The Flyers with cap space are a little like a mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it, and danged if he knows how to use it.
Ron Hextall spoke in his end-of-season press conference about adding defensive help, but I get the idea that it’s kind of a back burner type thing, unless he deals away one of his veteran defensemen this summer. That said, it is a definite area of need despite the large number of young defensemen who already have assumed big NHL roles and those who project as players who will. Hextall has a few different paths to choose from to fill the needs on defense. Trades, free agency and internal promotions are all possible.
With that said, here’s a look at some of the names in the summer of 2018’s free agent crop of defensemen. We’re not limiting this look just to depth guys, as we did with the forwards. It’s just tossing some names into the conversation as potential targets. As always, these are not necessarily endorsements.
2017-18 Cap Hit: $3,966,667
Yup, right off the bat we’re starting with the cream of the free agent crop. Carlson is a legit top pair defenseman, only 28 years old, and has been a consistent point-producer. And, the Flyers traded the pick he was selected with for Steve Eminger.
Carlson had a monster year heading into UFA, scoring 31 more points than he had the previous season. He’d be a great fit for the Flyers blueline, but there’s sure to be plenty of suitors and Carlson will likely sign a long term deal, something Flyers GM Ron Hextall has repeatedly stated he’d like to avoid. But Carlson checks most of the boxes when it comes to the Flyers’ needs on D.
Calvin de Haan
New York Islanders
2017-18 Cap Hit: $3,300,000
de Haan is a reliable defender who has spent his entire NHL career with the Islanders. He’s young enough to be a long-term factor for the Flyers on D and is a very good skater. He’s a capable puck-mover and has decent size. Despite that size, de Haan isn’t especially strong and can be overmatched physically. He’s not ideal for a shutdown pair and, assuming Travis Sanheim takes over a top 4 role, he may be a bit redundant.
de Haan is a decent puck mover and tends to break even when it comes to the fancy stats. He missed the second half of the 2017-18 season with a shoulder injury, but is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.
New York Islanders
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2,200,000
Hickey is another Islanders defenseman, and I include so many of them given the proud history of the Flyers adding former Isles defensemen such as Alexei Zhitnik and Andrew MacDonald.
Actually, Hickey’s inclusion is sort of like de Haan’s. Hickey is a smaller defenseman, more puck-mover than shut down guy. He’s shown good ability as a transition guy and is a decent positional defender, although the lack of size and strength can be an issue against stronger, top-line forwards.
Another reason to consider Hickey is that he was the 4th overall pick in 2007, selected by the Los Angeles Kings, who employed both Hextall and his special assistant Dean Lombardi at the time. Hickey seems even more redundant than de Haan, though he could be a short-term fit.
Tampa Bay Lightning
2017-18 Cap Hit: $1,950,000
Sustr is a big (6’7”) defenseman who found himself mostly on the outside looking in for the Lightning this season. He skates well for a big man and can be a good defensive presence, but lacks a mean streak, and with the likely inclusion of Samuel Morin on the Flyers roster next year, Sustr could be more than redundant; he could be absolutely unnecessary.
Still, his size and ability as a potential PK headache enticed me to include him here. So does his right-handed shot and relative youth. The downside to him is there’s almost zero offensive upside to his game. But he’s a safe, reliable guy, and, well, it is the Flyers, and they tend to value those fellows.
Detroit Red Wings
2017-18 Cap Hit: $6,000,000
Green’s season ended early after neck surgery, robbing the Red Wings of any opportunity they had of adding assets at the deadline for Green’s expiring contract. Green’s age and injury are worries, and he may be another redundancy—a power play point-man on a team that has several good options for the role.
Green would likely only be an option if the Flyers were to move out a veteran D or if Sanheim’s knee injury (suffered in the AHL playoffs) has him out for the start of the 2018-19 season. Coming off the big contract and surgery, I can’t see Green at age 32 getting a long term deal or a ton of money. Like Sustr, he’s a dark horse, but depending on other factors may be a consideration for Hextall.
Columbus Blue Jackets
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2,100,000
Cole would have been an improvement for last season’s third pair. He’s not much more than that. He works hard, is willing to be physical, block shots and all those lovely things that old school hockey guys love from their defensemen. Cole also provides a bit of offense, picking up 20+ points in each of the last 3 seasons. He could step in and be a respectable fifth defenseman.
He also brings recent Stanley Cup experience from his time with the Penguins. Regardless of your feelings on that sort of intangible, NHL GMs tend to value it. All that said, Cole was deemed expendable by a Pittsburgh team that’s currently playing Chad Ruhwedel in its playoff lineup.
Los Angeles Kings
2017-18 Cap Hit: $850,000
Folin was a highly sought-after undrafted free agent coming out of UMass-Lowell in 2014. The Flyers were among the teams reportedly interested when Folin signed with the Minnesota Wild. Folin, however, has struggled to find a regular NHL spot since then.
He’s got all the tools. Good size, has shown decent puck-moving ability, decent skater ... but he hasn’t put it together at the NHL level. Injuries and inconsistency have plagued him. He did manage to play a career high 64 games for the Kings last season and had the best season of his career, in terms of shot metrics.
Folin’s skill set and size combo are going to be enticing to NHL GMs, as is his right handed shot. If he is on Hextall’s radar, it would likely be a depth signing. He could probably be had for minimal cost and would be yet another candidate for third pair duty. But if he managed to stay healthy and find consistency he’s a guy that could bring a bit more.