As the roster currently stands, the Flyers are missing a middle-six center. More specifically, a third line center. With Valtteri Filppula likely on his way out, the Flyers have an interesting choice to make. Do they go out and sign a known commodity in free agency, like Tyler Bozak for example, potentially blocking a NHL ready prospect, or do they go into training camp and just hope one of the prospects are ready? Neither option comes without risk, so what if I told you there was a way to do both? Enter Nick Shore.
Shore, 25, is an unrestricted free agent who’s on-ice metrics have always been strong, with a 55.44% Corsica-adjusted CF (+3.03% RelTM) and a 54.49% Corsica-adjusted xGF (+3.67% RelTM) at 5-on-5 during his 236 game career. His 2017-18 campaign was no different. In 64 games played last season, the majority of which coming as a member of the Los Angeles Kings, Shore’s team out-shot and out-chanced the opposition when he was on the ice by a large margin, and his teammates performed better while playing with him. So, what exactly does he do well that results in such positive numbers? Pass the puck.
When it comes to generating shot assists, Shore is in the 96th percentile of the league, but due to a combination of poor linemates and an on-ice shooting percentage a full percentage point below league average, his offensive ability has yet to translate to tangible production above 20 points. He looks to be on the verge of a breakout season and just happens to fill the exact role that the Flyers need. You can read more about Shore’s passing prowess in this piece by Ryan Stimson on The Athletic.
If you’re thinking, “hang on, isn’t that the type of player that the Flyers already have too many of?” I get where you’re coming from. It’s true, the Flyers do have a lot of pass-first players, but it’s not as if the in-organization options are any different. Frost? Pass-first player. Vorobyev? Again, another pass-first player. The truth of the matter is that there really isn’t a shoot-first player available in free agency, or within the organization, that has shown that they can play center. Besides, Shore isn’t just a great passer, his impact defensively is his second-best, if not his best asset.
In ‘17-18 Shore was one of the best in the league at suppressing shots against relative to his teammates, with his -4.68% CA/60 RelTM comparable to Aleksander Barkov (-4.44%) and ahead of Selke winner, and teammate, Anze Kopitar. While his impact is nowhere near that of the best defensive forwards in the league, take Mikko Koivu (-8.77%) and Sean Couturier (-8.67%) for example, his shot impacts are a huge improvement over a player like Filppula. On the penalty kill he, again, grades out better than his would-be predecessor, although it’s not an entirely fair comparison considering that the Kings had the number one ranked penalty kill during the regular season. On the other hand, Shore was a consistent member of that number one ranked unit, so that has to count for something.
That’s great and all, he’s a great passer and solid in his own end at both 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill, but why would he, as the title suggests, make perfect sense for the Flyers? In short, flexibility. While it seems likely that Shore would make for a quality third line center, his standard stats won’t force a team to play him there, or even pay him like one. Both Matt Cane and Evolving Wild predict a contract worth just over $1,000,000 per season, a fine contract for a fourth liner, should he end up playing there. This is how Shore allows you to head into training camp with a third line center signed and still give the team’s prospects an opportunity to earn the spot.
Could the Flyers have interest?
With how tight-lipped the organization is, who knows. They’ve been connected to very few free agents at the public level thus far, but Shore may be someone that they have their eyes on. There’s certainly somewhat of a connection between him and the Flyers, starting with Ron Hextall, who was the Assistant General Manager of the Kings when they drafted Shore back in 2011, and also Jordan Weal, who he played with as a member of the Calder Cup winning Manchester Monarchs. It also helps that he can fill the biggest hole in the Flyers line up currently, and has already proven to be a reliable player defensively.
The other positive, not that cap space is an issue for the Flyers at the moment, is that signing Shore to a 2-year contract worth $1,003,588 per year (Cane’s prediction from earlier) would allow the Flyers’ to comfortably spend on another position. Maybe a talented scoring winger like James Van Riemsdyk, or a puck-moving defenseman like Calvin de Haan to shore (ha, ha, ha) up the team’s defensive corps.
Nick Shore is one of the most underrated playmakers in the league, and if he’s given better linemates to set up, the points will come. There’s a dramatic difference between playing on a line with Jordan Nolan and playing on a line with Wayne Simmonds. Shore will be able to be signed to a very team-friendly contract, give you confidence heading into camp that you actually have a third line center, and, should Frost or Vorobyev force their way onto the Flyers, you now have a great fourth line center who is a solid penalty killer and has above average shot impacts at even strength. Signing Shore would be a no risk, high reward move that would benefit the Flyers, regardless of the role that he’d be given here.
Statistics courtesy of Corsica.hockey