Which Free Agents Could Fit the 2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers
We have officially reached June, folks. And if you're not a Blues or Bruins fan, you're probably thinking more about the coming weeks than the present. We already covered the Flyers options at the draft table in the last article, so why don't we move on the other stage where the Flyers can acquire new players - free agency.
As always, there are several big names heading to the market this year, as well as a few intriguing depth options. Even though the Flyers still have to tender contracts to RFAs Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, Scott Laughton, and Ryan Hartman, the team still figures to have eight figures of cap space heading into July 1st. So let's take a look at who's out there, and whether or not the Flyers should take a look.
What the Flyers Are Looking For
Before you can determine who the Flyers are, we need to figure out what holes the Flyers are looking to fill. Using only players currently under club control (signed for next year or an RFA), here is what the Flyers lineup would look like on opening night. Note that this lineup does not take into consideration chemistry or how one player fits with another - it's basically just a depth chart.
Right away, you can probably pick out a few weaknesses here. One is down the middle in the middle six. While he is still only 20 and still projects as an impact player, Nolan Patrick has struggled to score and drive play consistently. He has shown flashes of excellence, but that's all they have been. Ideally, he would grow in the offseason and become a 50-point, play-driving second line center. But that's what the Flyers banked on last season, and it didn't work out. Fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice, shame on me.
The bottom six depth at wing (beyond Oskar Lindblom) isn't amazing, either. Ideally, Ryan Hartman would slot in on the fourth line, with a more-skilled player taking his current 3RW spot. Nicolas Aube-Kubel probably isn't going to become much better than Hartman currently is, and while Morgan Frost is very promising, he's a natural center that has never played an NHL game. Who know's if he's ready for the NHL by October?
There are also quite a few question marks on defense. Ivan Provorov and (especially) Shayne Gostisbehere are coming off down years that his quelled the Norris talk that was surrounding them last summer. Phil Myers looked good when he came up from Lehigh Valley in February, but isn't a lock for a full-time role. Yet. Robert Hagg has a major weakness in puck movement and Corsi, Mark Friedman has played 1 NHL game and projects as a career 3rd-pairing defenseman, and Radko Gudas is a UFA next summer.
Alex Lyon, who owns a .894 save percentage in 13 NHL games over the last two years, isn't starting next year in the NHL. Sorry, Alex. However, there is a caveat with the backup goalie weakness - unlike everything else, it can be solved internally. Brian Elliott and Cam Talbot both have decent NHL track records and other benefits (Elliott has been here for two years and Talbot has mentored Carter Hart). There's a good chance one of them returns, though it's possible the Flyers look to free agency (or a trade) to fill that void.
So, with that we've established that the Flyers need help down the middle behind Coots, a little more skill on the wing, possibly some help on defense, and a backup goalie, which could come from an existing option. Now, it's time to go shopping.
C Matt Duchene - Columbus
2018-19: 73 GP - 31 G, 39 A, 70 PTS (.96 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $6,000,000
He Would Work Because: He's the best center on the market. Even though most of his recent years have been spent with some of the biggest tire fires in the NHL (2016-17 Avalanche, post Kunitz goal Senators), Duchene has produced fairly well, scoring forty points in each of the last seven years, hitting the seventies twice. Duchene possesses tons of skill and is a premier offensive threat in this league. He could also move to wing if/when Nolan Patrick is ready for a bigger role down the middle.
Yeah, But: With great skill comes great price. Duchene will likely be commanding north of eight million dollars (and trade/no-move protection) on the open market, effectively offsetting the money the Flyers are saving with Couturier's bargain contract at 1C ($4,333,333 through 2022). Signing Duchene might hamper the Flyers ability to address their other deficiencies.
The Bottom Line: Duchene is absolutely worth the price tag and would make the Flyers elite down the middle. If you can get him under $9 million, don't think twice about bringing him in.
C Joe Pavelski - San Jose
2018-19: 75 GP - 38 G, 26 A, 64 PTS (.85 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $6,000,000 (M-NTC)
He Would Work Because: Little Joe has put six straight sixty plus point campaigns, making him one of the most underrated scorers in the NHL. He is good defensively. He can play both center and the wing. He has veteran presence, but in a good way. And, as he proved in this year's playoffs, he's an absolute warrior. There's not a lot not to like about Pavelski.
Yeah, But: Can you really picture Pavelski wearing anything else but Sharks teal? It's where he's spent his entire career, and he might not feel comfortable leaving. There's also the fact that he's 34, meaning a decline might not be that far away.
