Tuesday afternoon, Flyers president Paul Holmgren gave Ron Hextall his blessing when it comes to free agency this coming off-season, saying he had “free rein” to make whatever moves he deems necessary. Talk about a kid in a candy shop.
Ron Hextall is about to walk into a very intriguing offseason with a big chunk of change in his pocket. Given that the cap rises from $75 million to $80 million dollars, the Flyers should have around 20-21 million dollars to spend. If they acquiesce to the fans wishes, and buyout Jori Lehtera, they end up with around 25 million dollars to potentially spend during free agency.
There is a pecking order, however, in how this money needs to be spent. There are needs to be addressed, and kids that need to get paid. The Flyers lacked scoring depth this season, along with a top 6 winger that can score. The most glaring need, however, is a solid veteran defenseman that the kids coming up through can learn from. Sorry A-Mac.
First things first, stud blueliner Ivan Provorov needs to get paid. He has one year left on his entry-level contract that pays him 925k, but after that, he is a restricted free agent. To prevent that, Hextall needs to lock him up, and long term. We’re looking at a deal similar to the one Gostisbehere recently signed, but worth a little more. Expect a 5 to 6 year deal, worth somewhere between 6-7 million per year.
Hextall’s second priority would be to lock up another expiring entry level contract in Travis Konecny’s. Konecny likely will garner a little less in the salary range, and probably a year or so less as well. Hextall has shown in the past that bridge deals are a possibility, per Michael Del Zotto, so it’s a possibility he may sign Konecny to one so he can save a few bucks. Expect Konecny back somewhere to the tune of 3-4 million dollars per year, and for a term of 2-3 years.
With the in-house operations taken care of, it will be time to focus on bringing in a key piece or two through free agency. The key pieces the Flyers should be looking for include a depth forward for the bottom six, a scoring winger capable of playing top six minutes, and a veteran defenseman that can handle the penalty kill, an area that ended up being their demise in the playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If we are talking depth forwards here, you have to consider the in-house options first. Between Nic Aube-Kubel, Mike Vecchione, Danick Martel, and Phil Varone, the Flyers have plenty of in house options to replace players like Lehtera and Read on the bottom pairing, if not the third line. Martel spent some time in the NHL this season, and played incredibly well in the AHL. Phil Varone was 2nd in scoring in the AHL this season. Aube-Kubel has improved leaps and bounds, and seems destined to break through to the NHL sooner rather than later, and Mike Vecchione had a cup of tea in the NHL when he was initially signed, and played pretty well, but was never given a chance to prove himself again this year.
More than likely, your depth forwards are going to come from Lehigh Valley next year. However, the Flyers have been missing that scoring winger on the 2nd line that they so desperately need. There are plenty of names out there, but two of them seem more realistic than the others, and I will elaborate.
Let’s nip this one in the bud right away, John Tavares will not be a Flyer next year. Neither will Evander Kane. They’re contracts are just too heavy of a burden to bear for a team that is already paying upwards of 16 million dollars on Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Now that we’ve addressed that, we can get down to business. There are two names that Flyers fans should keep an eye on during free agency. Those names are James Van Riemsdyk, and James Neal. These two players are proven scorers, and could come with a decent price tag. JVR earned 4.25 million last year with Toronto, and could come at that same price tag, if not less, depending on the market. James Neal may come at the same rate after making 5 million dollars last year for the Vegas Golden Knights. There you have two guys who are competent enough to play on a second line with Nolan Patrick and someone like Voracek or Simmonds, and could even help Patrick develop even more than he has already.
The last target that Hextall should focus in on is bringing in a veteran defenseman to help develop the younger blue liners on the team. Don’t get me wrong, the Flyers could be worse off than they are with MacDonald currently, but now with a little extra money in Hextall’s pocket, why not go out and get a guy who will help even more than the existing members of the team?
Two more names that could end up donning the orange and black include Calvin de Haan, formerly of the New York Islanders, and Jack Johnson, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets. De Haan had a decent year with 12 points in 33 games for the Isles, and he could end up coming with a price tag that is quite reasonable, somewhere in the 3-4 million range. Jack Johnson may be a little more expensive than de Haan, but you know what you are getting with Johnson: a 6-1, 227 pound physical defender who will be able to stay at home and protect the net.
This is something that most fans aren’t used to. How many seasons have gone by where Paul Holmgren had little-to-no money to spend on free agents because of the outrageous contracts he dished out? This is a luxury, and should be treated as such. Ideally, players like Neal, JVR, Johnson and de Haan would be great additions, but the primary focus should still be developing the farm. Konecny and Provorov are top priority this off-season, and that means they will get taken care of first. With whatever money is left over, Hextall may decide to add a key piece or two, hopefully putting the Flyers in a better position than they were at the beginning of this past season.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke