The first few days of free agency have come and gone, and big names are moving. Career players for a single team have moved around the league and it seems like no one has the same goalie they did last week. Brayden Holtby to the Vancouver Canucks, Henrik Lundqvist to the Washington Capitals, Torey Krug to the St. Louis Blues, and more swept the headlines of opening day.
Flyers Sign No One
One team, however, has been completely missing from the list of teams signing free agent players. The Philadelphia Flyers are well-known for making a big splash in free agency. The days of Paul Holmgren forcing the Nashville Predators to match a massive Shea Weber offer sheet or signing Ilya Bryzgalov for every cent the team has, are gone.
With general manager Chuck Fletcher holding the roster reins, a plan is set in place and he’s simply waiting for it to work. Having said that, we can acknowledge that Ron Hextall did something similar, and for a bit too long. It got to the point where the Flyers needed to start winning, but Hextall didn’t want to use those draft picks just yet, or didn’t want to sign that big free agent just yet, and it kept the Flyers at perfect mediocrity for too long.
Hextall was relieved of his duties and Fletcher arrived, Kevin Hayes, solidifying the offense. Since his arrival, Hayes has exceeded expectations for many.
Does that mean the Flyers don’t need a defenseman like Krug, Alex Pietrangelo, Tyson Barrie, or Kevin Shattenkirk? Every team in the league wants someone like those players. The question is, who needs them badly enough to spend the money and term that gets them on your roster? Fletcher intelligently believes that the Flyers need for a Niskanen replacement is not so bad as to need to sign Pietrangelo. Let’s look at the current defensive lineup and their respective contract situations.
Ivan Provorov is about to enter the second season of his six-year contract worth $6.75 million per year. He’s a true No. 1 defenseman, runs the power play, and no one who watches his game would be surprised if we see his name in the running for a Norris trophy soon.
Travis Sanheim is on the final season of his two-year, $3.25 million per year contract. He’ll be an RFA at the conclusion of the coming season and will likely get a small raise if he continues to perform as he did during his 2019-20 campaign.
Shayne Gostisbehere is entering the fourth year of his six-year contract, with a cap hit of $4.5 million. He’s involved in every trade rumor with the team, but following several surgeries over the past few years, it isn’t out of the question that he may return to his former 60-point status.
Justin Braun has just been re-signed by the Flyers after the retirement of Niskanen, earning himself a two-year contract with a $1.8 million average annual value.
Phillipe Myers is currently a question mark. He had what many would consider a breakout season in 2019-20, and certainly deserves a nice raise on his new contract. Not Pietrangelo money, of course, and not even Niskanen money is going to go to Myers.
The Flyers aren’t breaking the bank for any one defenseman right now, but soon there may be a few players to change that, which is why they don’t need to make a big splash in free agency this year. Pietrangelo would be amazing to have on any team, but the Flyers have a young core in Sanheim, Myers, Provorov, and Gostisbehere, not to mention those not currently in the lineup.
Mark Friedman has already made his NHL debut and will likely be seen a lot more during the coming season. Young prospects Egor Zamula and Cam York are looking to become stud NHL defenseman and continue their progression with the, albeit unlikely, possibility of making the team out of camp this year.
The Flyers lost Tyler Pitlick, Nate Thompson, and Derek Grant from their end of the season roster. Not to mention they already needed a solid third-line center. Their replacements have yet to be named but Nolan Patrick has been spotted scrimmaging, Oskar Lindblom is presumed to be back to his top-six role, and Morgan Frost is still available to come up at any time. Does Fletcher want to rely on these young forwards to become the core makeup of the offense? If the Flyers continue their absence in free agency, it may turn out that way.
All of these young players have NHL experience and there’s no reason to believe they can’t perform at a high-level. In fact, most fans have been asking to get younger and faster in the bottom-six for quite some time. The biggest “what-if” at this point is the health of Patrick. If he is at 100 percent and can be “the guy” at the third-line center, the Flyers are in a great spot. If he cannot go for any reason throughout the season consistently, a big move may need to be made.
The Flyers already lost out on perfect third-line center candidate Mikko Koivu to the Columbus Blue Jackets. If they wait too long, there won’t be a single person left let alone one with as much skill and experience as Koivu.
The Seattle Expansion Draft would force either someone like Pietrangelo, if signed, or the above-mentioned players to be exposed. This is a HUGE part of the decision to sign a player long-term. Chuck Fletcher will undoubtedly protect Provorov, Sanheim, and Myers, meaning if Pietrangelo was signed (or any other top free-agent defenseman) he would become a member of the Seattle Kraken a year from now.
Each of the Flyers young defensemen has made progress in their game over the last season and will continue to do so into the 2020-21 season. This core has a lot of skill and potential and showed that during the regular season. The seventh highest-scoring team in the league during the regular season shouldn’t be in any rush to add offense or scoring defense to their roster. That’s why a lack of news during the first day of free-agent frenzy is the best news for Flyers fans. No overpayments, no long-term commitments, and best of all, the “Travis Konecny is on the trade block” rumors were squashed immediately.
What is Chuck Fletcher Waiting For?
Despite all of the above and the current Flyers defensive roster, a top pairing defenseman in Matt Niskanen has retired and needs replacing. Where will Chuck find that replacement? One option is what they already have. If the Flyers coaching staff and management has enough faith in their young core, Myers could play with Provorov, eat up those minutes, and just see what happens. The more likely option, however, is that Fletcher is playing the waiting game.
Many teams are stuck in an endless battle with the salary cap and are going to get desperate. For example, the team that landed Pietrangelo is the Vegas Golden Knights, who have no cap space. Nate Schmidt, a defenseman with enough of a cap hit to make room for the former Blues’ defenseman, had to be moved for just a third-round pick. Since a team like Vegas had no choice but to get rid of that money from their expenses, they got the short end of the stick on the deal.
That is what Fletcher is waiting for. One of these teams is going to become desperate in their money issues and give up a solid top-pairing defenseman for as little return as possible. If Fletcher pulls something like that off, the worrying Flyers fans all over the internet will be singing his praises. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do but wait to see what happens.
Tim Harding is a freelance writer covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He has over 20 years of hockey playing and watching experience.