An Early Peek at the Key Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA’s) to Watch for This Offseason

Questions can always be asked.  Whether or not they lead to answers or even more questions depends upon the nature of the question itself.

Will the Flyers be seeking upgrades via free agency this offseason?  Who will the Flyers lose in the impending Seattle Kraken expansion draft?  Is a trade on the horizon to try to improve the Flyers playoff chances this season?  Can the Flyers navigate a flat cap landscape and manage to sign all of their RFA’s at seasons end?  Can the Flyers legitimately add the player(s) needed without rearranging their current salary structure?

While the answers to some of these questions may seem more obvious than others, fans have no shortage of opinions with regards to this roster and whether or not the current crop of players on the Flyers roster can legitimately challenge for a Stanley Cup.  As evidenced with the Laine trade rumors during the offseason, this fanbase is loathe to subtract any player on this roster of any consequence in a trade whereby the Flyers would be acquiring talent in return.  In other words, unless the trade is an obvious slam dunk for Chuck Fletcher in which he acquires all-star talent in exchange for mid to late round draft picks, this fanbase will continue to be divided over the makeup of this roster and continue supporting the status quo.

Free agency would seem to be an acceptable alternative.  After all, there is no subtraction in terms of assets or roster players by simply signing a player who is a UFA.  But alas, even free agency has its detractors in this fanbase because signing established players to deals where teams generally overpay in both dollars and term to players who are generally in their prime but are approaching the declining years of their careers. 

Here are a list of players who are UFA’s at the end of this season and whose contract negotiations will be interesting to monitor heading into the signing period.  Only the most significant names will be examined along with their possible fit on the Flyers.

Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) – Center

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    69132942-1658

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $8,250,000

Flyers Level of Interest:  None

Ryan Getzlaf is currently 35 and is clearly not the same player that he was in his heyday.  That being said, the Stanley Cup winner has been the exact type of player and captain that the Ducks have needed him to be.  Since being drafted 19th overall in 2003, Getzlaf has played his entire career with the Ducks and has been a veteran leader for a clearly rebuilding squad that has some serious talent in the prospect pipeline.  This year Getzlaf has yet to score a goal (11 games with 5 assists) but in a year where there is no expectation for success, Getzlaf has been a good soldier.  It is extremely unlikely that Getzlaf leaves the Ducks at this point due to his tremendous connections and family history in Orange County.  He will not command his current salary and it just remains to be seen what both sides will settle for to keep Getzlaf in his mentor role with the Ducks.    

Niklas Hjalmarsson (Arizona Coyotes) – Defenseman

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    27145-214

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $5,000,000

Flyers Level of Interest:  Mild

With the Flyers having some serious questions on the back end, Hjalmarsson has been a name bandied about by the fanbase as a potential solution.  On the one hand, Hjalmarsson is a veteran presence with three Stanley Cup’s on his resume courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks that should be very versatile due to his ability to play either the left or right side.  On the downside, Hjalmarsson is pointless in 12 games this season and his offensive numbers have declined over the last three seasons.  He was never known as an offensive dynamo with a career high of 26 points in 2013-14, and is a competitor who is better known for the defensive side of his game.  He should also see a decrease in the AAV for his next deal.  However, Hjalmarsson will have suitors for his services and that will keep his salary higher than one would expect it to be.  He should help improve the Flyers back end, but it is by no means certain especially if the Flyers end up in a bidding war for his services.  If they can sign him to an affordable deal, Hjalmarsson makes a lot of sense especially if they can shed a bit of salary this offseason.     

Tuuka Rask (Boston Bruins) – Goaltender

SEASONGPWLOTLGAASV%SO
2019-2020    4126862.12.9295

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $7,000,000

Flyers Level of Interest:  None

With Carter Hart between the pipes it goes without saying that the Flyers would have no interest in Rask.  However, Rask will be perhaps the most intriguing player that will hit free agency.  His play still puts him at the upper echelon on NHL goaltenders as evidenced by his second place finish in Vezina voting and helping the Bruins win the President’s Trophy fairly handily last season.  Then the postseason bubble happened and Rask opted out due to family concerns.  He has been welcomed back by his Bruins teammates and has posted a 5-1-1 record thus far this season.  Will he re-sign with the Bruins especially with many believing that the Bruins will have to turn the page sooner rather than later to retool their roster?  With the number of teams looking to improve their goaltending (Buffalo, Edmonton, and Carolina instantly come to mind), Rask should be able to sign for a similar salary on his next deal.  Will the Bruins step up to the plate and match that salary or will they revert to their typical hard negotiating stance to manage the salaries on their roster?  What effect does having a mainstay like Zdeno Chara leaving do to the players on the Bruins roster when it comes to negotiating a new deal?  Fascinating times in Boston are ahead and Rask’s fate may be tied to the next player on this list.  

David Krejci (Boston Bruins) – Center

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    61133043+1423

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $7,250,000

Flyers Level of Interest:  None

David Krejci may be the key to indicate what Boston does going forward.  The center is coming off the final year of his deal that paid him an average of $7.25 million per season – making him the Bruins highest paid player.  While other players like Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, and Rask are more valuable to the Bruins overall, Krejci has been a very productive second line Center for the Bruins during his tenure.  Generally good for 60-70 points per year, Krejci will no doubt tempt teams who are looking for some additional help down the middle.  Even more impressive is that his play elevates in the postseason when it matters most.  Krejci led the Bruins in playoff scoring during the 2011 Stanley Cup season as well as in 2013.  His salary will undoubtedly come down and multiple teams will show interest if the price is right.  

Taylor Hall (Buffalo Sabres) – Left Wing

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    35101727-314

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $8,000,000

Flyers Level of Interest:  Minimal

Just a season ago, Taylor Hall hit unrestricted free agency looking to sign a long term big money contract to the highest bidder.  Who can blame him?  The former Hart Trophy winner was not in the best situation with the Arizona Coyotes as evidenced by the stats above, and the Yotes had no shot of spending the money required to secure Hall’s services.  With the tightening of the purse strings around the league due to the flat cap and lack of revenue due to ticket sales league-wide, Hall smartly and shockingly signed a one-year $8 million dollar deal with the Buffalo Sabres.  At the time, the deal was win-win with very little risk on the part of Hall and his representatives.  Buffalo allows Hall the opportunity to play alongside Jack Eichel to resurrect his offensive numbers and allow himself to see if Buffalo can be considered a longer term fit.  If things don’t work out with the Sabres, Hall can once again offer his services to the highest bidder as one of the prizes of the free agency class.  Well the mercenary may be on the move once again as Hall only has 1 goal and 11 assists for 12 points in 18 games.  While those numbers are not terrible, much more was expected of Hall this season by the Sabres and the player.  While he hasn’t closed the door on re-signing with the Sabres, it may be highly unlikely that the Sabres will want to spent the kind of money that Hall and his camp are looking for.  That means that once again Hall will be a gun for hire this offseason for whoever bids highest.  Don’t look for the Flyers to get in the mix here unless the Kraken frees up some salary in the expansion draft by selecting either a JVR or a Jake Voracek.

Dougie Hamilton (Carolina Hurricanes) – Defenseman

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    47142640+3032

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $5,750,000

Flyers Level of Interest:  High

In terms of free agent defensemen, there is no doubt that Dougie Hamilton is the crème de-la-crème of the available blue-liners this coming offseason.  Both the eye test and the analytics put Hamilton as a number one on just about any team in the NHL today outside of Tampa Bay and perhaps Nashville.  He has 1 goal and 11 assists for 12 points in 20 games and is in line to get a raise on his next deal (likely in the $7.5 -$8.5 million AAV range).  He is also a right-shot defensemen which comes at a premium in today’s NHL, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see many teams lining up to secure his services.  The cap crunch will play a huge role here and may cause Hamilton to consider a short-term deal with a high AAV to play in the place where he wants.  He may realistically be moving on from the Hurricanes who are deep on defense, have to sign Andrei Svechnikov to a new deal coming off his ELC, and there are whispers that owner Tom Dundon may not be willing to shell out big money for both players.  The Flyers should be interested particularly due to the holes that are apparent on the blue-line.  Hamilton would slot in as Provorov’s partner on the right side and would give Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff a variety of options in terms of deployment.  Hamilton would slot in as the powerplay quarterback and would provide the veteran presence that would bring the best out of Provorov.  It could also allow for the Flyers to split them on different defense pairs depending on the opponent and really solve a ton of issues for this team.  Flyers fans should salivate over the possibility of having opposing teams having to play against two players that could easily be on the ice for over 40 of the 60 total minutes of a game.  Again, the salary cap is the enemy here and it will be incumbent on Chuck Fletcher to shed some salary and structure any potential deal so that it does not hinder the Flyers as they move forward.     

Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche) – Center/Winger

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    54212344-247

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $5,571,429

Flyers Level of Interest:  Minimal

Landeskog is another interesting player to watch this offseason.  He currently is sitting at 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points in 16 games, and is versatile for his use both at Center and at Left Wing.  While primarily used as a winger, Landeskog is the captain of the Avalanche and should be re-signing with Colorado.  The issue with the Avs is likely going to be the same as it is with other teams:  the flat cap.  Colorado also has to sign Cale Makar and Tyson Jost who are coming off their ELCs, while Brandon Saad and Phillipe Grubauer are also pending UFAs.  There will only be so much money to go around, but odds are that the Avs bring their captain back for close to the salary that he is currently at.  The Flyers shouldn’t be players for his services unless some salary is shed via trade or the expansion draft.    

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers) – Center/Winger

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    65223961+133

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $6,000,000

Flyers Level of Interest:  None

Another multi-position player that may garner some interest is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  With McDavid and Draisaitl playing Center, Nugent-Hopkins has spent more time on the wing as is firmly behind both players on the Oilers depth chart.  His 2019-20 numbers are pretty good, although many would argue that he is the benefactor of playing on a line with two of the best players in the league.  He currently has 9 goals and 10 assists for 19 points in 23 games.  Teams will not want to pay him his current salary because there will be some hesitation due to the strength of his linemates.  Unless he comes at a huge discount it would appear that the Flyers would not be interested in yet another pass first forward.  Nugent-Hopkins may have to sign a short term deal to prove his worth and it appears likely that other players will have to sign first in order for the secondary market to open up..   

Adam Larsson (Edmonton Oilers) – Defense

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    49156035

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $4,166,666

Flyers Level of Interest:  Medium

To put it nicely, Adam Larsson has never quite lived up to the hype of being the 4th overall selection of the 2011 NHL Draft.  To be fair though, Larsson has never really been paired with top tier talent alongside him with either the New Jersey Devils or the Edmonton Oilers.  He has never been offensively gifted at the NHL level, as his career high 24 points will indicate.  Currently, he has 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points in 23 games.  He also shouldn’t get as much money on the free agency market with any prospective suitors looking to spend any cap dollars that may be available on options that will drive play more consistently.  That being said, Larsson is an intriguing option for the Flyers because he is a steady presence who brings some physicality and maturity to the table.  He is wearing an “A” as part of the leadership group with the Oilers, and checks the box of being the type of player who is tough to play against, kills penalties, and is a solid competitor.  He should be on the Flyers short list of potential upgrades to the blueline especially if Hamilton proves to be a fish that is too big for the Flyers to reel in.  He also plays the right side and should provide for some interesting deployment options for the Flyers coaching staff. 

Phillip Danault (Montreal Canadiens) – Center

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    71133447+1832

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $3,083,333

Flyers Level of Interest:  Minimal

One of the best defensive forwards in the game, Danault has seen his reputation rise in the years prior to becoming an unrestricted free agent.  As a result, Danault will be looking to cash in on this recognition.  With the flat cap, Montreal this offseason went on a spending spree bringing in players like Josh Anderson, Jake Allen, Tyler Toffoli, Joel Edmundson, and Corey Perry to bolster their ranks to become tougher to play against.  After upsetting the Pittsburgh Penguins in the bubble and losing to the Flyers in six games, Danault’s defensive play would be a commodity that the Canadiens would want to keep.  Elliotte Friedman recently acknowledged on his 31 Thoughts podcast that Danault rejected a 6-year extension from the Habs that would have paid him $30 million ($5 million AAV).  With the cap crunch, the player is obviously betting on himself even though other teams may not be able to match the Habs offer.  Especially considering that Danault still has not scored a goal this season in 23 games (10 assists), the player may have made a misstep in rejecting that deal.  Still, there are rumblings that perhaps Danault is feeling a bit unappreciated in Montreal due to the meteoric rise of Nick Suzuki and the presence of other exciting young talents on the roster and in the AHL (Laval).  The Flyers shouldn’t be players for his services unless the Flyers make drastic changes in the offseason with their roster via trade.    

