Voracek and JVR potentially being available, they could add a top-tier offensive player to their roster.
They may also consider taking a flyer on Patrick in hopes of nurturing the talent that was evident in his tenure with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, where he proved to be a dominant player.
Gostisbehere may also be an intriguing option for the fledgling team. An electric defender who could use a change of scenery, Ghost could serve as a quarterback for the Kraken’s power-play. If utilized properly, his defensive shortcomings could be negated similarly to what we’ve seen from the Montreal Canadiens and former Flyer Erik Gustafsson in this year’s playoffs.
With the opportunity to select a core of dynamic forwards from the other 29 teams participating in the expansion draft, the Kraken may elect to go with a safer option in Aube-Kubel. If they take up a similar team-building philosophy to the Golden Knights, I believe this to be the most likely option. Selecting a young player who will be a restricted free agent when his contract expires at the end of next season will give the team more control over a player’s future that they’ll hope can grow alongside their newly assembled roster.
Hey everyone, I’m Chris! I’m a Ryerson University alum and a huge sports fan. I love to spend my time combing through hockey history and it’s current events, looking for interesting and unique stories to tell.
I cover the Philadelphia Flyers for THW and strive to tell compelling stories and provide unique perspectives on the team!