Flyers Trade Deadline Options: Expansion Draft Protection, Defensemen, Goaltending, and the Case for Matt Duchene

The Flyers continue to as the trade deadline approaches. With the team on the playoff bubble and currently on the outside looking in, something needs to be done to shake up their roaster. While some fans are calling for a complete remodel, including trading captain Claude Giroux, the Flyers are going to keep their core together and instead look to make moves that coincide with their long term plan. Additionally, they will have to be weary of the impending expansion draft, which further complicates things.

Expansion Draft Complications

The expansion draft allows teams to either protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goaltender or 8 skaters (forwards and defensemen combined) and one goaltender. The league is also requiring that teams expose 2 forwards, 1 defenseman, and 1 goaltender that are under contract for next season. The Flyers currently have nine forwards under contract for next season according to CapFriendly, 8 of which will need protection.   Their defensive situation is similar with 4 defensemen under contract and 3 needing protection (Gostisbehere is a RFA at the end of this season). Currently, the Flyers have no goaltender playing at the NHL level under contract for next season and will need obtain a netminder who is exposable prior to the expansion draft. Further complicating matters is the fact that in the expansion draft, Vegas only has to draft twenty players that are under contract for the 2017-18 season. This means they can draft UFA’s and RFA’s. While UFA’s are a lesser issue as they will still be able to talk to every team in the league come July 1st if hey do not sign with Vegas, The RFA’s will need to be protected as their rights will be held by Vegas if selected meaning the Golden Knights will only have to match an offer sheet to retain RFA’s the select in the expansion draft. Essentially, the Flyers will have to protect players under contract they wish to keep as well as RFA’s.

Defense

The Flyers are most likely to move a defensemen at the deadline. With three veteran players at the end of their contracts (Schultz, Streit, and Del Zotto) and a plethora of young players ready to make the jump to the NHL next season, there is no reason the Flyers should let these contracts expire with no return. Mark Streit is the most attractive of these pieces for other teams, but his modified no trade clause (M-NTC) of ten teams he can be traded to makes it harder for Hextall to move him without his approval. Considering Streit has said he would like to return next season and work with the young defensemen, the likelihood of him waiving his M-NTC is unlikely unless it is to a cup contender. With Washington trading for Shattenkirk and Minnesota trading for parts that maxed out their cap space, the teams he’d waive his M-NTC for (assuming they were not on his list of ten teams) continues to dwindle. This leaves Del Zotto and Schultz who have both seen very little playing time this year and would only fill a third pairing/insurance role for a playoff team and would probably only garner a low round pick in return. While not unloading one of these players is not the worst thing in the world, it would be nice as even receiving a low round draft pick would mean extra cap space for the Flyers to potentially make a splash that could help the team long term through a second move. Additionally, receiving draft picks and instead of a player (especially a defenseman) in return keeps the Flyer’s expansion draft outlook intact.

Currently the Flyers have four defensemen under contract for 2017-18 (Provorov, MacDonald, Manning, and Gudas). Ivan Provorov will not be protection, which means they can protect Gostisbehere, an RFA, instead and retain his rights while leaving MacDonald exposed to the expansion draft, meeting the one exposed defensemen requirement.

Forwards

The Flyers have been in an offensive slump and need help if they are going to make the playoffs. While the team has talented players, they recently have not been able to find a combination that unlocks their offensive abilities. With the defense seemingly solidified (at least as solid as its going to get this season), and considering the only help the Flyers will receive offensively for the remainder of the season is the return of Travis Konecny, the Flyers should make a move that could help sort out their offensive issues that does not completely rip the team’s core apart. This is why it is imperative the Flyers move a defenseman, to open up cap space which will allow them room to take on a larger contract.

One of the biggest names being thrown around as a trade target is Matt Duchene. While his price tag may be hefty, I actually like this move if the Flyers are able to execute the trade in a responsible fashion. This would mean moving a forward that they Flyers already plan on protecting in the draft as Duchene still has two years left on his contract. With the Flyers forwards being the most at risk in the expansion draft, this is an absolute must.

