Expansion is coming, we just don’t know exactly when.
As of now, there are only two locations that are being heavily considered for new franchises in the National Hockey League. Those cities are Las Vegas, Nevada, and Quebec City, Quebec. As with other expansion teams entering the league, there is usually an expansion draft as well.
But before we speculate about how the Flyers would be effected by possible expansion, let’s take a look at how these two cities got involved with expansion.
It’s not surprising that Las Vegas is being considered for a new team. The NHL loves Las Vegas, which started with bringing their yearly NHL Awards show to Sin City. Then, commissioner Gary Bettman announced earlier this summer that the NHL would explore expansion, citing Las Vegas, Quebec City, and Seattle as markets that expressed the greatest amount of interest. One of the prospective owners, Bill Foley, opened a season ticket plan for prospective fans to purchase if an NHL team were to play in the city. Once interest increased, they moved on and are currently on the final phase for expansion.
As for Quebec, it’s pleading for NHL hockey to return to the area has been prominent. Former Nordique fans have traveled to various NHL arenas to show that they want hockey back in their area for many years. Quebecor placed a bid for expansion in July, and the company has an important relationship with the NHL. Quebecor’s French-speaking TV network, TVA, has the rights to the league’s French-language television-rights deal. With the Videotron Arena, a new 18,259 seat arena owned by Quebec City, being built in time for a new team to replace the old Pepsi Colisée, Quebecor’s bid looks very strong in bringing back the Nordiques. Personally as a fan, I really hope the Nordiques return to the NHL. Their rivalry with their province nemesis Montreal was one of the best rivalries in the NHL in the 80s and early 90s. From the Habs being one of five teams to vote down the NHL-WHA merger (which the Nordiques were a part of), to the Good Friday Massacre in 1984, to the Nordique relocation in 1995.
Now let’s pretend that Las Vegas and Quebec do get expansion franchises, and that the teams would play starting this season. Let’s also pretend that an expansion draft would be held this weekend.
The last time an expansion draft was held was back in 2000, when the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild selected their new teams. The Flyers lost defenseman Artem Anisimov to the Wild and forward Martin Streit to the Blue Jackets in that draft.
In 2000, 26 of the current 28 teams had to protect a select number of players from each position, with unprotected players all eligible to be selected. The only two teams that had all of their players protected were the Atlanta Thrashers and the Nashville Predators, since they just came into the league a year or two beforehand.
For this proposed expansion draft, I will loosely use the rules from 2000 to decide who would be eligible. These rules are as follows:
1. The league’s 30 current teams can protect up to nine forwards, five defenseman, and one goaltender.
2. Players who have burned a season off of their entry-level contract as of September 1st, 2015 are considered eligible. Players such as Shayne Gostisbehere and Scott Laughton would be eligible for the draft. Players such as Sam Morin and Ivan Provorov would not be eligible.
3. Expansion teams can select a maximum of one player from each franchise.
4. Expansion teams must be in accordance with the current salary cap (maximum is $75 million).
If I were GM Ron Hextall, this is who I would leave protected:
1. Claude Giroux
2. Jakub Voracek
3. Wayne Simmonds
4. Braydon Schenn
5. Sean Couturier
6. Matt Read
7. Michael Raffl
8. Scott Laughton
9. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
NOTABLE UNPROTECTED FORWARDS
Taylor Leier: It was a tough choice whether or not to protect Leier or Bellemare, but I chose the young prospect in Leier, mainly because I think Bellemare has more trade value than Leier at this point of time. The 21-year-old just finished his first year in Lehigh Valley with the Phantoms and had 31 points in 71 total games. He still needs developing before he can get a shot in the NHL, so I do not think expansion teams will try to select Leier for immediate help, which is what an Expansion Draft is for.
Sam Gagner: The 26-year-old has not met expectations as a former sixth overall pick in his eight seasons in the NHL. He’s known for his eight-point game against Chicago back in 2012, but that’s really it. I’m not really sure how much trade value he has either, after being traded for Nicklas Grossman and the contract of Chris Pronger. He’s got great vision and gives the Flyers some needed help in shootouts, but at 5’11” and 202 lbs., he’s somewhat small and struggles to win some battles in the corner and needs to work on playing without the puck.
Vincent Lecavalier: We haven’t seen what the 35-year-old can do under new head coach Dave Hakstol’s system, but his numbers have been declining since his career high 108 point season in 2006-07. In 126 regular season games with the Flyers, Lecavalier has recorded only 28 goals and 29 assists for a total of 57 points. One of these expansion teams could look at Vinny for depth and possible leadership as well, and his cap hit of $4.5 million might help, but could also scare interest away as well.
1. Mark Streit
2. Michael Del Zotto
3. Yevgeny Medvedev
4. Robert Hägg
5. Shayne Gostisbehere
NOTABLE UNPROTECTED DEFENSEMEN
Andrew MacDonald:The 28-year-old has a cap hit of $5 million and is in year two of a six-year, $30 million deal. He’s a great skater and can log some tough minutes, but his stats when the Flyers acquired him back in 2014 were some of the worst in the league. In his first full season with the Flyers, he played in only 58 games because of knee and upper body injuries, as well as multiple healthy scratches. Chances are, one of these expansion teams might look into him for some help on the blue line.
Luke Schenn: Similar to MacDonald, Schenn had multiple injuries and was a healthy scratch for some games last season with the team. He’s in the final year of his contract with a cap hit of $3.6 million, which means he wouldn’t be with the team for that long unless he gets an extension. He’s a pretty good shutdown defenseman, but he has not been able to produce the offensive numbers that he was projected to put up when he was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is also out of position sometimes, which we saw at some points last season.
Nick Schultz: It was tough for me whether to protect prospect Robert Hägg or the veteran Schultz. I chose Hägg since a player with a lot of potential might be swallowed up by an expansion team. And I do not want to lose him for nothing. As for Schultz, he would give expansion teams a solid defensive defenseman who could also play vital minutes. But his weakness is his size and his production at offense. When Hextall signed the veteran before last season, he was high on him as a sixth or seventh defenseman. He turned out to be a very good one and gave him a two-year, $4.5 million extension in February.
Radko Gudas: Gudas has a very hard shot and is very physical, something that the Flyers have wanted ever since the abrupt end to Chris Pronger’s career. Gudas was acquired from Tampa Bay in exchange for Braydon Coburn last season before the trade deadline, but has not played for the Flyers after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in January. Gudas’ physicality can also hurt him, as he is known for taking bad penalties. He’s young and his cap hit is under one million, so he could be a player worth looking at.
Brandon Manning: When he first came up, I was excited to see the two-way defenseman play. I thought he would help the team for a long time. But he’s only appeared in 21 NHL games in three separate call-ups to the big club, as he has spent most of his career with the Phantoms. He’s 6’1″, but he’s light at 195 lbs. and also needs to cut down on mistakes when on the ice.
1. Steve Mason
NOTABLE UNPROTECTED GOALTENDER
Michal Neuvirth: The Flyers replaced Ray Emery with Michal Neuvirth in the summer, who was one of the top free agent goalies available in free agency. Neuvirth has a ton of talent as a butterfly keeper, as he is calm and patient in the crease, but is also fast and agile. He does lack consistency, which is why he has mainly been a backup on Long Island, in Buffalo, and in his latter part of his career in Washington.