As teams signed players during the the second day of free agency Saturday, the Flyers were not active.
They might still sign a player if the right opportunity comes along, general manager Chuck Fletcher said, but he is taking a cautious approach. The Flyers have about $8.7 million in cap space based on contracts signed to 18 players.
“Making a big splash doesn’t necessarily mean you make your team better," Fletcher said in a conference call with reporters Saturday afternoon. "There’s a lot of things at play, from a flat cap for the next two to three years to the expansion draft [in 2021] to having to re-sign your own restricted free agents over the next few seasons. Certainly, we’re always looking to make our team better, and if we can we will. But we have a very good team now.”
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, 30, the marquee player in this year’s free- agent class, may sign with Vegas. He visited Sin City on Saturday, and the Golden Knights are considered front-runners to sign the (almost) former St. Louis captain.
If Vegas does land Pietrangelo, it may free needed cap space by trading talented defenseman Nate Schmitdt, who figures to interest the Flyers. Schmidt, 29, carries a 10-team, no-trade clause in his contract and is signed for five more years at an annual cap hit of $5.95 million.
He was suspended for 20 games in 2018 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and he said at the time that it was “surreal” and unwarranted, and that he had used only “supplements provided by my NHL team.”
The 6-foot, 194-pound Schmidt, a Minnesota native who shoots left but can play either side, had 31 points and a plus-11 rating in 59 games last season.
Sami Vatanen, 28, who had 23 points in 47 games with New Jersey last season, is among the righthanded defenseman left on a dwindling free-agent market.
The Flyers need to upgrade their defense because Matt Niskanen, who played on the top pairing, surprisingly retired.
“I don’t know that we’re going to be able to replace him in the sense of the role he played for our team,” Fletcher said. “But we continue to speak to teams and agents, and if we can find the right player at the right fit and the right price, we’ll do that. We certainly don’t feel we’re under any pressure to do anything just do do something. So if we can improve our team, we will."
They also could use a forward to improve an offense that, after playing well in the regular season, produced just 2.1 goals over 13 playoff games, including a total of two goals in their four losses to the Islanders in the conference semifinals.
“We’re looking for the right player at the right price, and if that player is an upgrade for our group, we’ll do it,” Fletcher said. “We’re comfortable with our group. We like our team. We already have a lot of players signed and a lot of kids who we feel can push for ice time and an opportunity. Cap space is a very valuable commodity, and If we’re going to use it, we want to use it wisely. Otherwise, we’re very content moving forward with cap space and let things play out."
Fletcher said he had talks with Tyler Pitlick’s agent – the right winger signed Friday with Arizona for two years with an annual cap hit of $1.75 million – but he believes Nic Aube-Kubel is ready for an expanded role. He also believes several forward prospects, including Morgan Frost, Linus Sandin, Wade Allison, Tanner Laczynski, and Connor Bunnaman, are knocking on the NHL door.
“At some point, you need to allow opportunities for players in your organization to take on bigger roles,” he said.
Fletcher said the Flyers were “strong up the middle, provided Nolan [Patrick] is able to come back and play.”
Patrick, a third-line center who missed the season because of a migraine disorder, continues to make progress. He has been skating, working out, and scrimmaging in Brandon, Canada.
Andreas Athanasiou, who can play all three forward positions, and two-way winger Anthony Duclair were among the speedy free-agent forwards still available Saturday evening. Mike Hoffman, Tyler Toffoli, Evgenii Dadonov, and Jimmy Vesey – free-agent wingers who might interest the Flyers – were also without teams.
“You’re always looking for depth,” Fletcher said, adding that Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, and Michael Raffl can move from wing to center if needed, and that Frost is a third-line center candidate if Patrick can’t return. “Cap space is so valuable. If we can get the right player at the right price, we’ll absolutely look at improving our team. But we’re not chasing anything.”