Maybe he was being coy because he doesn’t want other NHL general managers to think he is trading from a needy position.
Or maybe Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher truly believes that, with a flat cap that could last a few years, he won’t make a lot of offseason deals or free-agent signings.
“I don’t think we have to do anything necessarily in the free-agent market or the trade market,” he said in a wide-ranging conference call with reporters Thursday. “We have some holes we have to fill. Certainly we’re going to have to supplement some of the core pieces we have right now.”
Fletcher made it sound as if he is going to lean on his farm system to do that.
“The biggest source of improvement that we have, it’s the way this franchise is set up … with our young players,” he said. “You can’t do a 180 from that. We have a lot of good kids coming.”
He mentioned that some of the young players got a “taste” of the NHL this season, like Joel Farabee and, to a lesser extent, Morgan Frost and Connor Bunnaman, “and hopefully that serves them better down the road. We’re not looking to deviate from that.”
The Flyers scored a total of just three goals in their four losses to the Islanders in the conference semifinals. Many of their big guns shot blanks in the postseason. The need for a sniper seems glaring. Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, 22, is among the big scorers reportedly available.
“We’d all love another goal scorer,” Fletcher said. “I look at the top line and they didn’t produce [in the playoffs] but again I can just tell you from what I guess we call it the ‘eye test,’ from watching the games, I thought they had a lot of zone time and generated a lot of chances. … But for whatever reason, the goals didn’t go in. I think they were even at 5-on-5 despite controlling the play by a lot of different metrics. It’s 13 games, those are critical 13 games, but you’ve got to be careful sometimes of putting too much into any 13-game sample size.
“Could we use another goal scorer? Sure. Do we have one in house that’s a few months away from being developed? Maybe. We have some good young players that once we get them in the lineup they’re going to produce offensively. But you’re always looking for top-end skill, so if we can find something we’ll continue to take a look.”
The Flyers have $72.6 million committed to just 15 players (10 forwards, four defensemen, one goalie) for 2020-21, according to capfriendly.com. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room with an $81.5 million cap.
Fletcher was asked if the flat cap might make trades more desirable for GMs than signing free agents.
“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of those conversations. During the pause, we had a lot of time to think, maybe too much. If the cap is flat for three years, you have to look at it this way: There’s a lot of teams right now that don’t have cap space already. The teams that do have cap space over the next three years, every one of them has some young players that are going to get raises, potentially big raises.”
Fletcher said “teams that spend money on UFAs this summer and have young players aren’t necessarily going to have any more money in year two and year three. … It’s going to be tight for everybody. Does that mean prices come down on free agents? Does that encourage more hockey trades, dollar-for-dollar trades? Possibly. There’s several teams worse off than we are. We’re one of a group of teams that has enough room to do our business but not a ton of room.”
Fletcher believes the Flyers are “well-positioned with our young players. We have the ability to re-sign these young guys and the ability to improve from within. Not every team has that luxury.”
The Flyers' list of potential unrestricted free agents includes Nate Thompson, Derek Grant, Tyler Pitlick, Justin Braun and backup goalie Brian Elliott. Of that group, Elliott seems to have the best chance to be back. Pitlick has a decent chance.
“We’ll sit down here with the coaching staff, our analytics groups, and our pro scouts,” Fletcher said. “At this point, we’ve just told everybody to give us some time and we’ll take a week or two to decompress. We’ll be prepared to make those decisions.”
Next season is expected to start at some point in December, and the schedule figures to be condensed and include more back-to-back games in order to play 82 games. There will be plenty of times where teams play three games in four nights.
“Depth will be critical, and again I think we have lot of young legs in the organization, some of the kids that got games this year, and some of the kids we’ve signed between Linus Sandin, Tanner Laczynski, and Wade Allison up front, I really like our depth,” Fletcher said. "So if we do get into a compressed schedule, I think we have a lot of players who could certainly play games.
“We’re going to have to be prepared to have a lot of bodies, and for situations we’ve never encountered before,” he added. “But that’s just the world we live in."