Stay or Go: Flyers’ Free Agents

There’s just one thing on the mind of hockey fans in Philadelphia these days and that’s the draft lottery, in which the Philadelphia Flyers made a seismic and shocking jump from the expected 13th overall pick to the second. The luck will pay off in a cornerstone player for years to come and is the talk of the town.

But for general manager Ron Hextall and the rest of the Flyers’ brass, there’s still work to be done. There are rounds past the first one and trade talk that’s always being discussed, but maybe most importantly, Philly has several players hitting free agency this year that may need to be re-signed.

In some cases, Hextall has already made his mind up on which players will be gone. In others, the possibility of a new contract is still existing, so the Flyers will have to ask themselves if players should stay or go—and the answers aren’t always that easy.

Flyers Unrestricted Forwards

Chris VandeVelde

There won’t be a divide as clear between fans and management than there is with VandeVelde. He’s been a mainstay with coach Dave Hakstol, who was also his coach at the University of North Dakota, but contributes little to no offense.

It’s easy to see why VandeVelde is a coach’s fourth-line dream. In a league full of coaches that preach safety, almost on the edge of boredom, the forward hardly ever makes a mistake with the puck and is strong on the forecheck and along the boards.

Chris VandeVelde (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But VandeVelde also hardly ever creates offense with the puck. He has just 17 goals over a span of four seasons and his defense and forechecking wouldn’t be difficult to replace, either through a promoted prospect or on the open market.

No one would be surprised if the Flyers re-sign VandeVelde, but his spot needs to be upgraded to help the Flyers increase some offense, which is why he should go.

Jordan Weal

If this list was done a few months ago, Weal wouldn’t even be on it. It wasn’t until a recall in February that the 25-year-old finally got an extended shot in the NHL.

Weal made the most of it, scoring 12 points in 23 games down the stretch and finding himself in the top six on most nights. It was a small sample though, which has some keeping their hopes on Weal modest.

However, the goals he scored were quality ones. Weal didn’t ride shotgun with Claude Giroux or Wayne Simmonds. He worked hard and with his skill set was able to contribute.

That’s great for the Flyers, but also presents a problem with the upcoming expansion draft. There’s no doubt Weal would look intriguing to a startup team needing offense, and in his mid-twenties would be a player that Las Vegas could keep for years to come.

My guess is that Hextall and Weal work out a handshake agreement before the expansion draft, but don’t announce it officially until afterward. That eliminates the need to protect the former King and opens a spot for another forward.

Weal will get a noticeable bump from his $615,000 salary, but the Flyers will be happy to pay it to make him stay in the organization.

Roman Lyubimov

Lyubimov is technically a restricted free agent, meaning he isn’t free to sign with another NHL team, but he can sign overseas. The Russian was a frequent scratch in the final months of the Flyers’ season and will most likely go to the KHL when, or even before, free agency starts.

Boyd Gordon

Gordon hasn’t played an NHL game since January or an AHL game since February. He’s been dealing with an injury since then, though he wouldn’t be back with the Flyers even if he wasn’t.

The 33-year-old veteran was a disappointment in Philly despite being signed to just play a penalty kill/faceoff role. There’s no doubt Hextall will let him go at the end of the season, and retirement may be Gordon’s decision.

Flyers Unrestricted Defensemen & Goalie

Nick Schultz

Hextall has already said Schultz will go next year, which isn’t surprising. The former Minnesota Wild was important in his first year and OK in his second, but the game has passed the shot-blocking blueliner.

Nick Schultz
Nick Schultz (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Schultz is 34 years old but plans on looking in free agency before deciding if he’s going to retire. For a seventh defenseman, a team could do worse.

Michael Del Zotto

Like Schultz, Hextall has already said Del Zotto will be gone next year. This one, though, was more surprising.

In his first season with the orange and black, Del Zotto had a great offensive year. The next, he had a strong defensive year and was one of the Flyers’ best defensemen. Last year, he had his worst season in a Flyers sweater.

That coupled with the defensive prospects that are ready to graduate has pushed Del Zotto out the door. This past season, the former New York Ranger looked too lost in the defensive zone, and despite a strong end to the year, Hextall and company clearly felt they could replace him.

But Del Zotto will hit free agency as one of the better defensemen on the market. Philadelphia will be just fine with that, instead inserting a cheaper prospect in his spot.

Steve Mason

Mason is the reverse VandeVelde in this case. Management seems to want to let him go, but fans want him to stay. There simply isn’t a straight answer here.

Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers, NHL, Fantasy Hockey
Steve Mason (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Some feel Mason was never the goalie to bring home a Stanley Cup, but past champs have proven that a strong goaltender is not always needed. He also sported one of the best even-strength save percentages over his years in Philly, but was prone to letting in a soft goal.

With goalie prospects coming in the organization, the Flyers would want a goalie on just a two-year contract after Hextall said he wanted to add another one. For Mason, at 28 years old, he is no doubt looking for a lengthy paycheck.

However, the door may not be completely closed—even if opened by the smallest of margins. Should Michal Neuvirth be selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft and/or no better goalie options are on the open market, Mason could be brought back. That would still require a shorter contract, making the possibility of Mason staying even slimmer.