Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers made things a little bit clearer by trading depth forward Nick Cousins and goalie prospect Merrick Madsen to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night, but there are still some decisions to be made prior to Saturday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
All teams must submit their protected list for the expansion draft prior to that deadline, and there are some questions regarding which forwards the Flyers might protect.
The Flyers first six forwards to protect are rather straightforward. They have two players with no-movement clauses that they would likely protect anyway, and four other players that are a big part of their team.
First six: Claude Giroux (NMC), Valtteri Filppula (NMC), Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds
That leaves just one forward spot left to protect. Even after trading Nick Cousins on Friday, the answer still isn’t that simple.
Here are the five major candidates that the Flyers could choose to protect with their seventh slot.
Michael Raffl has been one of the most intriguing Flyers over the past few seasons. He brokeout with 28 points (21 goals) in 67 games in the 2014-15 season, but followed that up with just 31 points in 2015-16 and 11 points last season. However, he brings more to the team than the scoreboard can show.
Raffl has been one of the team’s most consistent two-way players that has the ability to drive play and contribute in all three zones. He carries a $2.35 million cap hit over the next two seasons, and at 28 years old he could be a good option for the Vegas Golden Knights if the Flyers do not protect him.
Jordan Weal could be the real deal, or he could just be a flash in the pan. He was acquired two seasons ago from the Kings in the Vincent Lecavalier trade and was a bit of an afterthought until this past March. He has just 12 career points in 37 games, but all of those points came in a 19-game stretch to end the season, including a five-game point streak.
The 25-year old is an unrestricted free agent and has reportedly been in talks with the Flyers to re-sign. Weal could fit in well in the Flyers middle-six, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they leave him exposed and roll the dice on Vegas not selecting him with one of their UFA slots.
Scott Laughton seemed to fall out of favor in the Flyers organization last season, but an impressive campaign in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms has given him some life. The former first round pick may never turn into a top-six player, but Laughton proved that he could be a menace on the penalty kill and it looks like he could become a solid fourth-line center in the NHL.
Like Weal, Laughton is a free agent, albeit a restricted one, but he is still just 23 years old. He could be someone that the Golden Knights have interest in, but once again they may not want to use a RFA spot on him.
Matt Read has been a great role player for the Flyers in recent years, but the now 31-year old has gone on a bit of a decline. He is in the last year of his deal and carries a $3.6 million cap hit this season.
Read no longer has a designated role in the Flyers’ crowded bottom-six, and he could provide a veteran presence for Vegas. Vegas could use Read in their middle-six up until the trade deadline and them ship him out as a rental for a future draft pick. It would be surprising if the Flyers protected him.
Groan all you want, but there is a slim chance that the Flyers protect Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. I wouldn’t be a fan of it, but the alternate captain has gained favor in the eyes of the Flyers’ coaches and front office. It would definitely be a shocking move if the Flyers elected to protect the Frenchman, or if Vegas selected him once left exposed.
Things are a bit simpler on the defensive front. The Flyers only have four defensemen under contract that are eligible for the expansion draft, and they will be allowed to protect three of them.
Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas are slam dunks, with either Brandon Manning or Andrew MacDonald taking up that that last slot. Protecting Manning and exposing MacDonald (and his $5 million cap hit) would be the smart and ideal move for the Flyers.
As far as goalies are concerned, the Flyers will protect either Michal Neuvirth or Anthony Stolarz. It would make sense to protect the younger Stolarz, but Hextall could choose to show loyalty and protect Neuvirth.
Ron Hextall will take every last second up until this afternoon’s deadline to make his decision for the expansion draft. There are quite a few forward options, so keep your eyes peeled for any rumors up until then.
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