The Philadelphia Flyers’ defense needs a major shakeup this offseason and there have been two names that have risen to the top heading into the offseason as potential options, that being Carolina Hurricane Dougie Hamilton and Columbus Blue Jacket Seth Jones. Hamilton, soon-to-be-28, is a pending unrestricted free agent and Jones, who will turn 27 in October, has one year left on his current deal at $5.4 million. The rumors have been building on social media over the last few weeks as fans create theories to secure one or the other, but what if the Flyers could snag both?
Now, it’s worth prefacing this by saying it’s totally possible that neither move during the summer. The Hurricanes are one of the top teams in the NHL right now and will probably look to retain one of their top defenseman, even if it means making moves elsewhere in their lineup. And Jones, who is one of, if not, the best player on the Blue Jackets may not be made available via trade this summer despite the struggles of the team around him. But for the sake of fun, let’s assume Hamilton makes it to free agency and Jones is placed on the trade block by Columbus.
Even though Jones has one year left on his deal, the Blue Jackets have some recent history with a top star heading into a contract year without a deal turning out badly. Artemi Panarin entered the 2018-19 season without an extension and, even though the organization thought they’d stand a chance to re-sign him, ended up leaving in free agency during the summer. As Jones enters the last year of his deal, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer for the first time in his career. If he makes it that far without a contract, and the Blue Jackets are in the basement again next year, what’s stopping him from walking to greener pastures? Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen will more than likely sit down with Jones’ camp this summer and start to work out a deal to see if one can be had. If not, Jones’ days in Columbus may be numbered as teams across the league would line up at the opportunity to acquire his services.
If talks fall through and Jones wants out of Columbus, the next big hurdle would be convincing the Blue Jackets to trade a top player to a division rival. For the most part, the idea of teams being stubborn of trades within a division seems to be an antiquated way of thinking, but they may set the asking price a bit higher for a player the caliber of Seth Jones.
Hamilton is in an interesting situation. As an upcoming UFA on a very talented Hurricanes team that is fairly snug against the cap, there’s a very real chance he doesn’t return to Carolina. Though the first hurdle in the way between him and hitting the free agent market is the Seattle expansion draft. With a stacked blue line and plenty of forwards worth protecting, the chance they waste a protection slot on Hamilton seems slim. So the question becomes will Seattle draft Hamilton knowing he may just opt to test free agency a few weeks later?
Whether it’s from Carolina or Seattle, if Hamilton gets to free agency, what kind of contract could he be looking for? That’s a far tougher question than it seems. Hamilton is by far the biggest name available on the defenseman market this summer, thus he will be a highly touted target across the league. That would usually equate to a massive, borderline obscene, contract. Yet, there is another factor working against all NHL teams and that is the flat salary cap. Most teams that will want the services of Hamilton will be largely restricted in the money they can throw at him.
Hamilton is already making $5.7 per season on his current deal and will undoubtedly look for a nice little raise. Looking around the league, there are 17 defenseman making $7 million or more per season, and eight are making more than $8. He may not be one of the elite-of-the-elite players in the league, but he did finish eighth in scoring among defenseman this season with 42 points and at 28 years old, he’s theoretically just entering the peak of his career. Even with the restrictions the flat cap will place, there’s a good chance he makes at least $8 million per season on a long-term deal. Look no further than Alex Pietrangelo, who signed a seven-year, $61.6 million ($8.8 aav) last summer in a similar economic and free agent climate.
If the stars align and Hamilton hits the free agent market and Jones becomes available via trade, how can the Flyers throw their hat in both rings? Well, first and foremost, they have to play their cards right at the Seattle expansion draft. They’ll have to shed one of James Van Riemsdyk or Jake Voracek at all costs, then shed another contract or two on their already-crowded blue line, more than likely in the form of Shayne Gostisbehere and one of Phil Myers or Travis Sanheim.
If they’re able to ditch Voracek ($8.2) and deal Gostisbehere ($4.5), that alone will just about cover the cap of Hamilton (projected $8.5) and Jones ($5.4) for next season. The big issue would be re-signing Jones next summer, when he’d be in the market for similar deal to Hamilton. It wouldn’t be impossible, but with a Sean Couturier extension on the horizon as well, it’d be a difficult task.
All in all, the Flyers need to upgrade their defense and adding both Dougie Hamilton and Seth Jones would be a hell of a way to do it. It’s the kind of additions that could turn this listless ship into a full-blown contender over night. But there’s always an inherent danger when locking multiple players up to obscene, long-term deals. They’d essentially be shifting their weight from too much money at forward to too much money on defense. Though, the Flyers are quickly approaching a desperate state where they need to make a decision about their future. The majority of the team is struggling and everyone isn’t getting any younger. Every failed year that passes shortens their overall Stanley Cup window. Do Hamilton and Jones make them contenders? It’s hard to say, but if they swing for the fences and acquire both stud defenseman and still ultimately fail, at least Chuck Fletcher and co. can say they tried everything in their power to win a Cup before it’s too late.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: knowyourmeme.com / espn.com