Over this season, it became more and more evident that the Flyers were not yet a playoff contending team. This leaves GM Ron Hextall with additional moves and cap management decisions to continue the rebuilding and growth process of his team.
Hextall has positioned the Flyers to improve greatly over the coming years, as he has relieved the burdens of some of the bad contracts left over from prior management and has collected draft picks. Those draft picks are now prospects being patiently moved through the system that will make up the core of the team in the future.
In examining the Flyers roster from top to bottom, we analyze the core players as well as secondary players needed to fill in the gaps on the roster, look at current restricted and unrestricted free agents to determine who may be re-signed and how that fits into the cap and also detail players who might not be returning.
The Flyers have a strong core group of forwards to build around. Claude Giroux (28), Jake Voracek (27) and Wayne Simmonds (28) are all high-level NHL stars who represent the nucleus of the team and have for several seasons. They are surrounded by a second tier of players in Brayden Schenn (25), Sean Couturier (24), Michael Raffl (28) and Travis Konecny (20).
Giroux, Voracek, Schenn and Couturier are all under contract long term. Schenn just signed a four-year contract last offseason that takes him through the 2021 season. Giroux is signed through 2023. Voracek is under contract through 2024. Simmonds is signed through 2019, but will without a doubt be extended for several years prior to the expiration of his existing contract.
Konecny is in the first year of his entry-level contract. Finally, Michael Raffl is under contract through the 2019-20 season.
In addition to the above forwards, there are a handful of secondary players who will most likely remain with the team, at least in the short term, while some of the recent high-end draft picks mature and grow into professional level players.
Hextall brought Valtteri Filppula to Philly as part of the deal to move long-time Flyers defenseman Mark Streit, who was in the final year of his contract. Filppula slid into a mid-line center position and has fit nicely there and helped stabilize the team down the middle. He has one year remaining on his contract and it is uncertain he would be extended beyond the 2017-18 season at 32 and with a cap hit of $5 million.
Some younger forwards have begun to show their talent and drive to make the Flyers roster and contribute to the success of the team going forward. Nick Cousins (23) and Jordan Weal (25) both saw time. Weal made an immediate impact and stayed with the Flyers through the end of the season.
Other young forwards like Taylor Leier (22) and Scott Laughton (22) have been up and down over the last two years and could potentially make a push for next season depending on who survives the offseason as Hextall decides which players to re-sign.
The Flyers fan base was excited to hear that the much-desired top college free agent Mike Vecchione had signed a contract with Philadelphia. He is 24 years old and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist after leading the nation scoring 1.66 points per game for Union College. Vecchione played in two games at the end of the season and looked like he will aggressively fight for the fourth-line center slot in the upcoming training camp. His combination of speed and tenacity should make him popular with the fans.
Russian forward Roman Lyubimov (25) appeared to have made a solid impression in camp, but was a scratch to start the season. When he was rotated in he showed off his speed, tenacity and two-way play. Unfortunately, he never really was given a chance to succeed with two thirds of the fourth line committed for much of the season, leaving several players fighting for the one remaining slot on that line.
Rounding out the current roster forwards are Dale Weise (28), Matt Read (30), Chris VandeVelde (29) and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (32). Bellemare and VandeVelde were unrestricted free agents and were primarily seen as penalty-killing fourth-line forwards who were occasionally matched up as shut-down checking forwards.
Hextall surprised many by extending Bellemare for two more years at double his current salary at the trade deadline in March. VandeVelde, meanwhile, has an expiring contract and is not expected to return next season given his age and the younger forwards fighting for roster positions.
Weise was an offseason free agent signing on the first season in a four-year deal. Read has one more year on his contract at $3.63 million.
The Flyers would be most likely to lose a forward in the upcoming expansion draft in June, and it would make sense that they will leave Weise and Read exposed so that one of them would be taken by Las Vegas. Both players have seen sub-par seasons from an offensive standpoint. Weise played significantly better in the final three weeks of the schedule, padding his stats for the season when he was paired with Schenn and Couturier.
