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Musings: Expansion Draft, Phantoms Update

May 13, 2021, 9:49 AM ET [286 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Meltzer's Musings: Preparing for NHL Expansion Draft

The 2021 National Hockey League expansion draft will take place on July 21, 2021. With the exception of the Vegas Golden Knights (who remain exempt from losing a player although the franchise has now been around for four seasons and has the depth to withstand it), every team in the NHL will lose one unprotected player and one player only to the Seattle Kraken.

For the Flyers, the team need not protect players who were first-year or second-year pros in 2020-21 as they are exempt from the expansion draft. The list of exempt players include Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Cam York, Tyson Foerster, Egor Zamula, Zayde Wisdom, Wade Allison and Tanner Laczynski.

On the flip side, the Flyers MUST expose a goaltender who meets the expansion draft eligibility criteria (under contract for 2021-22 or a restricted free agent who has received a qualifying offer). The Flyers will protect Carter Hart, who is an impending RFA. Options for exposing a goaltender would include giving a qualifying offer to impending RFA goaltender Felix Sandström and exposing him to the draft. Unrestricted free agents cannot be exposed to the draft. As such, the Flyers could not expose Brian Elliott or Alex Lyon (unless they were resigned to a new contract).

The Flyers MUST protect any player with a no-movement clause in his contract unless the player agrees to waive his NMC. There are two such players on the roster: Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes.

As with the last expansion draft with Vegas, it is allowable for teams to strike deals with Seattle to take a specific player off their unprotected list, refrain from taking a certain unprotected player or take a certain player from another team's list and flip their contract immediately in a trade with your club. Doing so typically involves adding "sweeteners" to the deal, usually in the form of trading high-end draft pick(s) or prospect(s).

When Chuck Fletcher was the general manager of the Minnesota Wild, he got involved in such an arrangement with Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft. Minnesota Wild traded former 1st round pick Alex Tuch to Vegas in exchange for Vegas selecting Erik Haula in the expansion draft. Minnesota received a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 draft; a selection used on Connor Dewar, who has played the last two seasons in the AHL for the Iowa Wild.

The arrangement proved to be lopsided in favor of Vegas, as many of their deals did. Haula had an excellent season in 2017-18 for the eventual Western Conference champion Golden Knights. The next offseason, Vegas traded Haula to Carolina in the deal that brought Nicolas Roy to Vegas. In the meantime, Tuch is still with Vegas and posted his first NHL 20-goal season in 2018-19, scored eight playoff goals last season and produced an 18-goal, 33-point season for Vegas this year.

Fletcher has said that he learned a lesson from the 2017 expansion draft experience. Back in that draft, the Flyers lost fourth-line forward Pierre-Edourd Bellemare to Vegas. Shortly before the draft, the team traded Nick Cousins (who was not going to be protected) and Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen to the Arizona Coyotes for University of Michigan forward Brendan Warren and a fifth-round pick in the 2018 draft (defenseman Wyatte Wylie, now with the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms).

There are many different strategies that the Flyers can employ in preparing their protection list. One is try to free up cap space by dangling multiple high-price veterans with term remaining on their contracts, while protecting younger players. Another would be to react to which younger players had disappointing seasons in 2020-21 and leave some of these players exposed.

If it were my choice, my strategy would be to expose multiple veterans who are good NHL players but whose contracts have high cap hits and two or more seasons of term remaining. I would NOT add any sweeters to Seattle as an incentive. They have to at least get to the cap floor (combined $60.2 million) and they also have to try to ice a competitive team. As such, my stance would be, "Here's our list. Take whatever player you want, and that's it."

My protection list would be as follows:

Seven forwards: Claude Giroux (NMC), Kevin Hayes (NMC), Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, and Nolan Patrick.

Three defensemen: Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim (RFA), Phil Myers.

One goaltender: Carter Hart (RFA).

The unprotected list would include all of the following: Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Shayne Gostisbehere, Justin Braun, Robert Hägg and Felix Sandström (RFA, first year of ELC was burned while on loan to HV71 in the SHL).

In terms of salary considerations, here is the relevant information:

Voracek: three seasons of remaining term, $8.25 million AAV, real-dollar salaries of $7.5 million in 2021-22, $6.25 million in 2022-23 ($5 million signing bonus installment on July 1, 2022, $1.25 million salary for the season), $7.5 million in 2023-24.

JVR: two seasons of remaining term, $7 million AAV, real dollar salaries of $7 million in 2021-22 ($1 million signing bonus installment this summer, $6 million for the season), and $5 million in 2022-23 ($1 million signing bonus installment on July 1, 2022, $4 million for the season).

Gostisbehere: two seasons of remaining term, $4.5 million AAV, real dollar salaries of $3.25 million in 2021-22 ($2.25 million signing bonus installment due this summer then $1 million base salary for the season), and $3.25 million in 2022-23 ($2.25 million signing bonus installment due on July 1, 2022, $1 million base salary for the season).

