The Philadelphia Flyers caught somewhat of a break in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft when the Vegas Golden Knights selected Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. No team, except of course the expansion team, comes out of an expansion draft better than they were when they entered.
That being said, these other teams can seek to limit the damage by prudently selecting their protect lists or even sending assets to the expansion team for “expansion considerations.” Although many teams were unable to do this, the Flyers found a way. They crafted their protected list in such a way that all they lost was Bellemare. However, it will be difficult to protect all of the team’s assets during the Seattle expansion.
Sure, Bellemare was an alternate captain for the Flyers and a well-liked teammate. And yes, he also ate up time on the penalty kill and carried a low cap hit.
Nonetheless, he was a 32-year-old, fourth-line center, who unsurprisingly provided little offensive productivity. Bellemare had never scored more than seven goals in a season during his three years with the Flyers.
In the 2016-17 season, his final season with the team, Bellemare played in all 82 games. Still, he managed to score just four goals that season, good for 19th best on the team. Teammate Valterri Filppula played in just 20 games that season, yet he scored five goals.
Bellemare may not have been an offensive threat, but he should have at least increased the team’s defensive intensity. After all, if there is one statistic that fourth-liners are expected to accumulate, it is hits. The problem is that he did not really do that either.
In a league where the top checkers consistently rack up close to 300 hits in a season, Bellemare never had more than 121 in his tenure with the Flyers. Those 121 hits came in his rookie season. The following two seasons, he struggled to record even half as many, with 65-hit and 73-hit campaigns.
Claude Giroux even recorded more combined hits in those two seasons. Sure, Giroux is a tough player, but when a team’s first-line center is checking more frequently than its fourth-line center, something is wrong.
Clearly, Bellemare’s worth to the Flyers never showed up on any stat sheet. Any such worth would have instead been in the form of an intangible, like leadership. There is no doubt that when Vegas took Bellemare, the Flyers lost some of those intangibles.
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In fact, after losing Bellemare, the Flyers were without a true leader at the fourth-line center position for a while. In the first half of this season, the Flyers struggled to find any consistency at that position. Now, however, they finally appear to have properly replaced Bellemare by acquiring veteran Nate Thompson at the trade deadline.
Ultimately, the Flyers were able to escape the expansion draft with their core still intact and have since replaced the player they lost. Meanwhile, other teams were not so lucky.
Other Teams Were Not so Fortunate
Several teams ultimately left the 2017 Expansion Draft a lot worse off. Some of the most egregious examples were the Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Florida Panthers.
The Anaheim Ducks did not want Vegas to select defenseman Josh Manson or Sami Vatanen, who were both left unprotected. As a result, the Ducks traded 21-year-old defenseman Shea Theodore to Vegas in return for Vegas agreeing to select Clayton Stoner.
Manson and Vatanen both turned into very good players. The problem is that Theodore turned into an even better one, and is now the top blueliner for the Golden Knights. Through 68 games this season, the now 24-year-old has scored more points than Manson or Vatanen have ever scored in any season. In fact, Theodore’s 44 points is currently ranked 12th among all NHL defensemen.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were even less lucky. Imagine trading a first-round draft pick, second-round draft pick, and David Clarkson just so Vegas would agree to select William Karlsson.
The Blue Jackets probably did not mind making the trade at the time, as Karlsson had never scored more than nine goals in a season. Well, that very next season with Vegas, Karlsson scored 43 goals and tallied 35 assists. It almost seemed criminal that Vegas also got the two picks and Clarkson from Columbus.
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Finally, the Panthers might have made the greatest blunder among these three teams. They let Vegas take their 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft. In return, they “dumped” Reilly Smith and his $5 million cap hit to Vegas for a fourth-round draft pick.
Needless to say, in their first seasons with Vegas, Marchessault and Smith scored 75 and 60 points, respectively. All that Florida had to show for it was a fourth-round pick.
The purpose here is not to derail these teams for making poor decisions in the draft. Rather, the purpose is to show that the Flyers ultimately left that draft in much better shape than did those other teams. No one can argue that losing Bellemare is worse than losing William Karlsson, David Clarkson, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick.
2021 Will Not Be as Kind to the Flyers
The Flyers survived the 2017 expansion draft because they were able to protect their core. It helped that Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny had only just completed their rookie seasons and were not eligible for the expansion draft.
As a result, the Flyers had a relatively easy time selecting their protected list of:
Forwards: Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek
Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, and Brandon Manning
Goalie: Anthony Stolarz
Most of these players were obvious adds to the protected list. After all, Simmonds, Schenn, Voracek, Giroux, and Couturier were the Flyers’ top five leading goalscorers in the 2016-17 season. Really, the only controversial add was Laughton, as he had played in just two games that previous season.
Unfortunately, the Flyers will have some harder decisions to make in the 2021 Expansion Draft. Off the bat, the Flyers must protect Giroux and Kevin Hayes, as they both have no-movement clauses.
Assuming the Flyers choose the seven forward/three defensemen/one goalie option, they will then be able to protect only five more forwards.
Of course, they will protect Couturier, Voracek, and Konecny. This means that the Flyers will only be able to protect two of: Nolan Patrick; James van Riemsdyk; Scott Laughton; Tyler Pitlick; and Oskar Lindblom.
Only van Riemsdyk is currently signed through the 2021-22 season, so before the Flyers even face this decision, they must choose whether they want to re-sign these other forwards.
Among the defensemen, the Flyers will almost certainly protect Provorov and Travis Sanheim, leaving just one blueliner left to protect.
They will have to choose among Shayne Gostisbehere, and assuming they all get re-signed, Matt Niskanen; Philippe Myers; and Robert Hagg.
At least the Flyers have one easy selection to make, as they will protect Carter Hart in goal.
It appears inevitable that the Flyers are going to lose a key forward or defenseman. Unlike 2017, it will not be a fourth-line center that is leaving this time.
If the Flyers want to protect their whole roster, like Columbus thought they were doing in 2017, they could seek to make a trade with the Seattle franchise. Nonetheless, the Flyers would likely have to relinquish significant draft capital in order to do so.
If there is any silver lining here, it is that the Flyers have the rest of this season and all of next season to evaluate their roster. They will get the chance to see how Patrick and Lindblom recover. Furthermore, they will have decided by then which players will even have contracts extending through the 2021-22 season.
We can only hope that general manager Chuck Fletcher can navigate his way through this talented roster.
All uncited stats came from Hockey Reference.