The no-brainer as far as blue liners is Shayne Gostisbehere. He had a down year after an explosive rookie season, but anyone thinking the Flyers shouldn’t protect Ghost needs to have their head checked. So, that leaves, again, two slots.
Big names here are Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Robert Hagg and Mark Alt.
I think this debate is much easier with Gudas and Hagg coming out on top. Gudas was tremendous for the Flyers this year, a flesh and bone wrecking ball out to seek and destroy opposing players. He toes the lines with some of his hits, to be sure, but his aggressiveness is definitely an attribute and not a liability.
As far as Hagg goes, he hasn’t gotten a lot of NHL experience. In the same breath as Weal, his limited NHL experience may be a deterrent to the Golden Knights choosing him, but his high upside and NHL readiness may also not be worth letting him go.
A lot has been said about the play of Brandon Manning this past season, but I’m not the biggest fan. There’s nothing about his play I can specifically has me disliking him, but he seems to stir up trouble just because and is only a bottom-line guy. There’s nothing wrong with being a third-pairing defenseman, but going out of your way to protect a guy like that is unnecessary.
As of writing this, Steve Mason will be a free agent in July. Which means the Flyers obviously won’t be looking to protect him. So the argument goes Michal Neuvirth or Anthony Stolarz? A lot of beat writers during the season wrote that Hextall would be more likely to protect Stolarz, but John Boruk with CSN came saying it would most certainly be Neuvrith that Philadelphia shield from the expansion draft.
It’s an interesting argument. Neuvirth is a proven NHL goalie. He’s bounced around to several teams, but has shown stellar moments, including last season when he finished with a .924 save percentage. This year was a regression to say the least, as he finished with an appalling .891 save percentage.
Meanwhile, the Flyers have high hopes for the New Jersey native, Stolarz. He saw some time this season, appearing in seven games, posting a not-too-shabby 2.07 goals against average and .928 save percentage with a shutout in limited action.
What Boruk points out as the reason for protecting Neuvirth is that Vegas won’t be reaching to take Stolarz with a variety of better options throughout the league. While this may hold true, the Flyers need to be thinking more about the future and what position they would be in if Stolarz was selected. Neuvirth isn’t light years ahead of Stolarz and if Stolie the goalie does get taken in the expansion draft, is Hextall ready to move forward with Neuvirth for the foreseeable future?
I think the Flyers signed Neuvirth to a relatively manageable contract as a lure for Vegas. The contract is one that is enticing to a brand new team, but is also extremely manageable for Philly should Neuvrith not get chosen. Plus, with Mason still available, if the Flyers lose Neuvirth, they could always offer 35 a new contract (if he doesn’t sign with another team).
If I were GM (and I’m not for a variety of good reasons), I’m sheltering Stolarz from Vegas.
Overall, these protected players should not only help the Flyers in the 2017-18 campaign but provide a solid group of youth moving towards Hextall’s plan and (hopefully) the eventual success of the franchise again.