Before the 2022-23 season starts, the Philadelphia Flyers must commit to doing what is best for the franchise moving forward. After a frustrating free agency period in which management passed on star forward Johnny Gaudreau, fans were left questioning the current state of the organization. General manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher seems to be leading the franchise to a point of no return, but that can all change if he makes a commitment to turning things around. Following free agency, he met with the media to discuss the plan for the team heading into the next season.
“We’re out on all the remaining free agents with the reality of our cap situation right now,” Fletcher said following the start of free agency. “It probably precluded us from looking at some of the more expensive options in the market today. But today, to us, was more about depth signings, getting guys to make us a little bit harder to play against, and making sure we have some players on two-way contracts that can move between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia.”
Fixing the current state of the Flyers is easier said than done, but not completely impossible if the right pieces start falling into place. Fletcher has an opportunity to make things right, but only if he is able to create salary cap room before the start of next season. The contracts of left winger James van Riemsdyk and defenseman Ryan Ellis account for nearly $14 million of the available cap space for at least the next five years.
Moving one or more of these contracts would open a significant amount of salary cap room in case management decides to make a significant trade later in the season. For the time being, all the organization can do is attempt to make these players look attractive as possible and hope another team has a need to fill a spot in their roster. At this point, it is all about creating cap room and collecting draft picks to build for the future.
The Veteran Forward: James van Riemsdyk
Drafted second overall by the Flyers in the 2007 NHL Entry Level Draft, forward James van Riemsdyk made a name for himself over the last 14 years in the NHL. After being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn, he became one of the most consistent scorers in the league for a period of time. While with the Maple Leafs, he produced a total of 294 points (154 goals and 140 assists) over the course of six seasons and 413 games played. The veteran forward decided to return to Philadelphia during the 2018 offseason and signed a five-year deal worth $35 million ($7 million average annual value – AAV), which expires after the 2022-23 season.
While van Riemsdyk still has plenty left in the tank, the fit just does not work in Philadelphia anymore, especially with all the young talent the organization has in the pipeline. Fletcher attempted to move the contract prior to the start of the 2022 free agency period, but things did not go as expected. Between the time crunch and lack of interest from other teams, he was unsuccessful in moving the 33-year-old forward.
“I talked to a lot of teams over the last little while about maybe ways to get cap flexibility. I don’t know that it’s fair to comment on specific players. We looked at some different options. The price of moving contracts is really expensive. … At this point in time, for us, we like our depth up front. There’s no question, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, ideally, we’d like to get some more high-end skill.”
Even though Fletcher was unsuccessful in moving the contract before the start of free agency, there is still plenty of time before the start of the season to make something happen. Heading into training camp, there will be plenty of teams searching for a depth veteran forward to slot into their lineup. He would be the perfect addition to a team with a bunch of young forwards looking for guidance as they navigate their way through the NHL.
The Injury Prone Defenseman: Ryan Ellis
After what seemed like a move to put the Flyers’ defensive core in a better position, Ryan Ellis battled a lingering hip injury that kept him out of the lineup for all but four games last season. Since being traded to the organization, he was expected to be a major part of the rebuild, but that has clearly not worked out as intended. His recovery and rehab have not gone as scheduled and were pushed back to around the time of the start of training camp, which is concerning, to say the least.
“He’s continuing to progress,” Fletcher said. “He’s certainly improved since the end of the season, he’s certainly further along now than he was a month ago or two months ago.
“In saying that, the bulk of his rehab is still ahead of him. He’s starting to intensify his off-ice workouts, it’s going well, but there are several more steps to go before he gets on the ice. It’s still difficult, if not impossible, to predict where he’ll be in two or three months. The last month has been encouraging, but there’s still more work to do.”
With no real timetable for a return, management should consider moving his contract to a team with a bit more patience and time to wait out a return later in the year or next. There is no guarantee that he will even play another game in the NHL, which is the biggest problem with the whole situation. The team does not have time to sit around and wait for a defenseman that’s only played a total of four games with a cap hit of $6.25 million AAV.
Regardless of what happens over the next couple of months leading up to training camp, the Flyers need to start thinking about the future more seriously. Fletcher needs to formulate a stronger plan for the future of the franchise and work toward bringing back what the organization used to stand for. There is only a matter of time before fans officially become more frustrated than they already are and completely turn on the team. There is still time to point this franchise in the right direction, but only if the right moves are made starting now.
Bobby Bader Jr. is a freelance journalist born and raised in Philadelphia, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the start of the 2020-21 National Hockey League Season. He currently works with the Hershey Cubs Hockey Club (USPHL Premier) as the team’s media coordinator and serves as the Assistant Sports Information Director at Penn State Harrisburg. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Bobby on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo in articles like this one.