Here in Philadelphia, we’ve grown accustomed to the hometown Flyers writing checks with lots of zeroes and, for better (Danny Briere) or worse (Vinny Lecavalier), trying to make the biggest splash when the calendar flips to July 1 and the NHL’s free agency period commences.
Do you all know what Tuesday is?
Tuesday is July 1 -- holy moly, it’s July already –- and the NHL free agent bonanza is set to begin at high noon.
But with a new upper management regime headed by recently appointed general manager Ron Hextall in place, don’t expect the Flyers to be major players when free agency kicks off.
There are a few reasons for that.
First, if we are to believe Hextall, which we have no reason not to at this point, the Flyers’ focus going forward will mostly be on developing talent in-house rather than picking free agents of trees from outside the organization.
That sound you hear is the sound of player agents sheepishly weeping.
Hextall has a history of playing a hand in building a franchise from within with successful results. He was a key cog in the management nervous system of the Los Angeles Kings, who you may recall have won two of the last three Stanley Cups, during his time out west with them.
He helped oversee the development of guys like forwards Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, and defensemen Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov, and goalie Jonathan Quick, just to name a few. Those guys are kind of good at hockey.
The Kings’ major acquisitions like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were made via the trade route. There’s no reason to think Hextall won’t bring that same philosophy here. In fact, he’s already stared with last week’s Scott Hartnell trade and Lecavalier and his agent have been given permission to speak with other teams about a deal.
The Flyers also don’t have a lot of cap space to play with and it’s even less than they anticipated they would have since the this upcoming season’s cap came in at a $2 million-lower-than-expected $69 million.
According to CSN’s Tim Panaccio, the Flyers’ cap is actually even lower at $68 million due to overages from last season. That makes dealing Lecavalier even more pertinent to clear out his salary and have a tad bit more freedom to make some necessary moves.
The Flyers’ major needs are still a winger for Claude Giroux and a puck-moving defenseman. They also need figure out where they are going with a backup goalie to play behind Steve Mason.
Free agent wings like Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson would fill that void alongside Giroux but each are going to want a ransom in their next contracts and that type of money and accompanying terms aren’t likely in the Flyers best long-term interests.
Free agent defensemen like Matt Niskanen and freshly bought-out Christian Erhoff would be nice fits but they are going to want teams to send armored trucks full of money to their doorsteps. And they’ll get those, too, with as many teams that will bid for their services in today’s defense-hungry NHL. The Flyers should have interest but not get into any kind of bidding war, especially if guys like defensive prospect Shayne Gositsbehere could be ready in the not-all-that-distant future.
The free agent goalie crop actually may be the deepest it has been in years, but the Flyers clearly don’t need a starting goalie for the first time in eons. They’ll have plenty of backup types to choose from and might get the one they want at a cheaper rate since the pool is so deep. Don’t be surprised if it’s a returning Ray Emery, either.
As far as free agency in general goes, the Flyers will sign players, obviously. But expect them to depth players.
Think short-term deals for third and fourth-line forwards with some versatility to move up if needed such as Benoit Pouliot, Steve Ott or Jussi Jokinen. There’s no clear reported interest from the Flyers in either player but they are just examples with the way they play.
As far as defensemen are concerned, look at veteran, second or third-pairing puck-movers willing to take a short-term deal. Maybe Dan Boyle? Again, no clear reported interest from the Flyers but just an example.
The first day of NHL free agency is always an interesting one but don’t expect the Flyers to make it even more interesting, as they have done in recent years.