Following a disappointing 2016-17 season, the Philadelphia Flyers entered the offseason looking to try and retool the squad into a playoff team while also attempting to get younger, shed salary, and build for the future.
And on the eve of Free Agency, the Flyers have done all of the above. Through a couple of trades, a smart draft, and a few free agency rumors, the Philadelphia Flyers look like they’re in good shape as we head into Phase 2 of the NHL offseason: the Free Agent Frenzy.
The Flyers got an early start to the offseason, making several key decisions regarding player personnel. They told Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Chris VandeVelde, Roman Lyubimov, and Steve Mason that they would not be welcomed back, which freed up cap space and opened roster spots for young players.
But after missing the playoffs in 3 of the past 5 years, the Flyers weren’t done rearranging pieces of their roster. Hoping to sort out their bottom-six logjam, they flipped Nick Cousins to Arizona for a pick and a prospect, lost Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to the Vegas Golden Knights, and most surprisingly, traded core forward Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forward Jori Lehtera and 2 first round picks.
GM Ron Hextall made more moves with his roster in two weeks than he had in much of the last two seasons, as eight players who were a part of the Flyers last season were let go. Some fans may be worried as to how the Flyers are going to make up for these players’ production, but the Flyers have a large pool of talented young prospects that are ready to take on big roles with the club next season.
One big problem the Flyers had was an overwhelming amount of third- and fourth-line forwards. They made a net upgrade in turning Bellemare, VandeVelde, and Cousins into Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, and Mike Vecchione. These players are younger, faster, and have more skill than the aforementioned trio, which bodes well for turning the Flyers into a more complete offensive team.
Losing Schenn was a tough pill to swallow, and the trade seemingly makes the Flyers a weaker offensive team than they were last season. However, if one looks at the big picture, it is easy to see how the Flyers benefited from the move. While Schenn was one of the Flyers’ top goal-scorers, the club thinks that Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal can collectively exceed his production, and they’re right.
The team saw enough out of Konency and Weal last year to realize that they were big pieces of this team going forward, and saw fit to provide them with more minutes. And when you factor in the additions of Patrick, Lehtera, and possibly Lindblom, the Flyers have more offensive balance than they have had in many years.
And don’t forget, the Flyers saved some cap space in dealing Schenn, and acquired two first round picks, which is a tremendous value for a player that may have been roadblocking some of the Flyers’ other young prospects. The trade was hard to understand at first, but looks like another sound move for Ron Hextall.
We’ve already discussed the big names invovled in the Flyers draft, but Hextall guided the Flyers to another solid draft class. The big fish, of course, was Patrick, the consensus best prospect in his class. The center has the look of a future captain, and will hopefully become the leader the next group of Flyers can rely on as the current leadership core of Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jake Voracek grows older.
Hextall drafted with a focus on forwards this year. He picked up seven forwards, one defenseman, and one goalie. This jives with the Flyers’ prospect core, which was very heavy on defense and in goal, but thin up front. Hextall filled that void and now boasts one of the league’s best overall groups of prospects.
In addition to Patrick, the Flyers scored big with the mid-round selections of Isaac Ratcliffe and Matthew Strome, who were presumed to have higher value. Ratcliffe and Strome are classic power forwards, who will hope to remedy the lack of size among Flyers forwards.
Hextall also addressed the club’s lack of speed in selecting Morgan Frost in the first round with one of the picks acquired in the Schenn trade. Frost is one of the fastest players in the draft, which fills a big need on the Flyers, one of the league’s slowest teams.
All in all, it looks like another successful draft under Hextall across the board, which is an encouraging development for a franchise that his historically struggled on draft day.
Free Agency Preview:
The Flyers already confirmed that they will be letting many free agents go, but the most stunning had to be the fact that Steve Mason will not return to the Flyers. Mason enjoyed a successful stint in Philadelphia over parts of five seasons, and kept the team in many games while backstopping them to two unlikely playoff runs. Still, the Flyers grew tired of Mason’s gripes about his lack of consistent playing time and his penchant for allowing soft goals.
Hextall confirmed that the team will not head into next season with a tandem of Michal Neuvirth and Anthony Stolarz in net, which is a good thing. While both goalies have potential, Neuvirth is maddeningly inconsistent and injury-prone, while Stolarz has appeared in just 7 NHL games.
Available goalies include Jonathan Bernier, Ryan Miller, Antti Niemi, and Brian Elliott. Elliott is far and away the most appealing option, and the Flyers have been linked to him in early rumors.
Elliott is very similar to Mason; he is two years older, but he may be a better technical goalie. Elliott has put up sparking numbers over the past 6 years in the regular season, some of the best in the whole league, but has struggled with nagging injuries, start-to-start consistency, and playoff failures.
Still, Elliott has the talent to be one of the league’s top goalies. He has averaged a sterling 2.11 GAA and .921 save percentage and around 5 shutouts yearly over his past six seasons. This is a huge improvement over anyone the Flyers have had in many years. Still, Elliott has never played more than 55 games in a season, and that was eight years ago already, putting his durability into question. This is why it’s good to have a guy like Neuvirth around, who can play more than the average backup.
In a goalie market without many top options, Elliott is the go-to-guy for the Flyers. He is at least a marginal upgrade over Mason, but is by no means expected to be a Stanley Cup goalie. A contract for 3 years and around $3.5 million annually would be a perfect deal for Elliott and the Flyers.
The Flyers do not have the cap room nor the roster space to add many other free agents, so expect the Flyers to be quiet for the rest of this offseason. Maybe the Flyers try and shed one more bottom-six veteran forward, but that would likely be about it. This has been an excellent start to the 2017-18 season, one in which the Flyers hope to see the playoffs once again.