The Philadelphia Flyers have completed just about 63.5 percent of their 2018-19 regular season and have somehow gotten this train back on the rails. Well, sort of. Will it last? Who knows, but this recent turnaround has created some murky waters that recently-appointed GM Chuck Fletcher is currently wading in. Over the weeks to come leading up to the trade deadline, Chaz will have some serious hurdles to jump over while determining if this team is a buyer or seller. However, things get a bit spicier this upcoming off-season where RFAs, UFAs, cap space, prospects and draft picks abound. So, what better time to hop in the DeLorean, punch it to 88 mph, and land on Broad Street during the summer of ‘19?
The things we know are certain
Technically, nothing is ever certain in hockey. However, we can assume that Claude Giroux and Carter Hart are absolutely untouchable and will be on this roster next season. After that, with some degree of near certainty, we can assume that the likes of Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Andrew MacDonald will be here to start the season. As you can see, some notable names have been left out of this group of players, but we’ll get to that shortly!
Barring a blockbuster trade deadline or draft day deal, I can’t foresee Gostisbehere being moved, so he makes this list for me. His contract is just too great a value to give him up. We have to keep in mind that the Ghost Bear significantly outperformed his contract last season, so even with a regression this year, it’s a still a decent value contract in hopes that he can rebound to the Ghost we all know and love. So, this gives us a group of five (5) forwards, two (2) defensemen, and one (1) goalie that are as close to a guarantee as you can get in the NHL to be here for the start of next season.
The things we aren’t so certain about
The previous section was fairly easy to nail down. This is where things get a bit murky for our pal Chuck this upcoming off-season and he has his work cut out for him. From now until the start of the 2019-20 season, as the Philadelphia Flyers GM, Fletcher will have his first trade deadline, July 1 free agent frenzy, and NHL entry draft. We can only speculate about what’s actually going to happen over this course of time, but the trade deadline is swiftly approaching and this got my wheels turning. What exactly will this off-season look like?
Trade Deadline Dilemma: Selling or buying?
February 25, 2019, the NHL’s trade deadline, is mere weeks away and the Flyers have multiple players who are on the final year of their contracts, a couple of which who will hit unrestricted free agent status on July 1. Wayne Simmonds tops the list of those players, and until recently was nearly a foregone conclusion to be dealt by the deadline. However, the Flyers have won seven (7!) straight games and seem to have righted the ship back on course. Is it too little too late for this team to make a postseason run? Well, with just a 2.7 percent chance of making the playoffs as of right now, it probably is. Anything is possible, but Fletcher will need to weigh whether keeping a “winning culture” going for the rest of the season is more important than garnering assets and futures in a deal for Simmer as a pure rental. With the chances being as slim as they are, I would envision Simmonds being dealt for a package of assets.
The only other rental candidate for a team looking to add depth would be Michael Raffl. The Swiss Army Knife would be a good fit on most any team as a depth forward, so the assets Fletcher could get for both Raffl and Simmonds could then be used in a deal over the summer to land an impact player. Whether or not Fletcher views the next few weeks as buy mode, or sell mode, I would imagine these two are not on the roster to start the 2019-20 season.
Where things get a little more interesting is if Fletcher goes into full-on sell mode prior to the deadline. There are quite a few names that would have some intrigue around the league. Jake Voracek’s contract would be tough to move, but there are teams within reach of the playoffs that could fit his contract under the books. Some teams that come to mind are the Buffalo Sabres, Vegas Golden Knights, Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche, and Carolina Hurricanes. That’s quite a few teams, but it narrows once you factor in that team carrying the contract for the remainder of its length at Jake’s cap hit. Still, for some of those teams it is possible. It’s highly unlikely to happen before the deadline, but this could be an off-season move that Fletcher explores during the summer.
An easier player to move should Fletch decide to clean house is Radko Gudas. He’s been the Flyers most consistent defenseman this year, is a right shot, and only has one season remaining on his contract after this year at a reasonable $3.35 million cap hit. He’s not going to land you an impact player in return, but he will at least garner an asset that can be packaged this summer to help bolster the roster. With ten (10) 2019 draft picks at his disposal currently, plus what he may be able to obtain from now until then by selling some pieces, Fletcher is poised to do some damage on the trade market over the summer.
Pending Restricted Free Agents
Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Scott Laughton, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Anthony Stolarz are all set to become restricted free agents this off-season. For Stolarz, Laughton, and Aube-Kubel it’s not all too difficult. They will all likely get two or three year deals for around $1-2 million per year, give or take (the lower end for NAK and Stolarz, higher end of Laughton). However, the first three names on that list pose some interesting scenarios, especially among the two defensemen. While it’s highly unlikely that we have a Nylander-esque situation with any of these players, it can’t be ruled out, which is why I didn’t have this list of players slated as a sure thing to start the season with the Flyers.
Konecny is slightly easier to pinpoint. The ideal situation would be to lock him up for a decent amount of term at a reasonable cap hit now, rather than have him sign a bridge deal. The idea here is to buy low on Konecny’s current production and hope he continues to improve. Let’s figure Konecny will come in around five years, $5.5 million per year. A good comparable here would be Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings, who signed a five year, $6.1 million contract this past off-season after scoring 63 points in 82 games. With cap inflation and based on production, Konecny should look to come in somewhere under that number.
Now things get tricky. Ivan Provorov played at a near-Norris level during the 2017-18 season, but the first half of this season was an entirely different story. However, I would think that each camp is going to bank on the first two years of Provorov’s career as the foundation versus 40 or so games from a season in which the entire team struggled. So, what term and money should we expect to see Ivan sign for? Back in June, our pal Kurt laid out a plethora of comparable contracts and what we might expect, but those numbers were discussed at the conclusion of last year. Has much changed? Well, barring an absolute stellar end to the 2018-19 season, I don’t foresee Provorov signing a contract over six years in length. Does he bet on himself and opt for a bridge deal on the shorter side? Could we see another Jacob Trouba situation where Provorov decides on a one-year contract? This will likely be determined by how Provorov finishes out the remainder of the season. I’m going to bet on Provorov turning around his season and ending up with a six-year deal worth around $36.6 million ($6.1 million AAV).
Now we move onto Sanheim. The wrinkle here is that Sanheim has arguably been the Flyers’ best defenseman this season. However, this is his first full NHL season, so it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what kind of term and money he can command as an RFA. As a comparable, I would put Sanheim somewhere between Nikita Zadorov (Colorado Avalanche) and Joshua Morrissey (Winnipeg Jets). Both signed two year deals at an AAV of $2.15 million and $3.15 million, respectively. Because Sanheim has only one full year of pro experience, I would lean more towards the Zadorov bridge deal, so let’s figure that Sanheim is likely to sign a two year deal worth $4.5 million ($2.25 million AAV).
Free agents and kids aplenty
So, we’ve figured into the equation another three forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie. Let’s also assume the Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl have been traded, Gudas and Voracek are still here, and Vorobyev becomes a mainstay in the NHL to start next season. This is all hypothetical, but could be seen as likely to happen. This leaves a hole to fill on the blue line, three spots to fill in the forward corps, and potentially a backup goalie spot if the organization doesn’t exactly trust Stolarz due to health concerns.
If all of that holds true, your Philadelphia Flyers will have over $20,000,000.00 in cap space available for the 2019-20 season. Outside of Erik Karlsson and Jake Gardiner, the free agent crop of defenseman is fairly weak, so the Flyers may have to look internally to solve their need for defense. It is highly likely that Karlsson stays put in San Jose, but Jake Gardiner is an intriguing option. Fletcher has stated that he wants to start utilizing the available cap space, so we could see the Flyers target Jake during the summer and have plenty of money to do so.
Should the Flyers be unsuccessful landing either either of those free agent targets, Fletcher does have NHL-ready prospects at his disposal. Philippe Myers should probably already be with the big club, so he should have no issue making the team out of camp. Should Fletcher decide to move on from Radko Gudas between now and the deadline things will get a bit trickier. Mark Friedman has shown signs of being ready for the NHL, but this decision may also come down to how Samuel Morin looks for the remainder of this season once he is finally able to return to the lineup.
When it comes to the forward spots, your guess is as good as mine. This may be where we find out just what Fletcher is made of as a GM with a plethora of options currently set to hit the UFA market. Matt Duchene, Kevin Hayes, Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, and Mark Stone are headlining the current class, any of which would be a great add for your Philadelphia Flyers. Again, the cap space is there, so should any (or all) of these players make it July 1 and enter unrestricted free agency, Chuck Fletcher better get to work. Bring. Mark. Stone. Home.
Now of course it’s possible that none of these players make it to UFA status and opt to sign contract extensions with their current teams. There’s also the possibility that these players opt to sign with one of the other 29 teams in the league that aren’t the Flyers, or their current team. Should this happen, the Flyers still have options internally. Morgan Frost has been blitzing the OHL and has a shot at earning the third line center spot out of camp. It’s far from a guarantee, but certainly possible given his performance for the Soo thus far, as well as a strong World Junior Championship showing. Another dark horse could be current Boston University winger Joel Farabee. In all likelihood, Farabee will need at least one more season of development with the Terriers to refine his game and add some more size.
Of course there are players like Nicholas Aube-Kubel and Mikhail Vorobyev who will look to fill depth roles on the team as well. Obviously all of this remains to be seen, as we don’t know for sure who may, or may not be traded over the next three weeks and what pending UFA and RFA contract negotiations will look like. Regardless, Chuck Fletcher is setup well with a multitude of options to begin making his imprint on the Philadelphia Flyers’ roster. Good luck, Chuck!