The Bottom Line: If he's willing to leave San Jose, and that's a big if, Pavelski should be a top target for the Flyers at anything less than four years.
RW Gustav Nyquist - San Jose
2018-19: 81 GP - 22 G, 38 A, 60 PTS (.74 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $4,750,000 (NTC)
He Would Work Because: Nyquist put up a career-high 60 points last year, producing both on a barren Detroit team and down the stretch for the stacked Sharks. Nyquist is one of the fastest players in the NHL, which is a great trait to have in the new NHL. And he can kill penalties, averaging nearly two minutes of shorthanded time per night.
Yeah, But: If the Flyers are looking for a winger on the 3rd line, Nyquist might make a little too much. Goose should get $6-7 million, which is probably too much for a top-9 forward (even if he is a top-6 talent).
The Bottom Line: Nyquist seems like a really good fit, assuming the dollars make sense.
LW Ryan Dzingel - Columbus
2018-19: 78 GP - 26 G, 30 A, 56 PTS (.72 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $1,800,000
He Would Work Because: Dzingel is young, he is fast, he is skilled and is coming off the best season of his career. He can play all three forward positions, and, like Duchene, has shown he can produce even in precarious situations. Imagine how well he could be on a competent team.
Yeah, But: He was on a competent team in Columbus down the stretch and actually kind of struggled. After a decent showing with 12 points in 21 regular season games as Jacket, he failed to score a goal in the playoffs and was even healthy scratched. Every year, there's at least one player that gets a deal everyone thinks is good only to fall off a cliff. For whatever reason, I feel that could be Dzingel.
The Bottom Line: I feel Dzingel could be massively overpaid by another team, but he brings a lot of good tools to the table and his versatility could be a huge plus going forward.
C Kevin Hayes - Winnipeg
2018-19: 71 GP - 19 G, 36 A, 55 PTS (.77 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $5,175,000
He Would Work Because: Hayes has been a consistent forty-fifty point scorer and a power-forward presence down the middle for the Rangers for the last half decade before an ok stint down the stretch with the Jets. He's a very good defensive player that could help the PK and would slot in nicely on the second line.
Yeah, But: As we all saw firsthand with Wayne Simmonds, power forwards can fall off a cliff very quickly and with little warning. That risk carries over to Hayes if the Flyers were to offer him a long-term contract.
The Bottom Line: Proceed with caution here - Hayes is a better fit on paper than he is in practicality.
RW Brett Connolly - Washington:
2018-19: 81 GP - 22 G, 24 A, 46 PTS (.57 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $1,500,000
He Would Work Because: Brett Connolly is exactly the type of hockey player every team should want to have. The former fifth overall pick is a quality depth scoring option that has driven play very well. If Connolly could play the same role he had in Washington in Philadelphia, he would be a home run.
Yeah, But: There is some doubt if Connolly, who nearly doubled his previous highest scoring season last year, is a one-hit wonder. He is a very much a high-risk, high-reward signing, and that may not be a gamble Chuck Fletcher wants to take over some of the more established options on the market.
The Bottom Line: The Flyers brass should take a very deep look at Connolly. If they believe that the 2018-19 season is a sign of what's to come for Connolly, they should pursue him pretty aggressively.
RW Jordan Eberle - NY Islanders
2018-19: 78 GP - 19 G, 18 A, 37 PTS (.47 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $6,000,000
He Would Work Because: Eberle has a solid track record to his name, able to score even on teams that haven't scored very much. His raw scoring numbers and Corsi over the last half decade that Eberle is a solid top-6 winger.
Yeah, But: Eberle's 37 points this year were tied with the lockout shortended 2012-13 season for his fewest in the NHL. He also failed to break 50% in Corsi for the first time in four years. At just 29, Eberle shouldn't be in decline already - but what if he is?
The Bottom Line: If Eberle is willing to take a one to two year prove-it deal, he should be the Flyers top priority for 3rd line right wing. But if he's looking for term, it's probably a pass.
LW Marcus Johansson - Boston
2018-19: 58 GP - 13 G, 17 A, 30 PTS (.52 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $4,583,333 (M-NTC)
He Would Work Because: Johansson established himself as a top-6 winger in Washington, and maintained that status when healthy in New Jersey and Boston. He's very good with the puck and an excellent power play option.
Yeah, But: There's a reason there's a "when healthy" caveat in the top section - Johansson has missed 87 games over the last two seasons. His advanced metrics over his career aren't stellar, and his big playoff run has probably upped his asking price.
The Bottom Line: Not too long ago, I would have really liked Johansson as a potential fit. But there might be too many red flags for him to be a top candidate for the Flyers.
