As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Philadelphia Flyers offseason.
Philadelphia Flyers Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
The 2020-21 season did not go as expected for the Philadelphia Flyers. After a run to the second round last year, the team failed to even qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As a result, the Flyers off-season should be active as they try to address the defensive issues that dragged them down. But before general manager Chuck Fletcher can focus on bringing in new players, he needs to manage the Flyers’ in-house free agents.
Relative to other teams, the Flyers actually don’t have many free agents. Samuel Morin, Brian Elliott, and Alex Lyon are unrestricted. Even more important are the team’s restricted free agents, many of them young and promising. Starting goalie Carter Hart falls into that category, along with Travis Sanheim, Nolan Patrick, and Carsen Twarynski.
Salary Cap Outlook
The Flyers will have a decent amount of cap space due to the small size of their free agent group. CapFriendly predicts a cap hit of around $69 million, leaving the team $12 million to work with. That should be more than enough to sign their in-house free agents. However, if the Flyers are looking to test the market for defencemen, they may need to accrue extra space through the expansion draft or trades during the off-season.
Major Likely Departures
It’s far from certain, but out of the Flyers’ free agents, Nolan Patrick is the most likely to be moved. He had an extremely rocky season, recording just nine points through 52 games and a -30 plus-minus to boot. While the team may be willing to give him more time, it seems like Patrick doesn’t want to be in Philly anymore. And if he truly is done with the Flyers and the team doesn’t move him, they could easily end up with a disgruntled, uncooperative player on their hands. At this point, letting him go over the offseason – whether in a trade package or a relinquishing of rights – may be the best option.
Major Likely Re-signings
Re-signing Carter Hart should be the easiest decision Chuck Fletcher makes this offseason. Yes, his .877 save percentage and 3.67 goals-against average were among the league’s worst. But Hart’s season was far more challenging than it should’ve been thanks to a number of factors: shaky defence, mental fatigue, and injuries. This was the first season that he’d recorded below a .910 save percentage. If anything, that should indicate that his underwhelming performance was more an anomaly than the norm. Coupled with the fact that Hart is still incredibly young and the Flyers don’t have any better options in net, he should be a no-brainer to bring back.
In a previous article, we constructed a detailed projection of Hart’s contract. If we’re basing our estimate on that, his cap hit would probably end up at about $2.8 million (comparable to young New Jersey Devils goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood’s latest contract). That would bring the Flyers to around $9.2 million in cap space.
Travis Sanheim is another Flyer who will almost certainly be back next season. While no one on defence was great this year, Sanheim was relatively steady on the second pairing. He averaged 22 minutes per game, behind only Provorov among Flyers defencemen. At a time when the team is trying to strengthen the blue line, it would be foolish not to re-sign someone they rely upon so heavily. Evolving-Hockey predicts a two-year contract of $4.25 million per year for Sanheim, leaving the Flyers with around $4.95 million in cap space.
At some point, the Flyers are going to have to move on from Brian Elliott. He’s 36 years old and fresh off the worst season of his career, statistically. However, now may not be the right time to let Elliott walk. Many of his struggles this season were a result of him being forced to take on an increased workload due to Hart’s regression. Elliott is a backup goaltender and is most effective when given a limited number of starts. Assuming Hart bounces back next season, Elliott could resume his typical role – and hopefully with an improved defensive corps in front of him.
Also, it’s important to consider the free agent market for goaltenders. There are very few reliable, experienced netminders with contracts less than Elliott’s $1.5 million. And of those few, it’s likely that most will gain value as free agents and end up more costly than him. For now, the best choice may be to sign Elliott for another year. Given his performance this season and his age, his cap hit is more likely to decrease than increase. If we assume that, at most, Elliott is extended for another year at $1.5 million, that brings the Flyers’ cap space to around $3.45 million.
Alex Lyon hasn’t proven himself to be a reliable goaltender at the NHL level yet. Still, he’d be a worthwhile option to sign. Lyon won’t be taking the backup position anytime soon, but he’s a decent third goaltender to have around in situations where one of the top two is unable to play. Additionally, since he’s fluctuated between the AHL and NHL his entire career, the Flyers could sign him at low cost. Lyon’s contract most likely wouldn’t have a cap hit any greater than $750,000, which would result in $2.7 million of remaining cap space.
Morin is another player who has been in and out of the Flyers lineup. At six-foot-six, he’s a big defenceman who can bring grit and physicality to the bottom pairing – qualities the team’s top blueliners don’t necessarily have. Furthermore, the Flyers should be able to sign him for a minimum. If Morin earns $750,000, the Flyers will have $1.95 million left in cap space.
Like Morin and Lyon, Twarynski hasn’t quite broken through in the NHL yet. However, if the Flyers continue to have difficulties with their forward lines, he may find himself called up for a few more games next season. Seeing as he’s been playing mainly in the AHL, his value will likely decrease from his entry-level contract. Estimating a $750,000 cap hit again, the Flyers should be left with about $1.2 million to spare.
Potential Free Agent Additions
The Flyers are in need of a top-pairing defenceman to partner with Ivan Provorov. Since their experiments with in-house options this season didn’t work out, they’ll have to look outside of the organization. The team could acquire someone through a trade, but they could also test the free agent market.
In the best-case scenario, the Flyers would somehow snag Dougie Hamilton, the first-pairing right defenceman for the Carolina Hurricanes. However, it’s unlikely that Philly will actually be able to get him. He has a $5.75 million cap hit, which the Flyers wouldn’t be able to accommodate unless they manage to move a player with a large contract. In addition, a large number of teams – many of whom have more cap space than the Flyers – will court him. Some tther free agents like Tyson Barrie and Alec Martinez wouldn’t fit the team’s needs quite as well as Hamilton, but would be easier to acquire. Seth Jones has also been a name that’s on the Philadelphia Flyers offseason wishlist.
Overall, the Philadelphia Flyers offseason will be an active one. Chuck Fletcher will have to balance his priorities carefully as he manages the team’s free agents while searching for outside players to fill out the lineup. If the Flyers navigate the offseason wisely, though, they should be able to build a strong foundation for success in the season ahead.