Evaluating 3 Sleeper Targets for Flyers in Free Agency

The Philadelphia Flyers showed their commitment to an aggressive offseason with the acquisition of defenseman Tony Deangelo from the Carolina Hurricanes last week, and they will look to add offensive firepower when NHL free agency begins on Wednesday at noon eastern time. Rumors continue to swirl about available players who could solve the lack of top-end talent on the roster, but pursuing targets like Johnny Gaudreau and Nazem Kadri would require desperate measures to free up cap space and commit lucrative money. General manager Chuck Fletcher should address the organization’s urgency to regain its competitive spirit after two disappointing seasons by patching the roster without handing out the biggest tickets on the market.

Nicolas Deslauriers

The acquisition of Nicolas Deslauriers would align with the organization’s desire to reconnect with its history and the attitude that once made the Flyers a feared powerhouse in the NHL. The 220-pound bruiser provides intensity on the wing and a playing style that newly-hired head coach John Tortorella will encourage. Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek have continually linked Deslauriers to the Flyers, and on the surface, he looks like a logical choice to sign a cheap contract to play in Philadelphia’s bottom six. He only made $1 million in average annual value (AAV) on his most recent contract.

Nicolas Deslauriers Minnesota Wild
Nicolas Deslauriers, Minnesota Wild (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The decision to bring in a 31-year-old with nine seasons of NHL experience and a career-high of 15 points should not be a high priority. Deslauriers has a better NHL track record than Zack MacEwen, but the Flyers extended a qualifying offer to MacEwen on Monday after he provided useful energy in 2021-22 for a team that didn’t have enough of it.

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Both players offer the same type of strengths such as the willingness to defend teammates and drop the gloves with the best fighters in the NHL. Deslauriers drove play slightly more effectively than MacEwen in 2021-22 with a 45.25 expected goals for percentage (xGF%) to MacEwen’s 40.06 mark. However, the upgrade isn’t necessary for a team looking to squeeze every dollar of cap space possible.

Verdict: No

Vincent Trocheck

Adding down the middle should be a priority for the Flyers, who will enter 2022-23 with current top centers Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes returning from major injuries. Free agent center Vincent Trocheck is one of the best players ever to come from the state of Pennsylvania, albeit the region of Philadelphia’s arch-rival. He scored 21 goals and added 30 assists for the Hurricanes last season. He could contribute significant ice time to two special teams units that struggled last season.

The offensive point production fell short of Trocheck’s career bests, but the slight dip could actually lead to more of a bargain deal than Gaudreau or Kadri will get after posting career-best point totals in 2021-22 that might not be matched in future seasons. Trocheck’s 52.99 xGF% indicates a strong all-around game and an opportunity to find better consistency in the future. He is due for a raise on the $4.75 million annual cap hit from his previous contract, but he will be a more affordable value contract that the Flyers should pursue.

Entering free agency, Morgan Frost looks like the likeliest option beyond Couturier and Hayes on the current roster to occupy a top-three center role. The former top prospect has not gained footing in the NHL during a shaky path in development. The organization’s level of confidence in Frost after a strong final stretch in 2021-22 will factor into their plans at center and their willingness to pursue a player like Trocheck. 

Verdict: Yes

Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel offers a long track record of excellent offensive production over 16 NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Arizona Coyotes. He was still offensively productive as a playmaker with 44 assists with the Coyotes in 2021-22, but his eight goals were the lowest total of his career and a significant dip from his goals-per-game average during his career. His ice time has declined in each of the last four seasons. 

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Signing a soon-to-be 35-year-old veteran who still has offensive value in the NHL on a bargain contract doesn’t sound like an outlandish concept. However, the Flyers should not pursue Kessel because of his active consecutive games played streak and the predicament they faced last season with the NHL’s all-time “iron man” Keith Yandle.

Yandle looked like a reasonable option as a third-pair defenseman who only required a $900,000 cap hit on a one-year deal last offseason. However, the risk proved to be beyond the contract. The Flyers dealt with pressure from their own locker room and the threat of negative public perception when faced with the decision to scratch a player responsible for a glaring hole in the lineup. The perceived responsibility to protect the iron man streak damaged Philadelphia’s lineup decisions and stunted the growth of other defensemen within the organization. They should steer clear of the same issue by passing on Kessel.

Verdict: No

The Flyers reportedly bought out Oskar Lindblom on Tuesday with the intention to increase their flexibility in free agency. Fletcher will still have to deal with a tight budget in any scenario, especially if he is unable to unload James van Riemsdyk’s $7 million cap hit. The flood gates will open on Wednesday with one of the biggest news days on the NHL calendar.

All advanced stats apply to 5-on-5 play, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

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