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Two reasons July 1 is key for Flyers, NHL fans

Teams may begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents. Plus, it's a significant day for next year's free-agent class.

New York Islanders  center John Tavares will be entering the final year of his contract.
New York Islanders center John Tavares will be entering the final year of his contract.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

They call it Canada Day in the Great White North, and incredibly, the name has nothing to do with hockey or the free-agent frenzy that usually accompanies July 1.

That's a good thing, for this year's class is about as enticing as P.K. Subban's breath.

But Saturday is not just the day on which teams may begin negotiating with the unrestricted-free-agency class of 2017. It is also important for those with the opportunity to become unrestricted free agents in 2018.

Beginning July 1, players with one year left on their contracts — such as the Islanders' John Tavares or Columbus' Cam Atkinson or even Toronto's James Van Riemsdyk (remember him?) — can sign long-term extensions with their existing clubs for a maximum of eight years.  There are a slew of good defensemen on this list, too – names such as Washington's John Carlson, Anaheim's Cam Fowler or San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic – but given the Flyers' young depth at that position, and struggles on offense, it's hard to imagine any of them finding a home here.

And that's all we're doing here — imagining. According to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers are $12.5 million under the cap with 16 of 23 roster spots signed. The expiring contracts of Matt Read ($3.5 million) and Valtteri Filppula ($5 million) will provide flexibility for 2018-19, but they've got a few deals extending beyond then that already make you wince (Andrew MacDonald, $5 million; Jori Lehtera, $4.7 million.)

Come Saturday, an offer, a lack of an offer, or a disinterest in such an offer will give general managers around the league a better feel for who might be available at this time next season. A young, cap-flexible team such as the Flyers might find that one key veteran presence to add to an improving roster. Right place, right time. That sort of thing.

Anyway, no harm in dreaming, right?

With this in mind, let's look at some of those secondary story lines come Saturday. Beginning with the 26-year-old Tavares, whom the Islanders seem to have spent much of the latter half of the season and the start of this offseason positioning to sign.

According to Newsday, the Isles are prepared to offer their captain an 8-year deal worth $80 million. The decision in April to remove the interim coaching label from Doug Weight — who replaced Jack Capuano in January and led New York to a 24-12-4 record the rest of the way — was also seen as an entreaty toward Tavares, who spent his first few seasons in the league as Weight's housemate.

But Tavares, who had surgery on his right hand after the season, wants a legitimate shot at the Cup, and there are some sizable obstacles to that, beginning with arena uncertainty. The Islanders finished 28th in attendance (out of 30 teams) playing in the Brooklyn-based Barclays Center, a facility not built for hockey and plagued with obstructed views. A proposed new arena near Belmont Park (and closer to their Long Island roots) has built momentum over the last few months, but Tavares would be well into that long deal before playing a game there.

Anyway, we will know his intentions soon enough, as we will with several other veterans who might intrigue a young team such as the Flyers, who finished last season questioning their own leadership.

Atkinson, a 2017 all-star who scored 35 goals and had 62 points, might also prove difficult to sign for the Blue Jackets, whose list of expiring contracts this summer include the following: Boone Jenner, Matt Calvert, Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray.

Atkinson is 28. As is, incredibly, good ol' van Riemsdyk, who just logged a 62-point season for the Leafs, his most productive campaign yet. Two things might make him available: The prospect of the Leafs' locking up younger forwards such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander in the not-so-distant future, and the fact that Lou Lamoriello, well known for his austerity, is Toronto's GM.

There are other recognizable entities whose contracts end after this season, many of whom are just too old to even dream about. The Sedin brothers, James Neal, Zdeno Chara (if he doesn't just retire). One who doesn't fit this, though, is 25-year-old Buffalo left wing Evander Kane, who is coming off a 28-goal, 43-point season but who has tested management there and in Winnipeg with off-ice issues.

Does he mature with age? Would Flyers GM Ron Hextall dare inject him into the mix?

Yep, it's all just fodder. But since we aren't celebrating Canada Day on Saturday what else ya gonna do?

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