Don't expect Flyers to be busy in free agency

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Don't expect Flyers to be busy in free agency

Most times when July rolls around, you have a pretty good idea of where the Flyers are headed in free agency.

This summer, not so much.

Usually, the Flyers are dealing from a position of strength: A good team with stability and dollars in hand.

This summer, it’s topsy-turvy. For starters, the Flyers’ stability as an organization has been rocked with a series of buyouts, trades, organizational upheaval and, most of all, zero dollars to spend.

And all eyes around the NHL are watching to see how the club resolves its Vinny Lecavalier dilemma. New general manager Ron Hextall all but tried to give away the 34-year-old centerman at the NHL draft and could not move him.

Lecavalier gets his $2 million bonus Tuesday and the club will again try to rid itself of his $4.5 million cap hit, or perhaps even buy him out at some point if they can’t move him.

On Monday, they tried in vain to move him to Nashville (see story).

One agent suggested it might help the Flyers with potential free agents by announcing their intention in advance to buy Lecavalier out “if” they can’t deal him.

The Flyers need his contract money to sign other players. Yes, they can go 10 percent over the cap for now, but at some point, they need his millions back.

At least one former league official and two agents remarked this weekend that Hextall is dealing with other issues that affect what he can do this summer as well.

“You got to try to find ways every day to make the organization better and that is what I strive to do every day,” Hextall said.

“Next year, if we get $15 million in cap space and there are free agents out there, the focus might be a little bit different. We’re still going to do our due diligence in free agency because we don’t know what is going to happen between now and then.”

There is a feeling of uncertainty among some agents about what the Flyers' real plan is because of their spend-and-dump policy.

• They sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a gargantuan nine-year deal, then buy him out early into it.

• They sign Lecavalier, a guy who didn’t fit, to a five-year deal when they needed a left wing, then attempt to trade him.

• They give Scott Hartnell a six-year extension, then trade him.

Some agents wonder: Will my client get traded or bought out two years into any deal we sign with them?

“They don’t have a dollar to spend,” one prominent agent said.

“Everyone knows they have issues with the cap and it’s going to affect anything Hextall tries to do,” another said.

One agent said he was “nervous about many teams,” but especially nervous about the Flyers because of what has happened in recent years with failed signings, coaching changes and so forth.

That could very well impede Hextall’s ability to sign the players they really want -- assuming they can scrape together some dollars.

The Flyers would have had a lot of interest in 27-year-old Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, but he is likely going to command $6 million or more. They’re out. Niskanen only earned $2.3 million against the cap last season.

That’s why they appear to be targeting Christian Ehrhoff, who was bought out by Buffalo on Sunday and will have so many suitors that the price will inflate on him.

They need a left wing. Matt Moulson would be perfect to play with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. He earned $3.1 million last year and is going to get a nice bump, although nothing like Jussi Jokinen, who earned $3 million but had a tremendous playoff run for the Penguins and substantially increased his value in free agency.

A possible cheap fit for backup goalie -- if Ray Emery is not re-signed -- would be Anders Lindback, who earned $1.8 million in Tampa Bay.

Again, however, the Flyers have no money under the cap. They might actually be better served allowing their prospects a chance to play and mature at the NHL level, something they have been very reluctant to do in the recent past.

“Hextall’s hands are really tied,” an agent said. “It will be interesting to see how he deals with it.”

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

ST. LOUIS -- One nifty little flip by Vernon Fiddler provided a big lift for the Nashville Predators on a rough night.

Fiddler scored with 5:05 left and P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, powering Nashville to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday.

The Predators lost Kevin Fiala to an ugly leg injury in the second period and blew a 3-1 lead before Fiddler poked a loose puck by Jake Allen in the third.

"They had a little push there," Fiddler said. "We got 3-2 and then 3-3 and the building's rocking. You have to give our guys credit. We just regrouped and went back at them and found a way to get the two points."

It was the fifth goal in 43 career playoff games for the 36-year-old Fiddler, who did not play in the Predators' first-round series sweep against the Blackhawks.

"He's a veteran guy so he's been in these situations before and he stepped up and got us a big goal," Subban said. "That was the toughest game of the season for us and they fought so hard and had so many chances, but we found a way to get it done."

Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.

Game 2 is Friday night (see full recap).

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

We conclude our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with the second part of evaluating the forwards. You can find Part 1 here, as well the goaltending here and defensemen here.

Matt Read
Age: Turns 31 on June 14
Stats: 63 GP; 10G, 9A, 19 Pts.; plus-3; 13:46
Cap hit: $3.625 million

No Flyers forward has been more disappointing than Read during his six seasons here. Signed out of college, he scored 24 goals and had 47 points his first season and hasn't come close to matching those numbers again. Read broke his right forearm late in the season and missed the final five games. He missed 11 games earlier in the season with an oblique injury. He has averaged fewer than 10 goals over the past three seasons, which doesn't cut it with his salary. Will undoubtedly be exposed in the expansion draft.

