Ahh yes one of the best days of the years is coming up and I couldn’t be more excited. Now usually free agency starts on July 1st but thanks to COVID everything is pushed back. While right now would usually be the start of the NHL season we are still a few months away from that. As of now it looks like January 1st could be the start date for next season which would be a full 82 games. So now we have free agency starting tomorrow. Tuesday and Wednesday we had the NHL draft and of course during that time we saw some trades as we typically do every year. But now it’s time we talk about one of the busiest days of the year for the NHL. There are a lot of big names out there and only so much cap space to spend for each team especially with the cap crunch coming up.
The Flyers are one of those teams that will certainly feel the effects of the cap situation and the upcoming expansion draft next year. Now with the surprising move of Matt Niskanen retiring the Flyers have a little more wiggle room then they thought they were going to. There a lot of big names out there this off-season and now the Flyers have some money to make offers to some of those guys. Before we go in depth and look at who Chuck Fletcher might bust open the checkbook for, lets take a look at what the team looks like as of today….
Forwards: Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Joel Farabee, James Van Reimsdyk, Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick, Nic Aube-Kubel, Morgan Frost, Connor Bunnaman
Defense: Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanhiem, Robert Hagg, Justin Braun, Phil Myers, Samuel Morin, Mark Friedman
Pending Free Agents:
Now lets take a look at who the Flyers unrestricted free agents are who as of noon tomorrow are free to sign anywhere else. It’s a short list but here is my thoughts on who might be back and who is definitely leaving.
Tyler Pitlick- I loved the way Pitlick played last season and during the playoffs. He was one of the more consistent players and I am a little concerned as to why he hasn’t been re-signed yet. He’s a solid third line grinder guy that plays with an edge and can provide some offense. The biggest thing for me is he never takes a shift off and its tough to replace that kind of hustle in the lineup. I am really hoping they can bring him back even if it is just on a 1-2 year deal. I think he is going to test the waters off free agency and he may end up being one of those guys that a team overpays for but ideally we would be able to re-sign him for a little over 1 million a year. He is still only 28 and like I said he really played well all year and during the playoffs to where I’d prefer to re-sign him instead of letting him walk.
Derek Grant- This one is a little more difficult to decide on, Grant was acquired right at the trade deadline and we only got to see a little glimpse of him before COVID shut down the season. Grant was okay during the time we saw from him. He looks to be a pretty solid penalty killer and he can provide a little bit of physical play which usually helps around playoff time. One thing I wasn’t super impressed with from him was his faceoffs. He wasn’t great in that aspect and it felt like he was out there during all the wrong times in the playoffs. The move made sense for the team at the time but as of now I don’t see the need for us to bring him back as there is a couple guys I would rather see in the lineup instead of him.
Nate Thompson-This is another tough one as teams always need veteran type players and that’s exactly what Thompson is. He is a great veteran that is perfect for a bottom six role and he is great on the PK and in the faceoff circle. At 36 it really just comes down to how much he is going to cost and if it’s really a need for us to have him on our bottom six. In my opinion I don’t think we need to bring him back, he did what we asked of him from when we acquired him but he was a rental and I think we all knew that going into it.
Kurtis Gabriel- Cant see him coming back at all we have no need for him other than to maybe fill a spot on the Phantoms.
Nathan Noel-They would have sent a qualifying offer if they planned on keeping him around
Andy Welinski- Another guy I could see being brought back for the Phantoms and he shouldn’t cost too much.
Reece Wilcox- You can never have too many bodies on the backend, I believe Wilcox will be back on a minor league deal.
When it comes to the Flyers one of the biggest needs for years was goaltending. We finally have our lord and savior Carter Hart so therefore we have nothing to worry about between the pipes. We also re-signed Brian Elliott to a one year team friendly deal which is great because he was a solid backup to Hart last season and he is experienced enough to step in at anytime and pick up a few wins.
