By the end of July and into early August, the Flyers will look considerably different.
A critical summer for general manager Chuck Fletcher and company is set to heat up with the Kraken expansion draft (July 21), NHL entry draft (July 23-24) and commencement of free agency (July 28), three offseason tentpoles within an eight-day span.
Ahead of the club's important stretch, which only continues a busy time period of evaluation and change, Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr addressed the media Tuesday morning.
Let's get into five overarching takeaways from the press conference.
1. The protection list
The Flyers can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie from being picked by Seattle in the expansion draft or eight skaters (with a combination of four or more defensemen) and one goalie. We broke down the Flyers' potential plans at forward and on defense.
The Flyers must submit their protection list by Saturday. With the club's pro scouts in town, Fletcher said the Flyers had unanimity in building their list, which sounds essentially all but written in stone.
"If we make moves between now and then, we can adjust it, but we have a pretty good idea of what we want to do, who we're going to protect and who we'll make available," Fletcher said.
The Kraken are led by general manager Ron Francis and they recently hired former Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol as their first-ever bench boss. The Flyers' silver lining to losing a player is the gaining of cap relief during an offseason in which the club has holes to fill. Because of the economic challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL is operating in a flat-cap world. The Flyers have a little over $13 million in cap space, per CapFriendly.com. That figure will grow following the expansion draft, but it also shrinks when factoring in the club's restricted free agents due for new deals: Carter Hart, Travis Sanheim, Nolan Patrick, Connor Bunnaman and Carsen Twarynski.
The Flyers could strike a deal with Seattle to sweeten a possible selection, perhaps enticing the Kraken to take a player with a much more sizable cap hit or a more marginal player with lesser on-ice value. The latter feels less likely, with cap relief looking more attractive here. But the Flyers could simply submit their protection list and see which exposed player Seattle takes, with no real swaying involved by losing more assets. Fletcher said he was "open to either" scenario.
"I've had several conversations with Ron going back a few months now, we'll probably take guidance from them, if there's something that they think would make sense for them and would make sense for us," Fletcher said. "My expectation is we'll submit the list and whether there'll be conversations after we submit the list or not, time will tell. But we're certainly comfortable submitting the list and having them select a player. I've just indicated to them if they have ideas on something else they want to accomplish, to let us know."
2. Convos with those exposed
Three players on the Flyers' roster who have larger cap hits and could be exposed are Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million), James van Riemsdyk ($7 million) and Shayne Gostisbehere ($4.5 million).
All three could be left unprotected. Among the three, Voracek and Gostisbehere are more likely to be exposed, while the club may decide to protect van Riemsdyk. We'll find out Sunday when the list is released.
Fletcher said he hasn't yet informed the players that they plan to expose.
"I've had conversations with a few of them, several conversations with a couple of them about the likelihood of it and about what we're trying to do and why," Fletcher said. "As we get closer to Saturday, whether it's Friday or Saturday, I will reach out to some of the players for sure to give them a courtesy heads-up. Things could still change, so I don't want to jump the gun too much. I think a few of them are aware of what our position is and we've had good conversations."
By now, one can safely surmise Voracek is a player the Flyers have chatted with about their expansion draft motives and the path this offseason could take. He has earned that right, having been in Philadelphia for 10 years and being a member of the roster's leadership group. Voracek turns 32 years old in August and is under contract for three more seasons.
"I think, generally speaking, in this environment, it goes without saying that it's difficult to move money right now and cheaper contracts are probably more valuable in that sense," Fletcher said.
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3. Ready to wheel and deal?
With the handcuffs of a stagnant cap, the Flyers can't look only at free agency for external help. And they need help after missing the playoffs in 2020-21 and surrendering the NHL's most goals at 3.52 per game.
The trade route might be the best avenue to make a major addition, whether it be on the back end or up front. Trades make for difficult decisions and Fletcher will have them this offseason. Trades can also be a way to clear cap and make room for free-agent signings.
Is anything cooking? Soon, things will be.
In many ways, the expansion draft will be a kick-starter to the Flyers' offseason moves. The results of it will give them a clearer picture of what they still have and the amount of cap space they've gained.
"The phones have been busy, I've been receiving calls, I've been making calls, we're all speaking with each other," Fletcher said. "Every team is in a little bit different spot — for some teams, they can acquire a player now and it doesn't impact their list that much. There are other teams that would much rather wait until after the expansion draft to make a trade to upgrade their club. I think everybody's different.
"It seems like more teams would prefer to wait until after Seattle makes their decisions, but there is a lot of dialogue and I think teams are trying to get a read of the room right now, see who's available, what other teams are trying to do and what options we all may have once we get closer to the draft and free agency.
"A lot of chatter, but from our standpoint, we certainly aren't going to be making a trade today or tomorrow unless something unexpected breaks right now."
Fletcher said the Flyers are "looking at everything" but will not lose sight of the big picture beyond 2021-22.
"This summer to me is similar to every summer, every offseason," Fletcher said. "The goal is to try to be as competitive as we can next year and yet we want to make sure we keep a large quantity of future assets that can continue to help us get better as we move forward."