Read remains a solid two-way player with strong possession abilities. If he is not selected in the expansion draft, the Flyers could explore the option of buying out the remaining year of his contract to create another roster spot, but otherwise, he could play a bottom-six role in the final year of his contract.
Weise's cap hit of $2.35 million for the remaining three years on his contract is not unmanageable, but with the drop off of his offensive production, it is not that likely that many teams would express a lot of interest in him.
Philadelphia has high-end prospects just around the corner in Swedish winger Oskar Lindblom (20) and Russian center German Rubtsov (19).
Lindblom was a 2014 fifth-round draft selection, but has been dominant in the Swedish Elite League. He also stood out on the world stage in the IIHF U20 WJC tournaments the past two years. He was in the Top 3 in scoring all season in the SHL as a 20-year-old playing among men. He ended the regular season with 22 goals and 47 points in 52 games. Lindblom has continued his dominant play in the first two rounds of the playoffs leading his team to the championship series.
Rubtsov was the Flyers first-round selection last summer. He recently left Russia to join the CHL to continue his junior development after seeing limited playing time in Russia, and worked out a deal to join the Chicoutimi in the QMJHL. Since coming to North America the 18-year-old Rubtsov played in 16 games, amassing 22 points. Unfortunately, a hand fracture cut short his season with Chicoutimi, so as his CHL team plays in the QMJHL Playoffs, Rubtsov is out for the season. He will likely return to Chicoutimi after training camp for the Flyers in September to further his development in Canadian juniors.
Lindblom is playing in the final year of his Swedish contract and the hope is that he will decide to sign an entry-level contract with Philadelphia and come to North America to continue his professional career. After his dominant play for the SHL this season, he appears poised to make the Flyers roster out of training camp. The Flyers are desperate for help on left wing and Lindblom has shown he can succeed as a 20-year-old in Sweden's most competitive league.
The salary cap for forwards we propose will be roughly $2.5 million higher than this season, with the primary drivers are the increases in the extensions for Weal and Bellemare.
Restricted Free Agents
Weal maximized his opportunity when he was called up for the injured Konecny, leading all Flyers with an astounding CF% of 59 and scoring eight goals with four assists in 23 games. He was also one of the few forwards who finished with a plus rating at plus-5. Weal will likely get a deal in the two-year, $1.2 million AAV range.
Cousins looked strong in camp and earned a roster spot, but he quickly became a healthy scratch and seemed to have fallen out of Hakstol’s trust. He also suffered a concussion, which kept him out of the lineup for significant time. The play of Weal and the addition of Vecchione will force Cousins to really step up his game if he hopes to be part of the long-term future. He could be re-signed to a one-year contract with a moderate pay increase to around $1 million.
Lyubimov was a healthy scratch for the majority of 2017 and is not expected to return to the Flyers.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Vandevelde is not expected to be resigned. Boyd Gordon was waived and sent to Lehigh Valley, where he subsequently suffered an injured and has not played. He will not be re-signed.
Defense and Goaltenders
The Flyers defense is being built around rookie sensation Ivan Provorov. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2015 Draft by the Flyers. He was the Flyers best defenseman all season and led the team in ice time, playing well over 20 minutes per game on a regular basis. He was the anchor for the team defensively and played on both power play units at different points of the season. He tallied six goals and 30 points in 82 games and played most of the season on a pairing with Andrew MacDonald.
Radko Gudas is the other defenseman under contract at this time. When he came over from Tampa, it was expected he would be a third-pairing, shut-down, hard-hitting player, who had his share of discipline issues. He fit that bill last year while being suspended twice for illegal hits. He managed to reign in his undisciplined play this season while remaining a physical, shut down defenseman. He also showed off some skills on the offensive end of the ice, chipping in with six goals and 23 points. He also lead all defenseman for the Flyers with a CF% of 53.9.
Restricted Free Agents
Shayne Gostisbehere fell into the proverbial sophomore slump for most of the season. He has also been a healthy scratch on a handful of times appearing to have been in Hakstol’s doghouse. He struggled most of the season to replicate the dynamic offensive prowess he previously displayed. He finally started to turn his game around in March, displaying the skills that made him the runner-up in the Calder Trophy race last year, picking up 13 points in his final 20 games. He appears to have found his confidence again and seems healthier, though he did not blame off season hip surgery for his struggles.
