The Philadelphia Flyers will look to shake up their roster this offseason in the hopes of being in the mix for a playoff spot in 2022-23. General manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher and Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Comcast Spectacor Dave Scott believe undergoing a rebuild is unnecessary and that better health on the roster during the regular season coupled with the right transactions made during the summer will provide them with a boost. Even with the return of Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis, plus Kevin Hayes, Joel Farabee, Scott Laughton, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Carter Hart remaining relatively healthy over the course of an 82-game season, it is debatable how improved they are.
After a successful 2019-20, their inconsistent goaltending and offense, along with their underwhelming team defense and special teams, have plagued the Flyers during the last two seasons. GM Fletcher has a lot of work to do this summer to improve the roster in addition to finding a new head coach. Here are three free agent forwards the Flyers should target this offseason.
The Calgary Flames forward is a native of Salem County, New Jersey, and has been on the wish list of Flyers fans for some time. He is coming off of an outstanding regular season in which he played all 82 games and finished with 40 goals and 75 assists. Gaudreau has managed to be durable through his career, and the organization would benefit from his presence coming off of a year with injuries to several star players.
Gaudreau struggled to score during the playoffs but is one of the leading offensive players for the Flames. They have many roster members who will be seeking new contracts, including restricted free agents (RFA) Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, UFAs Calle Jarnkrok, and Nikita Zadorov, to name a few. If GM Brad Treliving and Gaudreau are unable to agree on a new contract, the South Jersey native will be one of the top free agents on the market, and Fletcher should make an offer to him with the hope he can be a significant addition to help turn the club around.
Gaudreau commented on how much he enjoys being with the Flames, “If (GM Brad Treliving) and the owners are happy with the way I’ve played here in the past six to seven years and it’s something we can figure out. I would love to do that. I love the city of Calgary. I love playing here. I don’t think I’ve ever once said I haven’t wanted to be here.”
Tkachuk (24) is four years younger than Gaudreau and will receive a big contract offer from the Flames, resulting in one of or perhaps the highest average annual value (AAV) for the franchise. They lost the playoff series to the Edmonton Oilers and will be aiming to retool their roster to build upon their second-round exit, as they have not reached the Western Conference Final since the 2004 postseason. Keeping their two top forwards puts them in the running to make another deep run in next year’s playoffs, but that will be difficult to do without the team sacrificing depth players in the process. The 28-year-old was a difference-maker for them this season and will have his share of offers from teams looking to add him, and the Flyers need to be one of them.
The Flames’ star could be seeking a multi-year contract for around 5-7 years with an $8 to $9 million AAV at a minimum, so Fletcher will need to clear plenty of cap space if he intends to sign Gaudreau during the summer to a multi-year contract.
If the Flyers are unable to sign Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri is an option for Fletcher to consider, as he will be looking to cash in on a season that was a career-best for him in assists and points. He plays with grit and is an annoyance to opponents, which is a benefit because he can get under the skin of his opponents a la Brad Marchand. The club has lacked toughness the last two seasons, and the addition of such a player will provide them with a boost.
He is a member of a deep core with the Colorado Avalanche that consists of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Andre Burakovsky, and Cale Makar. They will have several other roster members in need of new contracts, including Burakovsky, and MacKinnon, who will enter the final year of his deal in 2022-23. Kadri will receive offers that GM Joe Sakic may choose not to match based on what other players he fills he needs to re-sign for the Avalanche. However, if Kadri is instrumental in the organization winning a Stanley Cup, he may receive a generous contract proposal from his current team.
It is debatable if Kadri is capable of putting up the kinds of numbers he did this season with another franchise that is not an elite contender, such as the Flyers. However, he would fit in well with a healthy Hayes, Farabee, and Couturier, who are three of the top players that need to have good seasons to improve the club. The Avalanche forward would increase the depth of the Flyers’ offense, which has floundered in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Rickard Rakell was a trade deadline addition for the Pittsburgh Penguins but missed time with an upper-body injury after a hit from Ryan Lindgren during the first-round series against the New York Rangers. He will not command a deal like Gaudreau or Kadri but is an option for the Flyers to pursue to increase their forward depth. He can be relied upon for 20 goals and 25 assists when healthy.
The Penguins have decisions to make on whether to re-sign Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang this offseason, and Rakell may not be in their plans after Bryan Rust re-signed for six years, $30.75 million, a $5.125 million AAV. Rakell acknowledged the number of players that need to be signed this offseason, “I know this organization has a lot of free agents to take care of. I’m just going to see what happens. He did enjoy playing with the organization after being traded by the Anaheim Ducks during the deadline, “This is definitely a place I would like to come back to and where I think I can take my game to the next level, as well.”
Rakell is a good addition for Fletcher to consider to help increase the experience of the Flyers’ offense, as they finished this season with many young players on the active roster. While Noah Cates, Bobby Brink, and Morgan Frost have shown potential, they need a full season of healthy, experienced players to compete for a playoff spot. The free agent forward can be placed on their first or second line, with Couturier or Hayes centering the top two line combinations.
The Flyers’ opportunity to turn the team around begins this offseason as they look to hire a head coach and alter their roster to return to the playoffs next year. Being in the hunt for a wild-card spot and managing to make the postseason as one of the bottom seeds is an improvement from where they’ve been the last two seasons. The organization has missed the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in 1992-93 and 1993-94 and has not been at a low point since 2006-07. They rebounded the following year to be a legitimate contender, but it is difficult to imagine history repeating itself during 2022-23 with them returning to an elite team so quickly.