The obvious need comes on the forward side of things, we need a scoring winger. It’s that simple, someone who has a shoot first mentality and can put the puck in the back of the net anytime they touch the puck. This free agency class has one guy that fits that mold and a few other guys that maybe could be that guy but i’m not sold on. This could end up not being a need at all if the Flyers and Jets can get a deal done for Patrik Laine. As of now there is no deal done but it is still a strong possibility and he seems to be the Flyers top priority right now. But if a deal doesn’t get done then a top 6 forward is still a major need, so let’s take a look at who the Flyers could target…
Taylor Hall: If you’re looking for a scoring winger who will easily make your offense that much better, Hall is the guy. With Matt Niskanen retiring it helps the Flyers out when it comes to the cap situation. Hall isn’t going to be cheap but at the same time he may not be seeking the typical 5-7 year deals which could also help the Flyers here. If they can sign him to a 2-3 year deal I am all for it even with the big cap hit it’ll take to get him. There is no guarantee that Hall has any interest in coming here as it looks more like he is heading out towards Western Canada but I wouldn’t hate Fletcher giving him an offer.
Mike Hoffman: Long linked to trade rumors, Mike Hoffman will have the chance to pick where he wants to go come Friday. The 31 year old winger has proven that he can score goals and would come at a cheaper price than Hall. I’m not fully sold on Hoffman however as I feel like he wouldn’t produce as much as people think he would. Not saying I wouldn’t take him but he would be the fourth choice on my list of forwards I would want.
Evgenii Dadonov: Also 31 years old Dadonov is a very interesting option to me. I think he has more of an upside than Hoffman and he would also come a little bit cheaper as well. I’d feel more comfortable giving him a longer term deal than I would Hoffman. Dadonov is 11th in scoring among right wingers since 2017-18 and he would slide in nicely with Coots and G.
Those are my top three targets as anyone else I could see them signing would just be a bottom six guy which like I said before I am hoping Pitlick is one of the guys they bring back. To really improve the top 6 one of these three are their best options its just a matter of how much Chuck wants to spend knowing he has a hole to fill on the backend now.
Speaking of the backend, there is a lot of talent defenseman that Fletcher could open the checkbook for. One guy in particular that seems to be the favorite target of many teams while the rest are more of hit or miss guys. Lets take a look at some of the options the Flyers have on defense…
Alex Pietrangelo: Hands down he is the best defenseman available and before Niskanen retired he wouldn’t have even been an option for the Flyers. Now, with a little more cap space to play with and a need to fill there is a very good chance the Flyers send him an offer. I may be on the minority side here but I am a little hesitant on signing him and it has nothing to do with his skill level. He would be a great fit for our team and yes I would be happy with him. Buuuuutttttt, my only concern is that signing him will lead to us being in cap hell for the next few years and I want no parts of that. Pietrangelo isn’t going to take a team friendly deal and if he was he would be staying in St.Louis. It is going to cost the Flyers a lot of money to pull this one off and I’ll be honest that scares me a little bit.
Tyson Barrie: While I am not fully sold on him, I also don’t hate the idea of him in orange and black. The guy has talent and in the right situation could become a huge factor on a team. He is 29 and has plenty of experience to bring to the table. He would be cheaper than Pietrangelo and honestly I’d be happy with him on a short term deal until one of our younger guys is fully ready to step in and replace him.
Looking at the rest of the free agent class for the defenseman there isn’t really anyone that stands out that could replace Niskanen. I could maybe see them offering a guy like Kevin Shattenkirk but I don’t really think he is the right choice.
It will be an interesting next couple of days/weeks for Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers. A lot of their plans will be based on if they end up getting a deal done with Winnipeg for Laine which as of now their asking price is too high. Laine seems to be the top priority for the moment but if nothing is done by Friday you have to think that Fletcher will look at the UFAs out there and use his money there. I’ll have a full free agency tracker blog being updated throughout the day on friday so make sure you keep it here with Branded Sports to stay up to date on all the moves going down in the NHL.
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