When the NHL’s free-agency frenzy starts at noon Monday, the Flyers won’t be big players.
Artemi Panarin isn’t coming to Philadelphia. Neither is former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky. Or Matt Duchene.
Or any of the marquee players who are testing the unrestricted-free-agent waters.
In effect, the Flyers got their big-ticket free agent when they signed second-line center Kevin Hayes to a seven-year, $50 million deal. They acquired Hayes from Winnipeg for a fifth-round draft pick June 3, then were able to sign him before he hit the free-agent market.
Bravo, Chuck Fletcher.
When the Flyers’ season ended in April, the Flyers had lots of cap room and looked as if they might be one of the NHL’s most active teams on July 1.
But Fletcher made a series of mostly solid moves, eating up lots of cap space by signing Hayes ($7.1 million cap hit) and acquiring defensemen Matt Niskanen ($5.75 million cap hit) and Justin Braun ($3.8 million).
That leaves the Flyers with about $16.2 million in cap room. They have committed $65.3 million to 18 players expected to be on the opening-night roster. The cap is $81.5 million.
The Flyers still have to re-sign restricted free agents Ivan Provorov, whose agent is playing hard ball, Travis Konecny, and Scott Laughton.
If those players signed for, say, a combined $13 million annual cap hit, the Flyers – who could use a dependable third-line right winger -- would have just $3.2 million left.
Actually, they would have a little less than that to spend because Fletcher wants to leave a cushion for injuries and bonuses.
Did Fletcher err by spending too much on his rebuilt defense and not having enough money to get a right winger who could be a 20-goal scorer and help Nolan Patrick’s development as a third-line partner?
Time will tell.
He could have bypassed on acquiring Braun, a stay-at-home defender, and used either Robert Hagg or Samuel Morin in the regular rotation. As it stands now, Hagg and Morin, a pair of left-handed shooters, are the Nos. 7 and 8 defensemen on the depth chart.
If the Flyers had not added Braun, they would have around $7 million in cap space – and would have had the picks (second-rounder last week, third-rounder in 2020) they gave to San Jose in the deal.
With around $7 million, the Flyers would have gotten a quality right winger.
From Fletcher’s point of view, he was intent on rebuilding a defense that allowed 3.41 goals per game last season, 29th out of 31 NHL teams. He’s made the defense much better, and now has a righthanded defenseman (Niskanen, Braun, Phil Myers) on each pairing.
As for the salary-cap world, every dollar is important, which makes it curious that Fletcher agreed to pay about $1 million of Radko Gudas’ salary in the Niskanen trade.
That million doesn’t seem like much, but it may make a big difference with the salary cap at $81.5 million instead of what had been projected to be $83 million.
Will Fletcher have enough money to sign an unrestricted-free-agent right winger? Available: Brett Connolly (22 goals, 46 points, $1.5 million cap hit last season); Micheal Ferland (17 goals, 40 points, $1.75 cap hit last season); Mats Zuccarello (12 goals, 40 points, $4.5 million cap hit last season), Corey Perry (6 goals in 31 games, $8.625 million cap hit last season); Justin Williams (23 goals, 53 points, ($4.5 million cap hit last season); Gustav Nyquist (22 goals, 60 points, $4.75 million cap hit last season); Joonas Donskoi (14 goals, 37 points, $1.9 million cap hit last season); old pal Wayne Simmonds (17 goals, 30 points, $3.975 million cap hit last season); and Alex Chiasson (22 goals, 38 points, $650,000 cap hit last season).
If Fletcher can somehow fit a player such as Connolly, Ferland, Chiasson, or Donskoi under his cap, it will have been a very good offseason. If not, it will be just a good offseason. And, remember, many of the Metropolitan teams have made huge offseason strides.
“If we start the season with what we have now, and knowing we have a pretty good chance of adding a few more players for depth, we’d be fine, we’d be happy,” said Fletcher, whose team went 37-37-8 last season and missed the playoffs. “We be a significantly deeper team, and I think a more talented team. We’ll certainly have opportunities, whether it’s next week or training camp. There will be roster decisions every team has to make ”
Fletcher said tweaks could also be made during the season.
“We’ll have opportunities, and sometimes it’s better before you lock in too many players with term to maybe see exactly what you have,” he added.
Translation: Morgan Frost will be given a chance to make the team as a third-line right winger.
Still, if they can’t add a right winger Monday, it’s fair to wonder if Fletcher will regret adding Braun, 32, a player who can become an unrestricted free agent next year. If they hadn’t signed Braun, they probably would have enough cap room to sign Nyquist or Zuccarello.