You can only have one. Something your mom might tell you when you’re picking a toy as a child. The same premise applies to Chuck Fletcher’s approach to free agency. According to CapFriendly, the Flyers have just over $7.8 million to plug four spots in the lineup, not counting extra forwards or defensemen. With one forward, two defensemen, and one backup goalie minimum to sign, Chuck Fletcher has his work cut out for him when it comes to free agents.
One decision Fletcher has to make is centered around the bottom-six of the lineup. Deadline acquisitions Nate Thompson and Derek Grant are both unrestricted free agents and are likely to be cheap(er) options. One will likely come cheaper than the other, but that’s the price you pay for points as opposed to soaking up tough minutes. Which is more valuable to the Flyers right now though? Do the Flyers need more scoring, or do they need third/fourth liners who can soak up those tough minutes, and do a good job at it? It’s time to peel back the curtains and make a decision.
What this article aims to do is present the argument for each player. After the arguments are made, a choice will be as well as to who the Flyers should bring back. Plain and simple, easy to follow, let’s get down to business.
The man everyone felt comfortable blaming for the Flyers woes in the Eastern Conference Semifinals has reached the end of his current deal. The 35 year old forward is coming off of a one year, one million dollar contract he signed with the Montreal Canadiens.
With the Flyers, Thompson played seven regular season games and recorded one assist. He was one of seven Flyers with a face-off percentage over 50% (53.7%.) What’s most impressive about his positive face-off percentage is that 78.6% of those draws came in his own zone. Enter the postseason, Thompson netted one goal in 16 games. His lone goal came in the first round robin game against Boston. The one big positive from the playoffs came, you guessed it, in the face-off circle. Thompson won 101 of 168 draws (60.1%.)
Thompson filled his role very well, coming in and knowing he would be a depth piece for a playoff run. With the addition of Derek Grant, it eased the burden on Thompson a bit to perform. He was put on the fourth line to play hard minutes and he did that well.
Thompson’s career is dwindling. He’s 35, on his fifth team in four years, and his stats are on the decline. That doesn’t mean he can’t still contribute, exemplified by his positive face-off numbers. Thompson will end up coming in around the same as his previous contract, if not a shade less. The Flyers will likely take a long, hard look at the prospect of saving some money with Thompson.
Derek Grant came to the Flyers from Anaheim at the trade deadline. He was a terrific add, but was a rental. The 30 year old center was brought in to add some depth and stability to the bottom-six, and he ended up doing just that. Much like Thompson, the Flyers were his fifth stop in four years, and he could have found a more permanent home if Chuck Fletcher can maneuver the stagnant salary cap.
Grant was in the midst of a career year with the Ducks before being traded. Prior to the 2019/20 season, Grant’s highest point total was 24 (12g, 12a.) When all was said and done, Grant eclipsed that total by one point in ten less games this season. In 49 games with Anaheim, Grant tallied 14 goals and six assists. He added one goal and four assists in seven games with the Flyers.
Like Thompson, Grant was a master in the face-off circle. He won 53.8% of his face-offs with the Flyers, and 51.6% altogether this season. His offensive zone starts and defensive zone starts were almost even, but that doesn’t negate the impact he had in the dot. His one goal with the Flyers was a game-winner against the New York Rangers on March first. All in all, Grant seemed to have a bigger impact on the score sheet than Thompson did.
The playoffs didn’t exactly leave a great taste in the mouth of Flyers fans. Grant had one assist in the round robin, coming against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He added one more helper in the series against Montreal, but went scoreless in the series against the New York Islanders, even being scratched for game seven.
This is where things get a little tricky. Grant’s last contract was a one year deal with Anaheim for $700k. It was his biggest since 2015 with Calgary and 2014 with Ottawa. With Grant’s uptick in production this season, he could easily command north of what his most recent deal came in at. It’s tough to gauge just how much more his next contract will be, but another team could easily snag him for more than what Chuck Fletcher is willing to dish out.
Production-wise, Derek Grant is the guy you want over Nate Thompson. If you’re looking for someone to soak up tough minutes and get possession even in their own zone, both Grant & Thompson are more than capable of doing so. In the NHL however, you pay for production. Derek Grant has produced more, and more recently than Nate Thompson, so Grant will be the more expensive option here.
How much more expensive remains to be seen. While Thompson is older and will likely accept a lesser value deal, Grant likely won’t be too much more expensive. It boils down to need. The Flyers have no shortage of quality prospects eager to take the next step. Guys like Morgan Frost are knocking at the door to become regular NHL’ers. If Frost makes the roster, it’s highly unlikely that it will be in a fourth line capacity. If you take Grant over Thompson, that muddies the waters considering he would likely play on the third line.
A great problem to have would be to decide between Frost and Grant, maybe even Nolan Patrick if he’s healthy, for the third line center position. Whoever doesn’t earn the 3C spot ends up on the fourth line, bringing even more depth to the lineup. With players like Raffl and Nicolas Aube-Kubel in tow, there’s no shortage of quality fourth line options to play those hard minutes and add some scoring when needed.
It’s a difficult choice to make, but Derek Grant is the logical one. Grant checks nearly all the boxes that Thompson does, and then some. Even if Nolan Patrick returns or Morgan Frost makes the 2020/21 roster as the 3C, Grant as the 4C is some quality depth. If Chuck Fletcher is going toy shopping during the offseason, he’s pulling Derek Grant off the shelf and bringing him home.
Mandatory Credit – Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire