It’s been a rough season for the Philadelphia Flyers. The hype and potential quickly turned to disappointment and dismay. It has left the fanbase pointing fingers and the front office searching for answers. As much as we’d all like to pull an NHL21 and trade the entire team this offseason, that just isn’t a realistic option. Massive changes are unlikely enough in a regular environment, but with the flat cap still very much in play, one has to wonder how much re-shaping will actually get done?
We’ve talked about the possibilities for the Seattle expansion draft ad nauseam over the last little bit, from who they should take, to the Flyers’ protection plan, but there is going to be two realistic options the Flyers could choose and both have very different impacts to the team moving forward. Option one would be losing someone non-consequential, someone along the lines of Nicholas Aube-Kubel, Nolan Patrick or Robert Hagg. That could be the path if Chuck Fletcher is too cheap and won’t pay up for Seattle to take a big contract. No matter how good Jake Voracek and James Van Riemsdyk are, if they’re unprotected there’s almost no way the Kraken pick them without the motivation to do so as every team will have a big contract to unload and they won’t waste money picking someone for free if another team will throw in a draft pick or prospect to do so. Losing, say, Aube-Kubel won’t effect the Flyers much. The meat and potatoes of the team will remain intact, and no serious cap dollars will be shed.
Option two would be packaging an asset or two to Seattle in exchange for them picking Jake Voracek and/or James Van Riemsdyk. It would be a huge shakeup for the roster and clear enough cap dollars to make a serious addition in free agency. Obviously the main question becomes “does Fletcher pull the trigger on a move that substantial?” It’s a decision that will drastically effect the Flyers approach for the rest of the offseason and for the next few years. I would like to think he pays Seattle and begins the process of redefining the current team by shedding a big contract, but there’s a seed of doubt that it just won’t happen. It’ll be much easier to lose NAK and call it a day than it would be to wheel and deal with Ron Francis. We shall see.
Ironically enough, the entry draft may be the best chance to see Fletcher wheel and deal, though that may not include roster players. Four of the twelve players Fletcher has drafted during his time in Philadelphia have been the result of a draft day trade. He swung deals for Cam York and Bobby Brink in 2019 and Zayde Wisdom and Elliot Desnoyers in 2020. He seems eager to swap draft picks for players his scouts are high on. It’s an interesting and different approach from Hextall, who drafted in quantity, Fletcher seems more than comfortable to draft in quality. With the Flyers ready to draft in the lower-mid of the round, they’d currently draft 14th if the season ended today, don’t be surprised if we see deals to move around if he feels inspired to do so. The Flyers have one pick in every round (all their own except Vegas’ fifth rounder) and if they don’t sell any during Seattle they will have the currency to make any moves they wish in the draft. It obviously won’t have any effect on the Flyers in the short term, but could be a seed to plant for the future, however much we don’t want to think about the far future anymore.
If we assume nothing serious has changed during either draft, say losing Aube-Kubel and no player trades during the entry draft, the Flyers won’t have the space to be big spenders in the free agent market. There’s no real money coming off the books, and other than Hart coming off his ELC, nobody will get a serious raise from their current deals. The money going out will be similar to the money coming in. There may be enough to add a depth guy or two but nothing substantial could financially happen.
If they go hog wild and lose Jake Voracek to Seattle and trade Gostisbehere in a salary dump then there will be enough money for the Flyers to be buyers and throw some weight around if they so choose.
There isn’t much to theorize when it comes to the forward free agent market, mainly because there isn’t much of a free agent market for forwards to begin with this summer. Some older veteran players and plenty of depth, but no real big names pop off the page. Ovechkin is due a contract, but he’ll stay in Washington, and guys like Getzlaf, Hall, Krejci and Backes don’t exactly move the needle in 2021. There are some interesting depth options to keep an eye on, however. Guys like Zach Hyman, Wayne Simmonds, Phillip Danault, or Eric Staal would all be nice additions but otherwise there isn’t much to see here.
This will be a hit or miss option. They technically already have enough bodies to fill the blueline next season, but it is the position that needs the biggest shakeup with no changes happening naturally. They already have five NHL defenseman signed for next season, and assuming Sanheim comes back, there is your top six, the exact same group as this year. They also have Cam York and Egor Zamula waiting in the wings, both could be here full time as early as next season. That would more than likely take them out of the running for an addition. That being said, if they ditch Ghost, move on from a few the cheap bodies in Hagg and Braun, they could find themselves buyers in a thin market. The grand prize would be Dougie Hamilton followed by Alex Edler, David Savard, Adam Larsson, and a bunch of other depth guys. Given how thin the market will be, the Flyers may get priced out of Hamilton quickly, so maybe a combo of Savard and Larsson could a way they go.
The Flyers technically have only one goalie signed for next season, that being Kirill Ustimenko. Now, there’s no doubt they end up re-signing Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom, but the NHL backup spot will be open. It’s possible Brian Elliott comes back, but the backup goaltender market will be pretty saturated this summer and should give the Flyers a chance to look for a fresh face for the crease. Rumor had it that the Flyers were circling in on Jonathan Bernier before they fell out of a playoff spot, and he will more than likely hit the open market this summer. They could also look at Chris Driedger if they want a cheap, younger, relatively untested option. There are also a dozen other options out there, but those would be the three that make the most sense.
The trade market or anybody the Flyers may have in their sights is completely unknown at this point. Based on the rumors around the trade deadline, they were in the market for a top defenseman and potentially eyeing up a backup goaltender. There’s a good possibility that if a top defenseman lands in Philadelphia this summer it will probably come via trade, so it will be something worth keeping an eye on, but for the time being the trade section will fall in the TBD category.
I’m not sure if there’s anything that will surprise me this summer. There’s that part of me that fully expects absolutely nothing to happen. Yet, with things reaching rock bottom, burning this team to the ground and starting again doesn’t feel overly far fetched either. Quite frankly it will probably be something in the middle. Maybe they pull a miracle out of their hat and feed Voracek to the Kraken but get gun shy during free agency. Maybe they flub the expansion draft but ditch Ghost during the entry draft and find a suitable replacement in free agency. All I know is this team better have some noticeable differences heading into the 2021-22 campaign, because I’m not sure I can deal with another year of the same old same old.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: sportingnews.com / inquirer.com / sportsnet.ca / thehockeywriters.com