Brayden Schenn
Age: Turns 26 on Aug. 22
Stats: 79 GP; 25G, 30A, 55 Pts.; minus-13; 17:48
Cap hit: $5.125 million

Often criticized for not fitting in or not delivering enough offensively, Schenn has demonstrated continued improvement every season as a Flyer. He was four points under last season's point total, yet among all forwards except Wayne Simmonds, he was the closest Flyer to having a season as good or better than his previous season. Tied for the NHL lead in power-play goals (17). Has a long way to go at 5-on-5 in terms of goal production. After years of being tried at various positions under three head coaches, it appears the organization has finally settled on Schenn as a winger, not center. And like so many others on this team, coach Dave Hakstol used him all over the lineup. If GM Ron Hextall decides to break up his core this summer, Schenn offers the most possibilities for a trade given his offensive output at a young age.

Wayne Simmonds
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 26
Stats: 82 GP; 31G, 23A, 54 Pts.; minus-18; 18:58
Cap hit: $3.975 million

Led the Flyers in goal scoring for the fourth consecutive season and was right behind Schenn in power-play goals with 16. Simmonds was unquestionably the club's MVP this season and many feel he should be wearing the "C," because he's often the guy on the ice intervening with the officials. He offers the most bang for your buck on the Flyers. By his own admission, Simmonds is the "bad" cop to Claude Giroux's "good" cop. He plays a hard, power forward game despite his skinny legs. If he were an NBA player, he'd be a shooting guard. Simmonds wears his heart on his jersey and sometimes avoided the media this season after games because he was fearful of saying something he would later regret. Every Flyers club has had at least one player who defines orange and black and Simmonds is this team's rep. Was very effective on Valtteri Filppula's line with Jordan Weal this season. Like Giroux, however, Simmonds can't afford to be a minus player next season.

Chris VandeVelde
Age: Turned 30 on March 15
Stats: 81 GP; 6G, 9A, 15 Pts.; minus-5; 11:33
Cap hit: UFA who earned $712,500

For whatever reason, VandeVelde was totally immune from being benched by Hakstol this past season while others suffered at the drop of a puck. It wasn't until the very last game that Hakstol sat him. The fact is, VandeVelde tended toward disappearing in many games this season and his overall effectiveness with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the penalty kill was muted because he simply didn't generate shorthanded chances like he had done in the past. Although he tied his career high with the Flyers in terms of points, it's unlikely the club re-signs him. The Flyers have too many grinders and need scoring at this point with others waiting in line. 

Jakub Voracek
Age: Turns 28 on Aug. 15
Stats: 82 GP; 20G, 41A, 61 Pts.; minus-24; 19:05 
Cap hit: $8.25 million

The only number fans are going to remember from Voracek's lost season is "minus-24." That was worst on the Flyers. Since signing that gargantuan, eight-year, $66 million contract in 2015, the Czech winger has had two poor seasons in succession. Everyone -- himself included -- assumed a bounce-back year this past season, and while Voracek had 20 goals and more points -- five more than 2015-16 -- he remained well short of what he should have provided for his salary. This truly was a season in which the Flyers' big guns -- Simmonds and Schenn being the exceptions -- came up fairly lame. Even more distressing, however, was Voracek's being bounced off the second power-play unit, and not finding a set line. Truth is, his best production came with Michael Raffl and Giroux -- 24 points. He had six goals playing right wing on Giroux's line and six playing there on Sean Couturier's line. Hakstol needs to find Voracek a permanent line.

Jordan Weal
Age: Turned 26 April 15
Stats: 23 GP; 8G, 4A, 12 Pts.; plus-4; 14:18 
Cap hit: UFA who earned $650,000

Weal was more or less a "throw-in" as part of the Luke Schenn-Vinny Lecavalier deal with L.A. in January 2016. He got his chance this season when Travis Konecny suffered his knee and ankle injury in February against St. Louis. The Flyers discovered that Weal can play. And play above his size, with grit and skill, and an attitude that resembles a pit bull gnarling on a puck. Weal could get a contract close to or right at $2 million from someone this summer if he elects free agency. Hextall says he wants to re-sign Weal but isn't sure when. Weal can't be exposed because he's a free agent. Yet under the expansion draft rules, Vegas will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to sign free agents. Weal would be a perfect player for Vegas GM George McPhee to sign and grow with an expansion club. If Hextall signs him before that window opens, he will have to protect Weal on June 21. If he waits, he is potentially competing with a lot of clubs. Filppula's line with him and Simmonds was very good in the second half. Hextall has no choice but to re-sign this kid. The Flyers are already lacking in the skill/creativeness department and Weal provides both. 

Dale Weise
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 5
Stats: 64 GP; 8G, 7A, 15 Pts.; plus-1; 12:52 
Cap hit: $2.35 million

Essentially, Weise was signed last summer to replace Ryan White. Things began poorly for him -- a three-game suspension and no goals through the club's first 20 games. His game never picked up until late in the second half when Hextall admitted he was disappointed in the production he had gotten from him. That's when Weise came alive -- after sitting six straight games -- with some excellent play on Couturier's line with Schenn. Weise scored six goals with four assists (10 points) over his final 14 games. He was vocal and noticeably moody much of the second half because of his benchings (twice for multiple games) and lack of production. It didn't seem to have an impact in the room. The Flyers need more from him next season. Will be exposed in the expansion draft.