A Deep Dive Into the Options for the Flyers’ Defense

As we all wait for the NHL offseason to pick up with the draft and free agency on the horizon, Flyers fan patiently wait to see what changes lie ahead after a second-round playoff elimination. One of the most intriguing situations the Flyers have on their hands is the state of the defense. As The Clash would say: Who Should Stay and Who Should Go?

Currently, the Flyers have Ivan Provorov, Matt Niskanen, Shayne Gostisbehere, Mark Friedman, and Samuel Morin under contract for next season. Phil Myers and Robert Hagg are restricted free agents while Justin Braun is an unrestricted free agent.

That crew raises a lot of questions, and even more options Chuck Fletcher can take depending on who he chooses to build around.

Some of the questions right off the bat are the state of Matt Niskanen and the future of Mark Friedman. Niskanen looked perfectly fine playing alongside Ivan Provorov all season, but when the playoffs came around, he looked every bit of 33 years old (soon to be 34). Do the Flyers trust him lining up with Provorov for another full season? Or do they try and limit his minutes to keep him as fresh as possible for the long run?

The Flyers recently brought back Mark Friedman on a cheap two-year extension with the assumption he will take the role as the seventh defenseman on the Flyers roster next season. Friedman, who was the Phantoms top defenseman last season, has just seven NHL games under his belt, six of which took place during the 2019-20 season. While he never looked out of place during his short stint, that’s not a whole lot of experience to back up immediately throwing him into a full-time top six role.

Elsewhere on the blueline, the future of Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere highlight the real fork in the road the Flyers face; with the simple question being: do either of them return?

Shayne Gostisbehere is technically under contract for three more seasons at $4.5 million per year, though do to his lackluster play and the ever-tightning salary cap, he is a prime example of a player the Flyers will probably look to trade. If the Flyers can’t or don’t trade him, do they trust him enough to play him on a nightly basis, even if it in the fifth or sixth defenseman role? After returning to the lineup during the last game of the regular season, then dressing in half a dozen games during the playoffs, there was enough of a glimmer of hope there to believe maybe he’s not entirely washed up yet, but with such a small sample size to go off of, does that erase the past two seasons of listless hockey?

Robert Hagg, on the other hand, has been a staple in the Flyers defense since his arrival during the 2017-18 season. For better or worse, he is a relied upon third pair defenseman and penalty killer. Even though Robert Hagg may not be great, he will definitely be seeking a raise from his last deal that paid him $1.15 million per season. He could possibly seek more than double that on the open market if a team feels he fits their needs, and given how tight the Flyers cap space is becoming, there may not be enough money going around to bring Hagg back.

UPDATE: Without fail, as soon as this piece went live, within two hours trade rumors for Shayne Gostisbehere popped up and Robert Hagg re-signed with the organization for two years at $1.6 million per season. That should settle the battle of the depth defenseman. With the draft just over a week away, it’s possible Ghost’s fate will be determined sooner rather than later.

Samuel Morin has already been written off by Alain Vigneault as far as his immediate return goes, though presents a piece to the puzzle the Flyers could’ve desperately used during the playoffs, and that’s physicality. If the AHL season does indeed take place and Morin can not only stay healthy but look good doing so, there’s a chance he could make a return to the NHL and be the physical threat the Flyers have desperately lacked for years.

Phil Myers has yet to be extended, but given he seems earmarked to take the number two seat next to Ivan Provorov in the not-so-distant future, chances are he signs a bridge deal, either two or three years, at a couple million dollars as a way from him to prove his value to the team, much like the current deal Sanheim is on. The announcement of his new deal should hopefully come any day now.

Then come the wildcards, that being Yegor Zamula and Cam York. York is expected to spend one more season at the University of Michigan. Zamula, on the other hand, is ready to make his pro debut after playing his first NHL game, albeit unofficially, during the exhibition game before the start of the 2020 playoffs. Ideally, Zamula will start the season in the AHL and get some level of experience before getting his shot in the big leagues, but it may only be a matter of time before he makes his jump provided he makes a smooth transition and doesn’t have any setbacks after back surgery earlier in the year.

As the entry draft and free agency are just a few short weeks away, we should start to see the shape of the Flyers defense shake out. How the free agents are handled, if anybody gets traded, who they bring in, and their overall depth.

It’s safe to assume the depth chart should look relatively similar to this season with Provorov, Niskanen, Myers and Sanheim all likely returning. What happens after that is the intriguing part. Chuck Fletcher is probably in his secret bunker somewhere drawing the battle plans as the offseason draws near and only he truly knows how he’s going to approach the defense. We as fans are just going to have to sit back and buckle up for whatever course Fletcher takes us down.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

photo credit: sports.yahoo.com

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