The Flyers will enter this year’s free agency period with limited options; not because of a lack of available talent, but a culmination of factors actually. Given Philadelphia’s current roster, available cap space, and past miscalculations with contracts, should it be another quiet offseason for the Flyers in free agency?
With 19 players signed to date, the Flyers are not in as much need for bodies to round out the roster as much as they are for quality additions in two key areas:
- A forward to either join Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on the top line, and/or add secondary scoring while killing penalties.
- A puck-possessing defenseman found on all teams who make deep playoff runs, including those who win the Stanley Cup.
While this year’s pool of free agents include a handful of forwards, it doesn’t necessarily make them a fit for GM Ron Hextall’s plan for the organization. With cap figures aside, it’d be difficult to explain how the majority of the top offensive options would, in fact, mesh with Hextall’s vision.
Unfortunately for Hextall, the Flyers don’t have many options if they’re looking outside the organization, whether it’s through a trade or free agency, for a versatile forward to skate with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on the team’s top line.
Left wingers Erik Cole, Scottie Upshall, Curtis Glencross, Sean Bergenheim and Matt Beleskey are all set to become free agents. The top FA right wingers include Martin St. Louis, Michael Ryder, Joel Ward, Justin Williams and Drew Stafford. — Tim Riday, CSN Philly
The idea of Justin Williams returning to Philadelphia may be popular in wishful thinking, but bringing the 14-year veteran aboard wouldn’t exactly fill a glaring need – aside from secondary scoring – and certainly wouldn’t make the Flyers any younger.
Furthermore, the Flyers are well stocked at the right wing position, with Voracek securing the top line duties, and Wayne Simmonds filling out the second line.
That leaves the only other option of forcing a position change on any of the the bottom three lines, which has proven to be detrimental with past experiments.
That’s not to say Williams’ playoff experience and success wouldn’t be a welcomed commodity, though.
“He’s had a really good career, a really successful career,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “Played a lot of playoff games, played in a lot of big games. Guys that do that, I don’t think they’re defined by name; they’re defined by that, by the experience level.”
Of the names Riday listed above, however, only Matt Beleskey is under the age of 30, skating in the league for five full seasons. And while Williams has posted 41 points or more while skating in 73 games or more in L.A., Beleskey chose the perfect year to crush his previous career-high in goals and points this season (22/32).
Beleskey further fits the bill in that his natural position is at left wing, proving to be more pivotal with the organization’s logjam down the middle.
In nine postseason games this year, Beleskey has set another career-high, with five points and a pair of game-winning goals. And while his overall point totals have climbed in consecutive seasons, the 27-year-old free agent to be will almost certainly receive a juicy contract from either the Ducks, or someone else.
“He’s been doing that for us all year, not only timely goals but he knows where to place himself and he’s strong, so a lot of times he doesn’t get moved out of that spot,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said after Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Calgary.
There are multiple risks in making a run at the Windsor, Ontario native, though. Beleskey’s 329 regular season NHL games have accumulated over parts of six seasons, having yet to play in a full 82-game schedule.
In addition to questions of durability, the 6-0, 204-pounder has spent the majority of even-strength ice time on the second line with Ryan Kesler and Kyle Palmieri, while seeing a very limited time on the penalty kill.
Beleskey could fit Philadelphia’s top line spot at left wing like a glove, though. After all, skating with Giroux and Voracek would definitely be an upgrade from his current linemates. But with the inflated market taken into consideration, the price may not, or even could not, justify the means of outbidding other suitors.
Not Your Typical Flyers in Free Agency
Patience has never been synonymous with Philadelphia. In past years, it wouldn’t be a matter of merely assessing options, but choosing which one to sign. But with a new GM in Hextall in place for a season now, as well as the bitter consequences of buyer’s remorse with several current contracts on the roster, the Flyers are growing more accustomed to weathering their financial storms.
The biggest roadblock to date, however, has been finding a true number one defenseman. But despite a plethora of defenders to choose from once again in this year’s class, there isn’t one dominant, puck-possessing blue liner waiting for their big payout.
The rarity of a franchise defensemen makes even signing a defender of lesser value more expensive, as last summer showed. Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen will combine for an $11.25 AAV in Washington through 2019, while Matt Carle is slated to hit the Tampa Bay Lightning’s cap for $5.5 million through 2018.
Ice time per game: Defensemen still in #NHL playoffs
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) May 12, 2015
So why are defensemen at an overall premium in general?
Look at the past five Stanley Cup Final matchups, both winners and losers. The Chicago Blackhawks have captured two Cup Championships with defenders such as, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, while the Flyers briefly had their man in Chris Pronger.
The Kings were able to mirror the Blackhawks, thanks in large part to Drew Doughty’s talents and durability, while the Bruins were backed by Zdeno Chara in two Stanley Cup Final appearances.
The interesting position the Flyers are in when it comes to their defence is that, while they are chock full of mediocre veterans, they do have some quality young prospects that will be bucking for jobs. Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere are the best, but not only, candidates. The question is: if the young guys are good enough, what will the Flyers need to do in order to make room for them? — Scott Cullen, TSN
Although Steve Mason has proven to be the franchise goalie over the past two seasons, it’ll be next to impossible for the Flyers to make a serious run at a Stanley Cup without an elite defenseman, or a group of blue liners that push such a label.
They’re certainly projected to have that crop in the upcoming years with the names listed above, but unfortunately for fans in Philadelphia, the pickings are quite slim in this year’s free agent class – as far as the Flyers are concerned anyway.
Washington’s Mike Green will not only be available come July 1, but highly sought after as well. But with the task of re-signing Michael Del Zotto, as well as a possible backup netminder to Mason, the 29-year-old defenseman will likely be out of Hextall’s price range.
After an abbreviated season in Pittsburgh, Christian Ehrhoff will also be looking for a new contract. But even at 32, and an injury-riddled year with the Penguins, Ehrhoff’s $4 million cap hit from his previous contract will sure to be around the same range, making him even more of a risk for the Flyers.
Flyers defensemen contract tradability rankings:
— j м (@dr_pizza_MD) April 10, 2015
The free agency forecast may look bleak now, but that doesn’t include the possibility of a trade or two.
“Anybody that thinks we’re just going to sit here for two or three years and just wait, no, it’s not happening,” said Hextall last month. “If we can get better, if we can sign players, if we can find a trade that makes sense, we’re going to do it. We’re not happy with not making the playoffs.”
One thing we’ve learned after Hextall’s first year as GM, however, is that anything is possible. Could it be Matt Beleskey or Mike Green?
It’s hard to see how it could be now, but that’s the fun of seeing how it all shapes out.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.