With just a few weeks before the scheduled opening of NHL free agency, Chuck Fletcher and the Philadelphia Flyers are gearing up for what should be a busy offseason. This offseason, in particular, poses a new set of challenges for general managers thanks to the flat cap. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, league revenue is significantly less, so last season’s upper limit of $81.5 million will stay the same.
Free agency will be somewhat of a mixed bag for the Flyers. While they don’t have anyone in need of a ridiculous new deal, they do have some solid restricted free agents (RFA) to lock up as well as several unrestricted free agents (UFA) to either take care of or move on from. They also have to get all that done with just about $9 million in available cap space.
One UFA that requires the Flyers’ attention is 28-year-old winger Tyler Pitlick. Acquired last offseason in a trade for Ryan Hartman, Pitlick joined the Flyers on the final year of a 3-year, $3 million deal he signed with the Dallas Stars in 2017.
He creates an interesting problem in an already chaotic and strange offseason. As one of the Flyers’ most reliable forwards through the regular season and playoffs, with a much-needed combination of speed and forechecking strength, Pitlick has earned a spot with the team. Gifting him a new contract, however, is easier said than done.
The Other Priorities
Before they can get to handling Pitlick, the Flyers have a number of other players to prioritize with eight players (excluding the injured Nolan Patrick) looking for new deals. First and foremost, they’ll need to extend defenseman Phil Myers as he’s finally coming off the entry-level deal he signed in 2015. Now that he’s established himself as a viable top-four option, he’s going to require the most attention from management.
Myers’ new deal could dictate whether or not Pitlick earns a fresh contract as well, depending on if he’s signed short or long-term. Regardless, his new contract is likely going to fall somewhere in the $2-$3 million range, somewhat comparable to his partner Travis Sanheim.
Next up on their list of priorities should be extending forward Nic Aube-Kubel who was on a one-year, $700,000 deal last season and is
Lastly, they’ll need to decide what to do with backup goaltender Brian Elliott before they can focus on Pitlick. If they extend the 35-year-old, it probably wouldn’t be on a deal much different from the one-year, $2 million contract he signed before the 2019-20 season.
A Potential New Deal
Once the Flyers have handled their RFAs, which also includes the arbitration-eligible Robert Hagg, they can finally address their UFAs. Along with Pitlick, the list includes veterans Nate Thompson, Derek Grant, Justin Braun, and Brian Elliott.
Outside of Elliott, Pitlick seems like the most likely to earn a new deal. However, with their cap flexibility so limited, the Flyers will have to sign him to a favorable contract. After Pitlick signed his last deal with the Stars, he posted his highest career point total (27 in 80 games) the following season. He was likely on his way to a new career-high with 20 points through 63 games in his first season in Philadelphia. Long story short, Pitlick has established himself as a valuable and productive third or fourth-liner who would provide depth on any team.
He probably isn’t going to earn much more than the $1 million he’s earned over the past three season, and that’s not to say he’s not worth keeping around. He definitely is. If the Flyers can somehow ink him to a one or two-year deal for roughly the same salary, they’d probably be able to stay within the cap limit without losing one of their best depth players.
Reasons To Keep Him
Keeping Pitlick boils down to a matter of ‘if’ rather than ‘should’. Under normal circumstances, the cap limit would be higher, and assuming the Flyers didn’t have other critical contracts to get done, it would be a no-brainer to re-sign him. He was one of the best parts of their game in the bubble. Even when he’s not contributing on the score sheet, he’s still one of their best forecheckers and adds the type of speed they desperately need.
Put him alongside scorers like James van Riemsdyk or Scott Laughton, and Pitlick can consistently be one of the best players on the ice regardless of if it’s on the third or fourth line. He gives the team tremendous depth on the wing. The type of depth that teams typically chase at the trade deadline. If the Flyers don’t manage to sign him to a new and affordable deal, there’s no doubt another team will scoop him up quickly.
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If Chuck Fletcher can get a deal done with Pitlick, he should re-sign him. With the current cap constraints, signing other key players like Myers should be the priority, and hopefully, there will still be room for Pitlick in the end. He may not be the flashiest of forwards or one that finds the net every game, but his speed and offensive zone pressure are what the Flyers need to keep in their bottom two lines.