Flyers’ Offseason Decisions: The Expansion Defense

The Philadelphia Flyers have a few big decisions to make that will dictate their 2021 NHL Entry Draft approach, starting before the expansion.

We’re officially on the road to the NHL Expansion Draft. On Wednesday, the Seattle Kraken received their placement in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in July. Now, their focus switches to thirty other NHL franchises (excluding the Vegas Golden Knights).

Already, Chuck Fletcher has a loaded offseason ahead of him. An action plan is required to counter the Kraken. In addition to creating a list of protected players, Fletcher could incentivize Ron Francis to keep away from certain players. Once Seattle makes their selection, the Philadelphia Flyers need to decide what to do with their first-round pick. All of this happens before the free agency market opens.

Believe me, what the Flyers decide to do with their thirteenth-overall pick will heavily depend on the result of the NHL Expansion Draft.

If Seattle elects to draft a young, inexpensive bottom-six forward from Philadelphia, then the first-round pick will likely be packaged in a trade for a top-pair defenseman next to Ivan Provorov. If the Kraken select a veteran like Jakub Voracek or James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers likely hold on to their first-round pick, escalating a bidding war in free agency for a top-pair defenseman.

More than ever, this offseason is one of the most complex games of chess for Fletcher. As the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs unfold, a spotlight is on defense and goaltending. How can Philadelphia achieve what they were on track to in 2019-2020? Success rides on the front office’s preparation. First, here is an idea of how the protection list may look:

Flyers’ Forwards

Claude Giroux (NMC,) Kevin Hayes (NMC,) Jakub Voracek*, Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom

Flyers’ Defenders

Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers

Goaltenders

Carter Hart

A Strategy For the Unprotected

A Possible Nolan Patrick Deal?

First and foremost, the asterisk next to Jakub Voracek is because he exchanges as unprotected for James van Riemsdyk. Either one makes sense to relieve cap space. Both are the most appealing forward for the Seattle Kraken in terms of production.

If either one of these two players gets drafted by the Kraken, the Philadelphia Flyers won’t trade their first-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft. They’ll select to develop another top-six forward.

Of the other forwards unprotected, Nolan Patrick and Nicolas Aube-Kubel are the most valuable.

Patrick, because he hired a new agent, likely wants a trade. Seattle could double-dip, drafting Voracek or van Riemsdyk while scoring Patrick on a deal. The only reason Ron Francis selects Patrick as his expansion pick is if he values his NHL Entry Draft picks too highly or has the same faith Chuck Fletcher showed in his exit interview.

Aube-Kubel is under contract for another season. If Francis selects him, it’s because he has no faith in Patrick and can save between $6mil-$7mil instead of taking Voracek or van Riemsdyk. Those contracts aren’t attractive to anyone, and the Kraken can afford to stick the Flyers will the bill. Philadelphia becomes flexible at the NHL Entry Draft, however. Instead of making a first-round pick on a forward, they could trade their thirteenth overall pick with a player for a top-pair defenseman.

Trade the Flyers’ 2021 1st Round Pick

Defensively speaking, Shayne Gostisbehere is a trap. The Flyers could enjoy exposing is $4.5mil pricetag. Overall, he’s $2.5mil-$3.25mil cheaper than Voracek or van Riemsdyk, whichever is exposed. Aside from either one of those top forwards, Gostisbehere represents the most talented player available.

The league missed out before he turned his season around when Gostisbehere cleared waivers in 2020-2021. He led all Philadelphia defensemen in powerplay goals. It’ll be interesting to see if the front office was swayed by Gostisbehere at all. Is there a chance he’s protected instead?

Very unlikely, especially factoring an injury history and relative age to the other core defensemen. Gostisbehere is still a young defenseman ready to assume his prime. Unless Alain Vigneault believes Philippe Myers regressed so poorly this season, expect Gostisbehere exposed with Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin.

A defenseman selected creates another “trade the first-round pick scenario.” All of the valuable Flyers defensemen exposed play on the left side. Cam York will replace that role. If a defenseman departs, all the forwards remain. Now, Philadelphia can hyper-focus on moving the first-round pick with Patrick to a team for the right partner to Ivan Provorov.

Planning Around Hart

All the goaltenders, to note, are a sort of free agent right now. Carter Hart will be protected, I guarantee it. Seattle won’t draft a goaltender from the Flyers. If Fletcher offers money to one of the exposed goaltenders, it’ll be a telltale sign of his direction for the backup role in 2021-2022.

Photo Credit: Alex McIntrye

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