Barring the Philadelphia Flyers staying the course through the 2022 NHL Draft, that leaves them with work to do in free agency. They can acquire players to fill those concerns through free agency as a cheaper and likely easier option than through trades right now. As the Flyers have holes at each position, we are going to look at the best option in free agency for each and then a backup plan to have a successful offseason.
Plan A – Johnny Gaudreau
The Flyers need to make a splash offensively, and that starts by going after one of the big names in free agency. It just so happens Johnny Gaudreau has been linked to the Flyers as the need is there, and he grew up close. It creates more of a need now that Joel Farabee is expected to miss time to begin the season as the team will be down an impactful offensive player.
Yes, the Flyers don’t have a ton of cap space to work with, but a few names like James van Riemsdyk and Oscar Lindblom have been floating around to trade and buyout, respectively. As free agency grows near, it looks less and less likely that Gaudreau will return to the Calgary Flames, or at the very least, he’ll test the market.
He is now in his prime, as this past season saw him score 40 goals for the first time and also record 115 points, which was good for second in the league. It’s very difficult to find skill and productivity like that, so the Flyers should be doing everything they can to land a player as impactful as him. He also led the league in plus/minus and was very good at five-on-five, not taking anything away from his production on the power play. If the Flyers can’t draft someone like this, signing him in his prime will keep the window to win open longer without having to go into any rebuild.
Plan B – Filip Forsberg
If the Flyers can’t land possibly the most sought-after free agent this summer, then Filip Forsberg is a close second as he had a career year for a surprising Nashville Predators team. He scored 42 goals and 84 points, smashing his previous highs of 33 goals and 64 points. He, too, is in his prime and is one year younger than Gaudreau.
Reports are that Forsberg is willing to take a team-friendly deal to stay in Nashville, but general manager David Poile is messing things up with the clauses and bonuses. Things don’t appear to be heading in the right direction, and Forsberg, who is asking for a number in the low $8 million range, would be a worthy addition if he can provide the Flyers with 35-plus goals consistently. He is a dangerous sniper, and signing him to a seven-year deal would not be a risk considering the consistency in goal-scoring he’s displayed since entering the league. With a big game hunter in the high-end free agent forward market being taken off the board as the Los Angeles Kings traded for Kevin Fiala, the chances for Gaudreau or Forsberg increased for the Flyers.
Plan A – Ian Cole
With five top-four defensemen on the team in Ivan Provorov, Ryan Ellis, Travis Sanheim, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Cam York, the need will be only to go after a depth defender who can play the sixth spot and possibly kill penalties. Coach John Tortorella would like to have another defensively responsible player on the back end in a pure defensive defenseman, considering the Flyers lack that.
Assuming the Flyers don’t move one of their defenseman this offseason and Ronnie Attard and Egor Zamula are on the cusp of full-time roles with the team, Philadelphia would be wise to target a cheap replacement similar to Justin Braun for the third pairing. The top option is Ian Cole to fill that role. He will come at a decently cheap price, plays a stellar defensive game in all aspects, and wherever he goes, success seems to follow.
Cole has played in eight consecutive playoffs and won the Stanley Cup twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. He is also a bit familiar with the Flyers’ new head coach seeing as Cole was traded from Pittsburgh to the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2017-18 season. Cole plays the hard-nosed style Tortorella expects, and he already knows the system. He would also be able to mentor York and be a great partner to him in his first full season with the Flyers next season.
Plan B – Justin Braun
As a plan B, there’s no reason to think it’s a bad idea to bring back Justin Braun on a one-year deal, considering all the great play he provided for the Flyers this past season and before. With the progression of York, if one of the top-four defensemen goes out for an extended period of time, Braun won’t have the task of playing first pairing minutes next season. Rather, he can focus on killing penalties and playing bottom-pair minutes with easier matchups. This should be able to allow him to succeed even more, and since the Flyers just need a defender who is defensively responsible for a season, the age of Braun (35 years old) won’t be a huge factor as he didn’t appear to slow down.
The role with the New York Rangers was better suited for him at this point in his career, playing 16 minutes a night. He plays a physical brand of hockey and constantly gets in front of shots. He is another type of talent Tortorella would love to coach, and the Flyers would love to see him return.
Plan A – Braden Holtby
The top option for goaltenders that won’t be too expensive and can play in a backup role or as a 1B goalie is Braden Holtby. He started last season with the Dallas Stars as the starting goaltender and put up good numbers. As the season went along, Jake Oettinger emerged, and understandably Holtby was moved to the side.
If there are still many questions with Carter Hart, Holtby would be a strong 1B goaltender as Hart also isn’t too expensive. Holtby has played the role of backup/1B goaltender the past few seasons and looked good in 2021-22. He would go from a defensively-minded Stars team to what should be a much better defensive team in the Flyers next season. A signing would likely be longer than just one season, but that would give Felix Sandstrom and Ivan Fedotov the necessary time to be NHL-ready.
Plan B – Martin Jones
I’ve been saying this throughout the season as Martin Jones looked better than he has in a number of years, but the Flyers should highly consider bringing him back as a backup goaltender who will surely improve even more under new coaching. He had a .900 save percentage for the first time since 2017-18 on a team that allowed 3.59 goals against per game, was very banged up, and inexperienced.
Jones stepped up and started 33 games, which the Flyers should be looking for next season as well. He once had very good numbers, and though he may seem far from the goaltender he once was, good coaching and structure could make all the difference. He will be cheaper than Holtby, and the Flyers are already able to negotiate a contract with Jones. The safe bet is to lock him up short-term before he has a chance to test the waters, but I wouldn’t assume many other teams saw what the Flyers did and would jump at the opportunity to bring him in.
The Flyers may not get all of their top choices in free agency, but which options would you like to see come true? Let me know in the comments.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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