Gostisbehere will need to be signed to a new deal this offseason, and will likely be extended to at least a three-year deal and see a significant raise.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz are both unrestricted agents and will not return to the Flyers. Both players and Hextall confirmed this at break up day last week.
With the departure of Del Zotto and Schultz, the Flyers are expected to bring in two rookie blueliners. Sam Morin and Robert Haag seem to have the edge going into camp to fill out the defense roster, given that each made their NHL debut in the final week of the season. Both Morin and Haag are still playing out their entry-level contracts.
Both Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth were in the final year of their contracts and unrestricted free agents. They both endured down seasons, with neither really finding his games for any length of time. Mason played admirably down the stretch, starting in late February.
Despite this, Hextall surprised many by extending Neuvirth at the trade deadline for an additional two years for $2 million each. Neuvirth fought through injuries all season and in his last game of the season, endured a scary moment when he collapsed while standing in net during a break in the game.
Mason expressed a desire to return to the Flyers, but also voiced disappointment in how the goalies were utilized during the season. He also said he told Hextall he would like a decision soon. During his postseason press conference, Hextall seemed to brush off Mason’s criticisms.
Given how that all played out, it would seem somewhat surprising if Mason was re-signed at this time, if at all, and he is expected to at least enter free agency.
The expansion draft complicates matters even more for the Flyers management. They will most likely protect prospect goalie Anthony Stolarz, which means they have to re-sign and protect him, thus exposing Neuvirth. Hextall could sign a free agent goalie to be the starter next season, while Stolarz can get time as the regular backup, if Las Vegas chooses to select Neuvirth.
Stolarz was called up to back up Mason for a 10-game stint when Neuvirth was injured. In the games he played, he was tremendous. He started two games and replaced Mason in two games in relief. In those four games, Stolarz had a GAA of 1.79 and a save percentage of .938. He was called up again at the end of the season when both Mason and Neuvirth were ill. He replaced Neuvirth after the scary collapse against New Jersey and shut them out the rest of the way. He also lost two one-goal games to close the season.
The Flyers have an abundance of young goaltenders in the system. Stolarz has the edge in experience and is likely to be the backup for the Flyers if they don't bring in another goaltender to go along with Neuvirth. Regardless of what happens, Stolarz will be re-signed, likely to a two-year deal with an AAV of around $1.5M.
This area is where the Flyers see substantial cap savings. The removal of higher paid veteran defensemen and the departure of Mason would open up significant cap space, something the Flyers have not had in years.
Protected Forwards – Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Jordan Weal.
Protected Defensemen – Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning
Protected Goalie – Anthony Stolarz
Potentially Selected Player – Matt Read or Dale Weise
The Flyers are currently carrying the remainder of R.J. Umberger’s contract on their salary cap. Next season is the last installment at $1.5 million.
2017-18 Projected Roster
The above chart shows the entire roster for the Flyers going into the expansion draft and the entry draft. Hextall has room to maneuver if he wanted to add a free agent here or there, or if another prospect -- like Philippe Myers -- does enough to crack the roster and thus enter the cap figure.
The 2016 salary cap totals are actual numbers from the salary cap and are not exactly the total of players shown as it is a point in time representation and varies depending on factors such as long-term injured reserve.
As you can see, the roster for 2017-18 is down significantly driven by several rookies being added to the defense and goaltending roles and the removal of $5 million for Mark Streit and $4 million for Steve Mason. Replacing Del Zotto's $3.875 million and Schultz's $2.25 million with Haag and Morin both making under $900K is a significant cap impact as well.
The 2017-18 cap is expected to be at least $74 million. The Flyers will have significant free space for the first time in many years. While the forwards have a cap hit that is $2.5 million higher this coming season, the defense and goaltending roles see a drop of over $8 million. The net result is $7 million of cap breathing room.
The $7 million of free space gives Hextall flexibility, whether it's adding a free-agent goalie, a veteran presence to the blue line, or just any internal additions that may come from prospects as camp progresses.