30 IN 30 - PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (19th place)
For a team so rife with offensive talent the Flyers sure struggled to score this year. At a measly 1.9 Goals-For per Game, Philadephia wasn't exactly the city of brotherly love on the scoresheet in 2016-17. This uncharacteristic Flyers behaviour seemed to be the team's undoing as they squandered a mid-season 10 game winning streak to miss the playoffs for the 3rd time in 5 years. Goaltending will always lie at the crux of the problem, but a new focus towards defensive depth could be on the way to help. With expansion ahead, Ron Hextall would love nothing more than to unload a contract like Andrew McDonald's onto the inaugural list. Sadly for him, this is a pipe dream. Instead the Broad Street Bullies will be waving goodbye to a more valuable commodity.
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Giroux (*NMC)
- Filppula (*NMC)
Without much in the way of contracts in goal, the Flyers will have to leave at least one contracted goalie available. At this point it can either be Michal Neuvirth who is under contract for 2 more seasons or Anthony Stolarz, who would have to be tendered a qualifying offer before the deadline. I think Neuvirth is the less desirable asset for Vegas here, who will be looking at other goalie options before him, so leaving him exposed will be a non-issue for the Flyers.
On the back end, Shayne Gostisbehere will be a guaranteed selection despite the sophomore slump, Radko Gudas could sneak in as the physical presence Philly fans always love, and Brandon Manning might be able to grab the last of the 3 defence spots. When it comes down to it, the Flyers have set themselves up beautifully through the draft. Investing draft picks wisely on the back end the last 3 years has set them up to have one of the deepest prospect pools at the position. Ivan Provorov took little to no time adjusting to the big leagues from Junior, while Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg all appear to be on the verge of cracking the Flyers lineup after time spent in Lehigh Valley (AHL). Let's not forget the undrafted gem Phillippe Myers, who put his skills on display for all the doubters to see at the World Juniors. Having prepped for this lot to take the next step, it's easy to see why the Flyers have so little to give up on defence other than the overpaid/underperforming Andrew MacDonald.
The expansion story likely falls onto Philly's young crop of forwards. Obvious contributors up front will be protected, filling slots 1-6 on their list. This leaves a battle for the 7th and final spot between four notable skaters: Matt Read, Michael Raffl, Nick Cousins, and Scott Laughton.
From 4 to 1 - Which forward stays
Narrowing in on the best decision for the Flyers up front is easier than you may think.
Matt Read has achieved the highest level of NHL success out of this group, having set career highs in goals (24) and points (47) when he first broke into the league out of college. Unfortunately this production has slowly declined every season since 2011-12. With just 19 points in 63 games last year, his on-ice value no longer warrants his $3.625M price tag. A crowded top-6 has seen his role shift from scoring line & powerplay to checking line & penalty kill. Although this transition appears to have been a success, there is no need to protect a low-scoring checker with more promising options still available.
Much like Read, Michael Raffl's initial offensive outburst at the NHL level has since waned. After breaking the 20 goal mark back in 2014-15, he has followed that up with dissapointing performances of 13 and 8. Whether you attribute this to a general dip in the Flyers' offensive output last season or not, his inability to put up higher point totals and GF60 (Goals-for per 60 minutes) after playing predominantly with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek is all too concerning. For a Flyers team with scoring prospects knocking on the door, we have chosen to leave him off our protection list.
Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton appear to have already been lapped by Travis Konency as the shining star of the forward prospect pool, but both continue to carry relatively high value after successful runs in the AHL. Laughton may have nabbed a roster spot sooner, but Cousins has since wrestled that list selection back from him. Showcasing an ability to generate offence on his own with 38 points in 38 games in Lehigh Valley, Cousins was given the opportunity to play with the top club this season. He held his own playing up and down the lineup, but struggled to generate the sort of scoring success we had seen from him back at the farm. His possession numbers may have placed above average, but consideration must be partially given to his main linemates, Couturier and Read, who are traditionally strong in this department. Laughton, on the other hand, spent his season back in Lehigh Valley, garnering further experience in a scoring role. His lack of pro-level statistics hurts our analysis, but his 2015-16 season will have to serve as our reference point. Filling similar spots within the forward depth chart, and with a crossover in linemates (Read + Umberger for Laughton; Read + Couturier for Cousins) the ability to compare the two is fair. In doing so we see a clear edge in scoring and goal differential for Cousins. Aside from this statistical mark Cousins appears to have gained favour from the coaching staff as a possible scoring line contributor next season.
Ultimately, as the higher ceiling forward, Cousins nabs our last protection list spot.
So he's not your cousin, who cares?
With Cousins off the board this leaves the 3 remaining key forwards for the Vegas staff to assess.
Matt Read will be the first eliminated off our Vegas list. His contract (i) pays him more than he's worth, and (ii) is up after next season. For an organization looking to stock pile controllable assets, his ability to walk away after one season for a destination of his choosing isn't exactly appealing. Plus the possibility exists that he hits the open market next summer and the Golden Knights are able to sign him, without having to burn an expansion pick on him now. Noted inability to produce on the scoresheet despite strong Corsi numbers is a red flag that we have indeed focused on. Better options will allow us to pass on Read.
Scott Laughton will be a popular choice for his 'potential', but signs point to a player who may have taken a step back in development this year. His inability to dominate the American league the way Cousins did stands in concert with his expected ceiling as a checking line forward in the NHL. A lack of size allows him to get bumped around by bigger centremen, meaning he will need further time to develop a strong hockey awareness at the pro-level to handle this defensive responsibility. If the Golden Knights have realistic expectations of his game they may grab him as their Flyers pick, but under current circumstances we would advise them to go another way.
Michael Raffl is our Golden Knights expansion selection. His experience on a top scoring line in this league will be valuable to the limited crop of high end forwards expected in their lineup next season. Although he hasn't shot the lights out since 2014-15, his possession game is strong and teammates see improvements after playing with him. A two-year contract also fits the situation perfectly, allowing Vegas to lock in a roster spot for two seasons, without being too attached to the player in case of drop off.
The Flyers are always fun to watch, but remain a goalie graveyard. With a few blue-chippers in the development pipeline they desperately need to add another NHL-calibre tender to the fold. Hopefully their developing defensive unit can mitigate the downsides expected from a temporary replacement in net. All in all, just don't pull the typical Flyers offseason move and shell out outrageous contracts to players that won't even last its term in a Philly uniform. #BringBryzBack
Next up: Tampa Bay Lightning