Mike Hoffman (St. Louis Blues) – Winger

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    69293059-528

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $4,000,000

Flyers Level of Interest:  Minimal

For a guy who was made to wait and wait as players got signed all around him, Mike Hoffman’s patience may have paid off.  After scoring 29 goals with the Florida Panthers, Hoffman was perhaps the greatest victim of the cap crunch as he ended up signing a 1-year $4 million dollar deal with the Blues.  He has provided great value scoring 7 goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 24 games.  Most astonishingly, Hoffman is a +13 this season even though throughout his career he has been viewed as poor in the defensive zone.  It will be interesting to see if the Blues have room for Hoffman as they also have to sign Stanley Cup winning goaltender Jordan Binnington this offseason.  Perhaps another short term deal will be amenable to both player and team in order to keep Hoffman with the Blues, but don’t look for Hoffman to sign for the same amount as he will be looking for a raise.  The Flyers could use a shooter for their anemic powerplay, but unless there are seismic shakeups with the roster in Philadelphia it would be much more likely that Hoffman either re-signs with the Blues or plays elsewhere due to the salary that he will be seeking.

Frederik Andersen (Toronto Maple Leafs) – Goaltender

SEASONGPWLOTLGAASV%SO
2019-2020    52291372.85.9093

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $5,000,000

Flyers Level of Interest:  None

With Freddy Andersen, what you see is what you get.  For the regular season, Andersen is a more than capable starting goaltender who is remarkably consistent.  He usually starts season slowly, turns things around in December, and peaks heading into the playoffs.  The Dane would be a welcome starter for many teams that are looking to stabilize the goaltending position.  The stigma around Andersen is that he can’t win and steal games when it matters most: the playoffs.  That mode of thinking will be put to the test as the Toronto Maple Leafs will be all in this year with a team that is easily the best team that has been in front of Andersen.  Should the Leafs win, Andersen will put to rest all of the unflattering notions that have described him.  Should the Leafs fall short, Kyle Dubas will have the unenviable task of trying to find a goaltender that will fit into the Leafs tight salary structure.  It is hard to imagine the Leafs finding an improvement to their goaltending at the salary that Andersen is making.  Conversely, Andersen should not sign for less as there are teams like the Hurricanes, Sabres, Avalanche, and Red Wings should be interested in bringing in a goalie of Andersen’s calibre.      

Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) – Left Winger

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2019-2020    68481967-1230

Player’s Cap Hit in 2020-21:  $9,538,462

Flyers Level of Interest:  Seriously?!?!

Alex Ovechkin had to be included in this list as he is the most influential player in the NHL that is going to need a new deal this offseason.  The thought of Ovechkin not being a Washington Capital for the rest of his exemplary and distinguished career is almost unthinkable.  The best goal scorer of this generation (and possibly ever) is going to continue chasing Wayne Gretzky’s all time goals record of 894 in the coming years.  There is no doubt that the Caps and Ovechkin should be able to come to an agreement pretty easily considering the great partnership that both sides have had with one another.  Although there is no deal imminent, it would appear that the only thing both sides would need to discuss would be the term of the deal.  Would Ovechkin look to match the 5-year extension that fellow teammate Nicklas Backstrom negotiated (taking him to the 2024-25 season) to leave the game together with his long time teammate?  Only time will tell, but there is no sense of urgency or fanfare surrounding the ‘Great Eight’ and his next contract.  The Caps will most assuredly keep Ovie in D.C. for the rest of his career.

Other notable Free Agents this summer include:  Eric Staal (BUF), Nick Foligno (CBJ), Brandon Saad (CHI), Tomas Tatar (MON), Nick Bonino (MIN), Mikael Granlund (NSH), Pekke Rinne (NSH), Kyle Palmieri (NJD), Erik Gudbransson (OTT), Jordan Binnington (STL), Jaden Schwartz (STL), Zach Hyman (TOR), Zack Bogosian (TOR), Alec Martinez (LAK), Brandon Sutter (VAN), Paul Stasny (WIN).     

***

Are there any UFA’s that you feel should have been examined in this article?

Feel free to leave any comments or feedback via twitter or at www.brotherlypuck.com.

Until next time from BrotherlyPuck.com,

I remain,

Manny Benevides

@mannybenevides

photo credit: thesportster.com

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