Aube-Kubel: One season of remaining term, then an arbitration-eligible RFA in the summer of 2022. His remaining contract will pay him $1.225 milion next season but his cap hit will be $1.075 million.

Braun: One season of remaining term, then a UFA. His real-dollar salary and cap hit for next season are $1.8 million.

Hägg: One season of remaining term, then a UFA. His cap hit for 2021-22 will be $1.6 million but his real-dollar salary will be $1.7 million.

It is likely that Seattle general manager Ron Francis will be agreeable to giving the Flyers the option of having the select any of the three highest-salaried players (Voracek, van Riemsdyk or Ghost) if the Flyers incentivize it with draft picks. I would not do that if I were Fletcher.

Voracek, for all the heat he takes, is still a productive NHL point-producer and one of the better playmaking wingers around. He had arguably his best NHL two-way season in 2019-20 but took a step backwards overall in that area in 2020-21. His remaining term and cap hit may push him out of being selected with no sweeteners unless Seattle is especially enamored with the idea of adding him to their inaugural roster.

I could, however, see Seattle taking van Riemsdyk, even without sweeteners. JVR is coming off a pretty solid all-around season even after his torrid early goal-scoring pace gave way to a lengthy goal drought. He has one less year of term left than Voracek, can step right on their top power play unit, has a favorable remaining real dollar vs AAV salary structure, is a good fit in any locker room dynamic and had one his better NHL seasons in terms of the details of his game (play-making, puck handling, two-way play, and even in terms of playing a more physical brand of hockey than his reputation suggests). His stock in trade will always be scoring deflection, rebound and slam-dunk goals near the net, especially on the power play, but it is inaccurate to call JVR strictly one dimensional based on his play this season.

Although the Flyers were unable to trade Gostisbehere last offseason and he passed through waivers unclaimed this season, he is still a candidate to be selected by Seattle. He is coming off a decent season overall when healthy and in the lineup.

Early on, his defensive play was fine by his standards and he moved the puck well but the points weren't coming. Then the points (especially goals) started coming with some regularity but he struggled defensively. After he cleared waivers, Gostisbehere put everything together for an effective stretch on the third pair with Samuel Morin. Gostisbehere still had some "hiccup games" defensively and he had the late season two-game suspension (and the start-of-season COVID bout) but he at least showed that he's still a viable candidate for an NHL top-six plus regular power play time, depending on the mix of players. He's long been a divisive player, not only among Flyers fans but among NHL scouts and analysts.

Among the others on the unprotected list, Seattle selecting Braun would be a low-cost, one-year decision to add some veteran blueline experience, a penalty killer, and stabilizing presence who is a good influence on young players. I don't think any among Hägg, Aube-Kubel or Sandström would be claimed as there will be a glut of such NHL players/ prospects available.

Final thoughts: It is possible that the Flyers could make other deals ahead of the 2021 Expansion Draft, and that could have an affect on who gets protected and exposed. It's also entirely possible that the Flyers could protect JVR and leave a different forward exposed.

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Phantoms Update: Costly Win in Newark

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms earned a costly 2-1 road win over the Binghamtom Devils on Wednesday night in Newark. David Kase (3rd goal of the season) returned to the lineup for just his second game since March 27 and first since April 21 to put the Phantoms ahead 1-0. After the Devils' Brett Seney knotted the score at 7:02 of the third period, Chris Mueller (PPG, 6th) put the Phantoms back ahead to stay midway through the period. Rookie power forward Zayde Wisdom earned primary assists on both LV goals; he has five primary helpers in his last two games.

The outcome of the game was overshadowed by a frightening looking injury to Phantoms rookie Tyson Foerster early in the first period. He was bumped from behind by Matt Hellickson, lost his balance and crashed head-first into the lower part of the end boards. Foerster needed help leaving the ice. Hellickson was issued a boarding major and game misconduct.

Fortunately, Foerster did not have to be taken off in a stretcher or hospitalized. The Flyers' 2020 first-round pick, who had a surprisingly solid rookie AHL season not only offensively but in terms of making progress in his all-around game, will sit out the final weekend of the season.

Additionally, starting goalie Felix Sandström had to briefly take himself out of the game in the second period last night while he was working on a shutout at the time. However, he returned to finish the game and stopped 27 of 28 shots overall. Zane McIntyre stopped each of the two shots he faced with playing 7:34.

Neither Wade Allison nor Cam York dressed for Wednesday's game after being reassigned by the Flyers. The Phantoms (18-7-4) will conclude their abbreviated 2020-21 season with home games against Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Saturday evening and against Binghamton on Sunday afternoon. Allison and York are expected to play over the weekend.
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