With their only splash in a tepid free-agent market likely to come via a backup goaltender, the Flyers have made it clear that last season's playoff absence has not forced even the slightest ripple to their long-range plan of a home-grown team growing up together.
So instead, we turn our attention to the potential short-range effect of that steadfastness. Namely, what the other teams in their division might do to make the Flyers' quest to return to the playoffs more difficult — or easier — next season.
The Rangers, for example, need to replace two centers from last season's 102-point team. Facing salary cap issues, they traded 27-year-old center Derek Stepan (17 goals, 55 points) and his $6.5-million-a-year contract, and goalie Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes for 21-year-old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh pick in the draft, which they used to select forward Lias Andersson. With their own first-round pick at 21, they selected another forward, Filip Chytil.
Neither pick is supposed to help immediately, but the trade dropped New York about $20 million under the salary cap, according to CapFriendly.com. And that's particularly helpful since they also lost Oscar Lindberg to Las Vegas in the expansion draft, and bought out 33-year-old Dan Girardi as well.
As noted previously here though, there's not a lot to pick from in this season's potential free-agent class. Should John Tavares balk at what is expected to be an eight-year, $80 million offer from the Islanders when the free-agency period officially opens Saturday, the Rangers could torture Islanders fans by attempting to woo him. But that would leave little wriggle room for anything else, and it would significantly weaken another Flyers rival in the process.
Ageless Joe Thornton is out there, as is 29-year-old Nick Bonino. But Thornton, who turns 38 on Sunday, is looking for a three-year deal and is likely to remain on the West Coast with San Jose or possibly in Los Angeles. Adding Bonino to the Rangers (or anywhere) would weaken the Penguins, so from a Flyers perspective, that would seem a push.
Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said after the trade that he believed centers Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes could graduate to top-two-center roles, so it's more likely the Rangers would fill the missing center spots with lower-profile guys. Good news again for the Flyers.
Indeed, if much of the NHL rumor mill becomes actuality, the Flyers' patient approach will not hurt them within the division, or likely, inside the conference. This coming year, anyway. Ilya Kovalchuk, at 34 and coming off a productive season in the KHL, is rumored to be headed back stateside, and the Devils, his last team, hold his rights. In the same rebuilding mode as the Flyers, New Jersey general manager Ray Shero likely would sign the Russian only if he could obtain picks or young talent, so the immediate impact of that on the orange and black seems negligible as well. Columbus is a dangerous destination, but the Blue Jackets have their own cap issues to deal with.
Pittsburgh and Washington, the current kings of the hill, also look to be lighter, talent-wise, when this free-agent/trade season ends — at least on paper. Capitals winger Justin Williams, 35, and 28-year-old defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk are unrestricted free agents likely to sign elsewhere. CapFriendly.com lists the Caps as more than $17 million under the cap, but that reflects 13 of 23 eventual contracts.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has listed re-signing gifted restricted free-agent defenseman Justin Schultz to a multi-year deal as an offseason priority, and they'd still like to retain Bonino if the price isn't too high. That would gobble up a lot of their available dough, although some Wednesday murmurs had them in play for Colorado's elite center, Matt Duchene, whom Avs GM Joe Sakic has been holding in a tower waiting for someone to pony up a hefty ransom.
Let the bidding begin.