RW Joonas Donskoi - San Jose
2018-19: 80 GP - 14 G, 23 A, 37 PTS (.46 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $1,900,000
He Would Work Because: Donskoi is one of the most under-the-radar players on this list. He's been a key piece of the Sharks bottom six over the last four years. And his Corsi For% is god-like - Donskoi has been over 53% in each of his first four NHL seasons. He was also an integral part of the Sharks penalty kill this year.
Yeah, But: He doesn't possess as much raw skill as the other options on this list. That's about the only negative I can say.
The Bottom Line: Donskoi is a tier below most of the other options on this list, but he could be the perfect fit for the Flyers given his scoring, PK background, and underlying numbers.
LW Tyler Ennis - Toronto
2018-19: 51 GP - 12 G, 6 A, 18 PTS (.35 PPG)
Previous Cap Hit: $650,000
He Would Work Because: He's basically the opposite of Donskoi in that Tyler Ennis is all speed and skill. You kind of have to be at his frame (5'9'', 161 lbs). He has two twenty goal seasons to his name and was on pace for another one last year, but injuries slowed him down.
Yeah, But: Whether it's been injuries or healthy scratches, Ennis has struggled to find consistent playing time the last few seasons. His last 20-goal campaign was 2015-16. And his Corsi For% is downright atrocious.
The Bottom Line: Ennis is an "break glass in case of emergency" option. If the Flyers delegate most of their dollars elsewhere and still need a winger, Ennis is fine, but he's not a game-changer.
RD Erik Karlsson - San Jose
2018-19: 53 GP - 3 G, 42 A, 45 PTS (.85 PPG), 24:29 TOI
Previous Cap Hit: $6,500,000 (M-NTC)
He Would Work Because: He's the Matt Duchene of defenseman times ten. Karlsson has a track record as an elite offensive defenseman capable of quarterbacking a power play and making a huge positive impact. He's the biggest defenseman to hit free agency since Ryan Suter in 2012.
Yeah, But: Karlsson has had injury problems the last two years - hip surgery after the Sens playoff run in 2017, and an ankle injury this year that limited his mobility. Stylistically, he may not fit either, as his skill set matches Travis Sanheim's and Shayne Gostisbehere's - what would would happen to them if EK65 comes to Philly?
The Bottom Line: It's Erik Karlsson. There are some concerns, but if you can make it work, you make it work.
LD Jake Gardiner - Toronto
2018-19: 62 GP - 7 G, 23 A, 30 PTS (.48 PPG), 21:12 TOI
Previous Cap Hit: $4,050,000
He Would Work Because: He's a poor man's Erik Karlsson, which is far from an insult. Gardiner is a talented offensive defenseman that also has a good power play track record. His two-way, puck-moving style is perfect for the new NHL.
Yeah, But: Much of the same concerns with Karlsson exist. Gardiner isn't amazing defensively, has consistently drawn the ire of the Leafs fanbase, and his skill set is also repetitive with Travie and Ghost.
The Bottom Line: If the price is right, I could see Gardiner coming to Philly, but signing him could lead to a trade.
RD Tyler Myers - Winnipeg
2018-19: 80 GP - 9 G, 22 A, 31 PTS (.39 PPG), 20:20 TOI
Previous Cap Hit: $5,500,000
He Would Work Because: He's big. He's right-handed. He can kill penalties. There's a lot to like about the former Calder Trophy winner, and on paper he looks like the best fit for the Flyers on the backend.
Yeah, But: The advanced stats don't paint a pretty picture - Myers has a career Corsi For% of just 48.1, which is far below the break-even 50%. You also have to wonder if he can adapt to the new NHL, which is becoming more speed-based by the day.
The Bottom Line: Thanks, but no thanks. The advanced metrics are just too concerning for me to want Myers, considering the hefty salary and important role on the backend he will command.
LD Alexander Edler - Vancouver
2018-19: 56 GP - 10 G, 24 A, 34 PTS (.61 PPG), 24:34 TOI
Previous Cap Hit: $5,000,000 (NTC)
He Would Work Because: With such a young defensive core like the Flyers, a veteran to show the kids the ropes is always appreciated. It also helps if said veteran can put up points and kill penalties. He was expected to play a top-2 role with the Canucks, so he could be even more effective a little farther down the depth chart.
Yeah, But: Edler is 33, meaning a decline could be on the horizon. And if you thought Myers' Corsi was bad, Edler has been well under 50% each of the last four seasons, suggesting a bad trend.
