Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher got off to a very good start in the Great Summer Makeover, but there’s more work to be done.
You know it. I know it. Fletcher knows it.
Acquiring top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis gives Fletcher momentum. Now he needs to add another right-handed defenseman (Adam Larsson?), a sniper (Vladimir Tarasenko?), and a backup goalie (Linus Ullmark?) who can play lots of games.
The makeover process should continue in earnest in the coming days as Seattle’s expansion draft is held Wednesday, followed by the regular draft Friday (Round 1) and Saturday (Rounds 2-7), and the start of free agency July 28.
For Flyers fans desperately longing for a new-look team, these are exciting days because Fletcher has given every indication that more changes are coming, even stating his first-round draft pick (13th overall) is in play.
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Stabilizing the defense
From here, acquiring Ellis for Nolan Patrick and Phil Myers was a risk worth taking.
Yes, Patrick and Myers are much younger than Ellis and have great potential, but Ellis, 30, is a proven commodity who checks all the boxes: He’s right-handed, plays in all situations, helps exit the defensive zone with precision passes, and displays a calmness that should permeate to his teammates. He also provides veteran leadership, and he has played on successful Nashville teams.
Oh, and he’s signed for six years at a reasonable rate (annual $6.25 million cap hit) for someone of his pedigree.
An injury is the only thing that can make this trade a disaster for the Flyers.
Ellis missed 20 games last season after he had shoulder surgery, but returned for the playoffs and is ready to serve as a steadying influence for his partner, Ivan Provorov — like Matt Niskanen did before retiring prior to last season.
The Flyers allowed the most goals in the NHL last season, so Fletcher knows his work isn’t done. He needs to find a right-hander to replace Myers and become Travis Sanheim’s partner on the No. 2 pairing.
“We’re certainly going to continue to look at every avenue to get better,” Fletcher said. “We weren’t good enough last year. Ryan Ellis is an upgrade. He’s a step in the right direction. We’re not going to get complacent. We’ll do what we can to upgrade in the areas we can. The primary focus certainly going into next year will be on reducing our goals against.”
Fletcher’s needs will come into better focus after Seattle picks a player from the Flyers in Wednesday’s expansion draft. That will help determine what else the Flyers need and how much money they have to spend.
The Flyers also need a proven scorer. Their team is loaded with pass-first players. Tarasenko, 29, a five-time 30-goal scorer who has asked St. Louis to trade him, would be a great fit — if healthy. Warning: He has had three shoulder surgeries in the last three years and is coming off an injury-plagued season, one in which he scored just four goals in 24 games.
Still, the rumor mill is churning. Tarasenko is headed to Washington for Evgeny Kuznetsov, according to one report. Another has Tarasenko being chosen by Seattle in the expansion draft and dealt to the Flyers for Jake Voracek and a high draft pick. Another report suggests the New York Rangers want him because he is good buddies with Artemi Panarin.
Maybe Tarasenko will end up in Philly, or maybe the Flyers will add a less risky forward who doesn’t have health concerns.
Whoever they add, they figure to have a very different look by the end of this month. After a season in which they missed the playoffs, allowed the most goals in the league, and had no identity, that’s a good thing.
Things to know
Morgan Frost’s chances of sticking with the Flyers have increased greatly. The center has recovered nicely from shoulder surgery, and the Flyers showed confidence in him by dealing Nolan Patrick.
Here are 20 interesting things about new Flyers defenseman Ryan Ellis, courtesy of the always creative Ed Barkowitz.
Kudos to colleague Mike Sielski. While I was on vacation and jumping the waves with my giggling three-year-old grandson, James, in Ocean City, Sielski pinch-hit for me and, unsurprisingly, hit a home run as he wrote about the Flyers’ acquiring Ellis to be Provorov’s sidekick.
In a surprising move, the Flyers protected Nic Aube-Kubel over James van Riemsdyk in the expansion draft, showing they value potential salary-cap savings over scoring.
Barkowitz takes a look at the Seattle expansion draft and what it means to the Flyers.
The Flyers are willing to trade their draft pick (13th overall) in Friday’s first round.
How good were the Flyers in the expansion draft before their first season in 1967-68?
In NHL history, six players selected in an expansion draft have gone on to play at least 10 seasons with the franchise that chose them — and three of them are Flyers.
Defenseman Joe Watson and right winger Gary Dornhoefer played 11 years with the Flyers, and goalie Bernie Parent was with them for 10 years.
Goalie Billy Smith played the most years with a team after being selected in an expansion draft, per the NHL. He spent 17 seasons with the New York Islanders.
Smith also made the most playoff appearances with the franchise that selected him in an NHL expansion draft, guiding the Isles to 13 playoff berths and four Stanley Cups. The highest total of playoff berths among skaters is nine, by Watson and Dornhoefer, two unsung heroes of the Flyers’ powerhouses of the 1970s. They won Cups in 1974 and 1975.
Wednesday: Seattle expansion draft, 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
Thursday: The NHL’s brief trade moratorium, which started at 3 p.m. Saturday, is lifted at 1 p.m. Thursday. It should be noted that the trade freeze does not apply to deals made with the Kraken.
Friday: NHL draft, Round 1 at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
Saturday: NHL draft, Rounds 2-7, 11 a.m. on the NHL Network.
From the mailbag
Question: If Fletcher decides the defense needs another addition, who is the defenseman the Flyers should bring in to play beside Sanheim? And do you think Cam York plays third pair this season? — Mike Gierusz (@MikeGierusz) via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Mike. Free agents David Savard and Larsson are right-handed defensemen who are believed to be on Fletcher’s radar. Savard (6-foot-2, 233 pounds), who will turn 31 on Oct. 22, is beefier than Larsson (6-3, 208). Both play with an edge, but Larsson, who will turn 29 on Nov. 12, is the better defender. Steadier. More reliable. When Savard played with Columbus and Tampa Bay this year, his teams were outscored by a 51-17 margin while he was on the ice in even-strength situations, including a 10-2 deficit with the eventual-champion Lightning.
Larsson would stabilize Sanheim’s game and give him a veteran to lean on.
If Larsson is too expensive, free agent Travis Harmonic (6-2, 205), another right-hander, might be a good fallback option. Fletcher tried to sign him before last season, but Harmonic opted for Vancouver.
As for York, I believe he will be on the third pairing. A lot depends, of course, on whether Shayne Gostisbehere, who had nine goals in 41 games last season, is selected by Seattle or traded. A third pairing of York and Justin Braun — assuming he isn’t chosen by the Kraken — would match a rookie and a solid veteran.
Send questions by email or on Twitter (@broadstbull), and they could be answered in a future edition.