Will NHL Expansion Affect The Flyers?

From rumblings around the league it looks as though NHL Expansion for the 2017-18 season is a done deal. Las Vegas will be joining the league as its 31st team. It’s unclear whether the Quebec group have totally fallen out of the running at this point, but a decision on that will be coming in the next week or two. Sources close to the Quebec side, like former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, seem to think Quebec will return, but not for the 2017-18 season. It’s a very real possibility that we’ll see an expansion draft in 2017 for Las Vegas, and then again in 2018 for the Quebec franchise (or the relocation of the Carolina Hurricanes which has been rumoured more and more lately).

Looking ahead to the 2017 Expansion Draft, here’s what we know the Board of Governors, Owners, and General Managers have been talking about in terms of the framework of said draft. I should mention that these are just rumored sanctions, nothing has been set in stone yet.

  1. The expansion team(s) will select 1 player from each team.
  2. Teams will be able to protect 1 goalie.
  3. Teams will be able to protect 7 forwards and 3 defensemen, or optionally 8 skaters of any position if they’d like to protect 4+ D.
  4. Any player who has played 2 years or less of North American professional hockey will be exempt. Players exiting basic 3-year Entry deals are eligible.
  5. Teams may have to expose players equal to 25% of their salaries/salary cap total (wording unclear – first option seems more likely).
  6. Players with No Movement Clauses (NMC) may have to be protected/be exempt (wording unclear – first option seems more likely).

Because of rule #1 no team will see their cupboard completely pillaged, but certain teams could have particularly juicy assets exposed. Chief among those assets will likely have to do with rule #2; there will be some legitimate starting goaltenders, and rising stars available to select from. The Penguins for example may have to protect Marc-Andre Fleury (he has a NTC changing into a NMC: rule #6, but it’s a little foggy) and make 3rd year pro, and playoff star, Matt Murray available. Fleury, as a result, may find himself on the trading block this off season.

In the Flyers’ case Mason would be the obvious frontrunner to be protected, but Neuvirth could make things interesting with a strong year of play. If both Las Vegas and Quebec are selecting in 2017 it wouldn’t be a stretch to see a team take an unprotected Neuvirth. If only Las Vegas are selecting there are likely more alluring options like Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (who has a limited No Trade Clause), or even Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (because Bishop has a NMC). Prospect Alex Lyon would be exempt, but AHL up-and-comer Stolarz would be exposed. With much bigger names available, the Flyer goalies may slide under the radar.

Among the Flyers’ forwards we would have to see Giroux, Simmonds, and Umberger protected because of their NMCs. RJ Umberger’s buy out this offseason now becomes an absolute. Having to protect him would be asinine. So with him out of the way other locks would be Voracek, Couturier, and Schenn. That would leave 2 protected spots left for Raffl, Cousins, and Laughton. While those 3 players are interesting it’s pretty easy to see expansion teams glossing over them in favour of other more experienced, or exciting forwards. Fringe NHLers like VandeVelde, White, Bellemare, Leier, Straka, etc. would have to be exposed, and are replaceable anyway.

Looking at the Defense the Flyers would be forced to protect Mark Streit thanks to his NMC. This is an extremely tough pill to swallow because if the Flyers have to protect Streit and also protect Gostisbehere that means one of Del Zotto, or Gudas would need to be exposed. Moving Streit now also appears like a must. MacDonald (plz Las Vegas), Schultz, and Manning would be eligible to be selected, and there would be no need to worry about the bountiful defense prospects who are all exempt (exception: Robert Hagg). If we’re talking about an expansion draft the following year (2018) for Quebec as well, then Sam Morin become available. It’s within the realm of possibility that Quebec might say, “hey let’s take that big French kid Morin off the Flyers’ hands.”

Image courtesy Amy Irvin - https://www.facebook.com/38Photography/?fref=ts

One of these players is not like the others, One of these players is an old stagnant fart (Amy Irvin – 38Photography)

If the Flyers can’t orchestrate a trade because teams are dealing with similar problems, and end up having to keep Mark Streit things get very tough. He can be bought out but his contract is an age 35+ deal which means the full $5.25 million counts against the cap. I can’t see that happening. I also can’t see them going for the ‘protect 8 skaters of any position’ stance. If this were the case they would be able to protect the defensive core of Del Zotto, Gostisbehere, and Gudas, but that would leave only Giroux, Simmonds, Voracek, and Couturier exempt. An available Brayden Schenn would most certainly be picked.

Assuming the NHL goes along with rule #5 the Flyers will also have to make players available equal to or greater than 25% of the salaries from their 2016-17 season, or make players available equal to 25% of the salary cap. I’m unsure if it would be 25% of the total cap because that would mean low spenders would have to put up an absolute ton of valuable players. It would make more sense to me if it were 25% of each teams’ spending. This seemingly extreme rule won’t be a problem for the Flyers, but may handicap some teams who are protecting several stars making big money. The thinking behind this rule is that commissioner Gary Bettman wants these new expansion teams to be competitive right out of the box, so he’s pushing the envelope a bit trying to make better players available.

It’s unclear what the salary cap will be, but for our purposes let’s say $72 million. The Flyers will need to present players with salaries equal to $18 million. There are a few easy additions here with Andrew MacDonald ($5m), Nick Schultz ($2.25m), Matt Read ($3.625m), and Michal Neuvirth ($1.625m); $12.5 million. This sanction would also make it easier to select Cousins, and Laughton because they’re cheaper than Michael Raffl ($2.35m); $14.85 million. With just $3.15 million to go we can easily add up players like Stolarz, Bellemare, VandeVelde, White, Leier, McDonald, etc. to reach the 25%.

What all this means is that if Streit could be moved the Flyers could in fact protect their whole core of players, and not expose any players who are integral to the success of the club. If Vegas gets the green light all of GM Hextall’s efforts should go into moving Streit no matter the return. If all he fetches is a low draft pick, so be it. With that done the Flyers will be in fantastic shape, an expansion draft might actually help them get rid of a bad contract!

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