Currently the Flyers have 9 forwards under contract for next season and 2 RFA’s. While only 8 of the forwards with contracts need protection (Konecny is exempt) the Flyers will most likely opt to protect Nick Cousins who is an RFA. If they do so, the Flyers will only be able to protect one of Dale Weise, Matt Read, or Michael Raffl. Considering this, Weise is highly likely to be exposed, making the decision of who to expose is between Raffl and Read (Read has a bigger cap hit of $3.625 to Raffl’s $2.350 but only has one year left on his contract to Raffl’s two).

With the Flyer’s already needing to expose at least one player they would probably prefer to keep, any deal for Duchene or another offensive player would need to include a player the Flyers are already planning on protecting. This said, the deal would have to be one that keeps the long term future in mind. With the team having issues finding a third line center, Duchene, at 26 years old, fits what the team is looking for. The question then becomes who do the Flyers give up? The front runner should be Brayden Schenn. Schenn, while producing at an incredible rate on the power play, is essentially useless at even strength where the Flyers are struggling mightily. Considering Duchene is producing points at a rate almost double that of Schenn at 5v5 and holding his own when it comes to power play production, he is a viable trade target that can help immediately.

Schenn had a breakout season last year proving he can produce top six numbers at the NHL level, however he has always been an awkward fit on the Flyers. For both the team and Schenn, a trade is in the best interest of both parties for a number of reasons.

By executing this trade, the Flyers may finally be able to resolve the issues they have had finding a third line center. Considering it is highly unlikely that either Weal or Cousins will get a long term look in the role and the fact that Schenn has squandered his chance to grasp the job multiple times, it is time for a change. Duchene, an established centerman, can easily step right into the role. Meanwhile, Schenn a player who has said he wants to play in the middle could benefit from a change of scenery. The same could be said for Duchene who has recently been under producing in Colorado but certainly has the potential to be a top six forward. While Giroux and Bellemare have the 1st and 4th line centermen roles secured, a two three combination of Duchene and Couturier creates a very solid lineup down the middle.

A second reason the trade is attractive for the Flyers is it salary cap implications. Schenn ($5.125) and Duchene ($6.0) have similar cap hits. While the Flyers would still have to clear about $700,000 to fit Duchene on the roaster for the remainder of the season, this could be done by either moving a defenseman elsewhere, adding another player to the trade, or negotiation that Colorado retain a portion of Duchene’s contract for the remainder of the season. A last resort option would be sending Lyubimov back to the Phantoms for the remainder of the season. Beyond this season though, the Flyers have plenty of cap room to play with meaning that if this trade does not happen before the deadline, it still has potential to happen either at the NHL draft or over the summer. While spending almost a million dollar more on an under producing player seems like a bad idea consider the following.

Both Schenn and Duchene are not performing to their abilities. Both would be traded for as reclamation project. While Schenn has had one solid year as a Flyer, he usually struggles to find a solid place in the lineup, a trend that is likely to continue. Schenn has three years left on his contract while Duchene only has two. Considering both players are looking to reignite their careers, Duchene has a higher chance of helping the Flyers and developing in Philadelphia than Schenn does if he stays put as the team seems to have given up on Schenn to a certain extent. If Duchene does not develop, the Flyers are stuck with a bad contract for one less season than they would be if Schenn remains on the team.

While this trade would most likely require some additional incentive from the Flyers as opposed to being a straight up swap, there are several prospects the Flyers may be willing to part ways with (they have several defensive and goaltending prospect) and a few lower round draft picks they may be able to add to sweeten the deal.

Goaltenders

The most interesting situation the Flyers need to resolve is their goaltender situation. With both netminders on contracts that expire at the end of the season, the Flyers must find someone to expose in the expansion draft. However, both Stolarz and Lyon seem ready to make the jump to the NHL. This makes things interesting for the Flyers as the deadline approaches. They need to find a goaltender to expose in the draft, but at the same time seem unwilling to resign one of their own at the risk of being stuck with them for another year. While ideally, a goalie for goalie swap will be made it is highly unlikely. While Neuvirth is the more attractive option of the two netminders to other teams due to his smaller cap hit, we can expect one of the current netminders to be reluctantly resigned and exposed with Stolarz receiving the draft protection from the Flyers.

Conclusions

While they Flyers say to not expect much from them over the next day and a half, I would expect a trade or two to be made. These trades will not do much to change the look of the team drastically, but will help get the rebuild process moving again after what seems like a few months of stagnation.

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