The Bottom Line: The Corsi is reason for caution, but if Edler is willing to leave Vancouver on a 1-2 year deal, he might be just what the Flyers need.
RD Anton Stralman - Tampa Bay
2018-19: 47 GP - 2 G, 15 A, 17 PTS (.36 PPG), 20:31 TOI
Previous Cap Hit: $4,500,000
He Would Work Because: Stralman has been one of the most consistent two-way defenseman in the league over the past decade. He's a good penalty killer and can move the puck. What's not to love?
Yeah, But: Like his fellow countryman above, Stralman is already 33. He only played 47 games last year due to a combination of injuries and not being able to crack the (admittedly stacked) Bolts backend.
The Bottom Line: He's the defense version of Eberle - if the Flyers still think there's gas in the tank, he could be a perfect fit for the Flyers needs, especially because he's a right-handed shot.
Mike Smith - Calgary
2018-19: 23-16-2, 2.73 GAA, .897 SV%
Previous Cap Hit: $5,666,667 (M-NTC)
He Would Work Because: The veteran netminder brings with him a lot of experience, an All Star selection in 2017 and 2018, and excellent puck handling. He also posted a surprisingly impressive .917 save percentage in the playoffs, where he was the least of Calgary's problems.
Yeah, But: Why was that strong playoff showing so surprising? Oh yeah, he had a save percentage under .900 in the regular season and is 37 years old. Smith lost the starter's job in Calgary this season to David Rittich, too.
The Bottom Line: Two or three years ago, Smith would have been a great candidate to split the crease with Hart. But he's too far to the bad side of father time to be a serious candidate now.
Keith Kinkaid - Columbus
2018-19: 15-18-3, 3.36 GAA, .891 SV%
Previous Cap Hit: $1,250,000
He Would Work Because: Kinkaid boasts a solid .906 career save percentage, with his most impressive work coming just a season ago. Kinkaid was a huge reason the Devils made the 2018 playoffs, putting up a .913 save percentage in 41 games, taking the starter's role from Cory Schneider.
Yeah, But: Kinkaid was unable to build on those numbers last year, recording a dismal .891 mark. He was traded to Columbus at the deadline, where he failed to usurp Joonas Korpisalo as backup, never playing a single game.
The Bottom Line: Kinkaid is intriguing, but I still feel that Talbot or Elliott are a safer option, which means better at the backup position.
Final Verdict: Who Should Fletcher Target?
Ok, that was a lot of names, all of which bring their own unique strengths and weaknesses to the table. If it seems like there's a lot of ways the Flyers could go in free agency, that's because there is (and remember, this list doesn't include any potential trade or offer sheet targets). That being said, I have drawn up three plans that I think would make the Flyers the best while also being cap compliant.
These are three pretty different teams. With salaries always on the rise (and usually bloated on July 1), I don't think the Flyers will be able to address all three of their skater needs via free agency. Team 1 stacks the Flyers up front, filling the 2C hole with Duchene, who I project would sign a 7-year deal at an AAV of $8.5 million. He would provide a dynamic presence down the middle that could shift to wing when Patrick knocks on his door. Donskoi is the best depth piece on the market in my opinion, and could probably be scooped up at a reasonable deal - we'll say 4 years, $3 million per.
Team 2 goes all in, with Erik Karlsson being the huge addition. EK wil probably get 7 years at around $10-10.5 million, maybe even a little more. But his elite scoring talent, advanced metrics, and skating make him worth the price tag in my opinion. Not wanting to hang the forward core out to dry, we'll add Ennis on a 1-2 year prove-it deal at $1 million a season to help them out.
Last but not least, Team 3 is the balanced team. In addition to Donskoi, the Flyers add the bruising but producing center Hayes for 5 years at $6.5 million. To aid the backend, pick your poison between still solid veterans Edler and Stralman on a two year pact worth $2.5-3 million. A tandem of Hart and Elliott/Talbot (1-2 years, $2-2.5 million for either sounds about right) round out both squads, who each commit around $11 million of money - Teams 1-2 to two players, Team 3 to a trio.
These are far from the only three combinations of additions that could work. The fact of that matter is all of the players listed here are good and can help the Flyers, and you should be very happy if the Flyers sign them this summer.
But there is no such thing as a perfect team in the salary cap era. And right now is Philadelphia's time to go all-in and make a big push. If the 2019-20 Flyers look like either of the three squads I've assembled, they will be in a great position to do damage in the fall, spring, and summer for years to come.
*All Stats Courtesy of Hockey Reference, All Cap Hits Courtesy of CapFriendly