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Buying low: Why Anthony Duclair could be a free agent fit for the Flyers

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Classic low-risk, high-return signing could re-ignite a once-promising career and beef up secondary scoring.

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers have a ton of cap space headed into free agency for the first time in forever, but since we already know that John Tavares won’t be coming to town, how will Ron Hextall go about using (or not using) his newfound mountain of cash?

Hextall, now in his fourth year as general manager, already said that he won’t really be on the lookout for long-term deals, so there’s that. Think the crippling long-term deals that his predecessor Paul Holmgren loved oh-so much. That’s all well and good, and surely every general manager in the league would like to avoid shelling out deals upwards of five years, but that’s generally what the big fish in free agency get.

That probably ruled out guys like Tavares and John Carlson (Who re-signed with the Capitals anyways) from the jump, but leaves mid-tier guys like James Van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Calvin De Haan, and Michael Grabner in play, to name a few.

But say the market prices the Flyers out of those guys out as well, and it very well could. With the ever-patient Hextall running things, he could look to the bargain bin for possible upgrades in the lineup. While not always a sure thing, some nice finds can be had on the scrap heap.

One of those options in free agency this year would be Anthony Duclair, who the Flyers should absolutely try to add to the lineup.

The former third-round pick of the Rangers has now been traded twice before his 23rd birthday and was non-tendered by the Blackhawks last week. It’s been a pretty quick fall for a player that had 44 points (20 goals, 24 assists) as a 20-year-old rookie for Arizona in 2015-16. In January the Coyotes dealt him along with Adam Clendening for Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin, not exactly a kings ransom for the former top prospect.

So why on earth would the Flyers be interested in a predominantly offensive player who has just 16 goals in his last 114 games?

1. The talent is there, somewhere

The 2015-16 Coyotes were one of the worst teams in the league, their leading goal scorer was 39-year-old Shane Down and next was all-world defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Third was Anthony Duclair, who played just 14:22 a game but managed to finish fourth on the team in scoring.

His outlandish shooting percentage (19%) was one tip-off that perhaps the rookie was more lucky than anything, but he was a touted offensive playmaker coming out of the QMJHL where he put up 65 goals in 85 career games. So while maintaining that shooting percentage wasn’t likely, there was some evidence that the man could find the back of the net in the NHL.

Since then he’s scored just 16 times, which is pretty crazy considering how easy he made it look as a rookie. Duclair was never going to be a responsible two-way forward, but as long as the puck is going in and the production is there the little things can sometimes slide. His next team will need to trust him and let him play through the mistakes, but there is a lot to work with if the potential can be rekindled and the Flyers could use another creative playmaker offensively outside of Claude Giroux, Travis Konency, and Jake Voracek.

2. Classic low-risk, high-reward

Since he just got non-tendered by the Blackhawks, he’s going to be looking at a one-year “prove it” type of deal somewhere. The money won’t be great and interest around the league might be low given that he’s flamed out with his last two teams and the Rangers didn’t really seem to regret including him in the Keith Yandle deal.

Duclair could provide some needed creativity in the Flyers’ bottom six or even if he excels and could jump up in the lineup for an offensive spark. If he can rekindle some of what made him a 44-point player as a 20-year-old, the Flyers would be getting a bargain here. And if not, it’s not like Hextall would be investing in $30 million over five years for the experiment.

3. The numbers weren’t all bad!

The 2017-18 season didn’t look great traditionally for Duclair (11 goals, 12 assists), but his metrics weren’t all that bad overall. Given he did play for a couple bad teams in Arizona and Chicago (!), we have to take them with a little grain of salt but good metrics on teams with otherwise bad metrics is a good sign.

Duclair barely posted a Corsi-For above 50% (50.51%), but he was a +1.99% relative to his teammates on the year. His relative Corsi was eight-best among the Coyotes and Blackhawks, with the Hawks skating to a 52.36% Corsi-For on the year and the Coyotes down at 48%. So despite not scoring a while ton —his -3.99 expected goals supports that— he did at least create possession and chances.

The Flyers are already a solid puck possession team and could benefit from Duclair’s presence as a creative playmaker in the lineup, where they have next to nothing scoring wise.

Consensus

Now as with everything Flyers related it will be up to Ron Hextall to make decisions in free agency and there are some red flags with Duclair that could make him not a fit in Philadelphia. For starters he’s one-dimensional and going to be working on his fourth team, and that might not sit well with coach Dave Hakstol, who values trust and responsibly above all else.

There’s also the matter of lineup fit, with players of Duclair’s nature rarely finding checking line minutes unless they’re in the super dog house (think Nikolay Zherdev). Duclair could fit in nice on the third line, where the Flyers are looking for more offense out of a bottom six that largely left the scoring up to the big guns up front.

With Matt Read and Valtteri Filppula likely on their way out, and Hextall’s uber patience with prospects there could be a home for Duclair with the Flyers after all.

All statistics provided courtesy of hockeyreference, NaturalStatTrick, and Corsica.Hockey.