The first day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft has arrived. From a Philadelphia Flyers standpoint, the question is whether the team will keep or trade the 13th overall selection. Yesterday, during general manager Chuck Fletcher's press conference to discuss the salary-cap driven decision to trade $4.5 million of cap relief while giving up Shayne Gostisbehere and 2022 second-round and seventh-round picks to the Arizona Coyotes, I asked Fletcher if he's changed his outlook on potentially trading the 13th overall pick of this year's draft.
"I was pretty adamant I wasn't going to use it to dump salary. I did make that decision. We're certainly ready to draft at 13. I would say that I'm very open-minded to using it if we can add a player that can help us. I'm probably more active in listening on 13 this year than I would have been in previous years. In fairness last year, we really didn't have any cap space, so it didn't really make a lot of sense. This year, we have a little more flexibility. If something makes sense via trade, we'll certainly look at it and potentially do it. We're happy to pick at 13 too. We're open-minded and that's really what the last little while has been all about. Certainly, a lot of calls today and I'm sure they'll be a lot more going into tomorrow afternoon," Fletcher said.
My mock draft for the first round of the 2021 Entry Draft is available on PhiladelphiaFlyers.com
. I had the Flyers taking Cole Sillinger with the 13th overall pick. You can't pre-suppose a trade. Right now, I think the odds are a bit higher than 50-50 that the Flyers keep and use the pick but it's no doubt a fluid situation based on what other teams may become willing to do before the Flyers are on the clock for the pick.
Note: The Flyers' first-round pick, for official NHL record-keeping purposes, is the 14th overall selection. It's the de facto 13th pick, however. The 11th pick will be officially recorded for posterity as a vacated pick due to Arizona's forfeiture of it due to scouting rule violations at the 2019 Draft Combine and the next actual pick (Chicago's will be officially recorded as pick 12). However, I prefer to identify selections by the numerical order in which they are actually made. Come to think of it, maybe we can record pick 11 as Hiro Tsujimoto, the youngest son of fabled Buffalo Sabres draftee Taro.
In regard to the Flyers sending Gostisbehere to Arizona with a 2022 second-round pick plus the 2022 seventh-rounder acquired from Montreal for Erik Gustafsson, Philadelphia was dealing from a position of weakness. The player had already passed through waivers unclaimed this past season and then was bypassed by Seattle in the Expansion Draft.
"I had many, many, many conversations with Ron Francis before. I spoke to him last night [at the Expansion Draft} and again today. He made clear they wanted to keep their powder dry. Cap space is so important and teams are going to be in trouble, if not now then later on the summer or next year. Just having multiple opportunities to, quote unquote, help other teams," Fletcher said.
Nonetheless, I still maintain that Gostisbehere would have been a good pick for the Kraken. Two seasons of cost certainty at a moderate cap hit ($4.5 million) with the potential to play on the top power play unit. I don't know if Fletcher's willingness to offer sweeteners -- particularly the 2022 second-rounder -- on top of agreeing to get no prospects or picks back in exchange for Gostisbehere was in play for his Expansion Draft selection but it seems like Francis wasn't interested due to wanting to operate as close as possible to the cap floor going into next season.
When Francis opted to take fringe prospect Carsen Twarynski as the Kraken's selection from Philadelphia, that further strengthened Arizona general manager Bill Armstrong's leverage to get Gostisbehere plus assets to the Coyotes -- a bonus over and above what a waiver claim would have meant a few months ago.
For the Flyers, the return was that they retain nothing on the salary cap on Gostisbehere. They now have $13,885,477 of available cap space. This represents roughly $910,000 more than the organization had before the trade to acquire Ryan Ellis. That's a little bit of help but not a ton.
An analysis of the Gostisbehere trade and what Fletcher's next steps may be to address off-season priorities if forthcoming on the Flyers' official website.
* The NHL picked yesterday, the day in between the Expansion Draft and the start of the Entry Draft, to release every team's 2021-22 regular season schedule. I think would have made more sense either to release it either a day or so ahead of the Expansion Draft or wait until after the initial free agency news cycle inevitably slows from a deluge to a trickle of news.
As it is now, the schedule release news cycle takes a back seat to immediate offseason events and news. At any rate, I will do a Flyers schedule analysis blog next Tuesday, in between wrapping up Entry Draft coverage and discussing what free agency might look like after whatever moves (if any) the Flyers make between now and then.
* Gostisbehere is a very polarizing player among Flyers fans, and there are opposing camps of devoted fans and detractors who are dug in on their points of view. It's hard to have a rationale discussion of the pros and cons of the player's game with a significant portion of the fanbase.
I have always liked Gostisbehere's competitive drive, and agree with those who say that he is significantly underrated as a neutral zone defender. He breaks up a lot of plays before the other team gets entry. That is his number-one competency off the puck. It's once the puck is in the defensive zone that he's often struggled over the course of his career. He's average in coverages and below-average in tight quarter battles. He's not very good on the walls or near his net. He'll always be a player that needs to trigger and join in the attack, producing points at a regular clip, to be able to stay in an NHL lineup.
Offensively, he isn't a straight-line speedster but, when healthy, is elusive moving laterally (his once-patented spin move is rarely used anymore because opponents got wise to it once they had pre-scouts on him). Take away that east-west element from Ghost, and he becomes an average mobility D with a monstrous shot that, for a few years, became erratic in getting on net rather than tattooing the boards or the end glass.
Ghost's confidence has flagged at times, and he is a player who cannot have any hesitancy if he's to be effective. This past season, after a slow offensive start, his offensive game largely came back around again. That, along with staying mostly healthy in 2020-21 (apart from a start-of-season battle with COVID-19), was the biggest positive from his most recent season.
Having covered Ghost since Day 1 of his first NHL Development Camp with the Flyers (2012)
and interviewing him on Day 2 for the first feature article about him that ever appeared on the Flyers' official website, I will hate to see him go. He's a fun player to watch and a good guy off the ice.
Two seasons ago, I wrote a monthly in-depth feature article series on Philadelphia that had a central theme of the process by which various Flyers players went from prospect to pro. Everyone's story was unique but they had three common elements: work ethic, character and a mental laser-focus on making it to the NHL regardless of where the player was selected (or not selected) in the NHL Entry Draft. In most cases, having a strong family (or surrogate) support system was another crucial element in the player's formative years.
My three favorite installments were the ones that focused on Oskar Lindblom
, Travis Sanheim
, and Gostisbehere's path from Florida to Philly
The day after the Gostisbehere feature went live on the Flyers site, Shayne approached me after practice. "Thank you for the article," he said. "My mom loved it."
Fast forward a bit. I attended the 2018 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductions in Nashville as a guest of my friend and HockeyBuzz colleague Paul Stewart, who was one of the inductees that year. I took an Uber from my hotel to the event.
In making small talk, the driver asked why I was in town in Nashville. I told her that I was there for the United States Hockey Hall of Fame induction.
She said, "That's a funny coincidence. An old friend of mine has a son who plays in the NHL."
I asked who her friend's son was, because I'd probably know the name. It was, you guessed it, Shayne Gostisbehere. The Uber driver said that she'd relocated from Florida to Tennesee but was friendly with Shayne's mother back when she was living in the Sunshine State.
Small world, eh?