In his third offseason with the Flyers, Fletcher will feel the pressure to win now, especially following a quiet second offseason that proved costly. The Flyers have a hole on their top defensive pair and saw staggering regression in many key areas a year after they came within one win of the Eastern Conference Final.
Fletcher reiterated the process of getting back to contending again starts with him and falls on everyone.
"I think there's been a lot of focus on the blue line. I mean, to me, the number one priority is our goals against. It was just ridiculous how many goals we gave up last year," Fletcher said. "That goes back to everything, it goes back to the coaches having a great training camp and using the practice time early in the season to reinforce our systems and our structure, it's our goaltenders playing better, it's our defensemen playing better, it's our forwards managing the puck better.
"We're going to need to look at upgrades to our roster, there's no question, and we're also going to need the players that are returning to play better, in particular without the puck and structurally. We’re going to need our coaches to get our players back in that structure and reinforce the system. It's not just one thing that led us to fall from seventh in the league defensively to the bottom of the pile. You have no chance, no chance, to win in this league unless you're at least in the top half of the league defensively, so we have a lot of work to do.
"We have holes we need to fill and we have players that are currently on our roster that need to play much better. It's got to be a holistic approach; it's not just one player that's going to turn it around, it's everybody, starting with me, that has to be much better this year and that has been conveyed to everybody in the organization."
4. Trading the No. 13 pick?
Speaking of Fletcher's assets, the Flyers' 2021 first-round pick will be one of them over the next week-plus. The club is slotted at 13th overall. Is that spot in play for a trade?
"Depends who you ask," Flahr, who oversees the club's draft efforts, joked.
"Yeah, Brent wants me to keep it," Fletcher said with a laugh. "Look, it's a really good asset. If we use our first-round pick to select a player, we're obviously going to be able to draft a high quality player that'll help us. But yet, because it's of high-asset value, I think we have to explore what we can do with it. The likelihood is you normally end up keeping your first-round picks, but this offseason, in particular, I think I'm more willing to look at moving it. If there's some way we can help our team, not just in the short term, but more over several years, over the longer term and it cost me the first-round pick, if I can get that type of asset, I'll certainly look at doing it."
The 2021 draft is the Flyers' third under Fletcher and Flahr. It's worth noting, with every draft thus far, Fletcher has never ruled out the Flyers trading their first-round pick, so this doesn't mean the Flyers are definitely moving their pick. This offseason, however, they may be most inclined to do so compared to the previous two drafts given the big club's current state and the uniqueness of this year's draft.
"If you're going to move the 13th overall pick, either by itself or as part of a package, you better be getting a really good player that can help you for a few years," Fletcher said. "I'm not sure that it has to be position specific. Certainly you want to make sure you're getting a good player that can help you in the short and long term."
The Flyers hold seven picks in the draft, which will be held virtually. What makes the No. 13 overall pick perhaps even more appealing this draft is the lack of consensus on prospects because of the coronavirus-impacted draft year.
"It's probably been written about, the top eight or nine guys, teams will have them in different orders but it's probably going to be the same names," Flahr said. "What you're going to see [after] is it goes all over the board. I think there's a number of players that probably media outlets and whatnot have not seen a lot of, but teams have, teams have done their homework on certain players. Some players haven't played at all this year, which is unique for us and for everybody. You're going to see some variances as the draft expands.
"I don't think there's any generational players in it. However, there are some quality players at the top end and there is some depth throughout the draft. There are some different tiers, like every year. Our group has done a pretty good job identifying those, but I do think there's some depth through the second and third round this year that our guys are excited about, and even beyond."
As Fletcher noted, the Flyers highly value their 13th overall spot. If the Flyers trade the pick, it won't be solely about the pressure of getting better next season. If the Flyers keep the pick — and it won't be surprising if they do — here are five targets at No. 13. We'll look at more as July 23 gets closer.
"We don't really draft by position, especially in the first round," Flahr said. "We go by our list, the best player available. Realistically, as you've seen in the NHL, a lot of these players don't play next year, so sometimes our needs right now are changed two years down the road. That's just a reality we're in."
5. 'Busy offseason behind the scenes'
Fletcher said the Flyers will soon be announcing "a lot of personnel moves."
With Ian Laperriere taking over as head coach of AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, the Flyers will have a new assistant under Alain Vigneault and a new staff for the Phantoms.
Fletcher and Vigneault have truly put their imprint on things. Year 3 is a big one, no doubt.
"We spent an awful lot of time this summer looking at our staff, our structure and I think we've made some really meaningful changes and improvements to how we do things, not just from a coaching standpoint, but from a development standpoint, a scouting standpoint and a data standpoint," Fletcher said. "We put a lot of time and effort this summer into fixing some things off the ice that we think will lead to better on-ice results.
"We've looked at everything. Last year was unacceptable. It's been a busy offseason behind the scenes and I'm really happy with some of the moves we've made. Now we have to find a way to get better on the ice and that'll be the focus from here on out."
For Tuesday's full press conference, watch below: