Stay or go? Evaluating the Flyers unrestricted free agents: Part 1

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After taking a look at the restricted free agents, it’s time to focus on some of the tougher decisions the Flyers will have to make. They have 10 unrestricted free agents to negotiate with and not a lot of cap space ($7M) at their disposal. Who should the Flyers bring back?

Justin Braun

The addition of Justin Braun turned out to be a huge one for the Philadelphia Flyers. A pair of draft picks secured the services of a veteran defenseman who rebounded from a down-year in 2018. He posted 19 points in 16 fewer games and more importantly added stability on special teams.

There are problems though. He cost the team $3.8M last season and is now 33-years-old. As someone who spent nine of his last ten years with the Sharks, staying in familiar territory could be favorable and he may be willing to take a cheaper deal as a result.

Then, there’s the depth already at the position. Braun played on the third pairing for most of the season. With Sam Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere facing uncertain futures, it may come down to who provides the Flyers with the most bang for their buck and enables that youth conveyor belt to keep pushing.

Braun should be able to secure another respectable deal but the Flyers need to be wary of his age and form which is still steadily at a level below what it was a few years back. They can’t afford to mis-step here and I think Fletcher will want to prioritize the development of younger blueliners.

Verdict: Go

Brian Elliott

Moose has been invaluable to this team during the development of Carter Hart. The duo have built quite a bond and when rotating into the fold, Elliott’s .899 save percentage and 16-7-0 record in 2019 has been more than enough to stop what felt like a never-ending goalie carousel.

Me and Moose, we get along really well. I love playing with him. He’s been a great mentor to me. He’s obviously a veteran goalie in the NHL and has a lot of experience. He’s taught me a lot. We have a lot of fun playing together. I love playing alongside him. I really hope he’s back. I think he definitely wants to come back as well. I love playing alongside of him and we have a great relationship. We have a lot of fun together and he’s taught me so many things. I’m very grateful to play alongside him this year and I hope next year as well. 

The Flyers finally found serenity at the crease and after three years in Philadelphia, it doesn’t make sense to rock the boat. Keeping the 35-year old shouldn’t only be a priority, but a cheap one at that.

Verdict: Stay

Tyler Pitlick

There’s a pattern of former Dallas players struggling in Philadelphia across numerous sports, but Tyler Pitlick has bucked that trend. The 28-year-old was traded for last offseason in his contract year and joined the team in a ‘prove-it’ situation. He did that and so much more.

Pitlick was easily among the team’s most consistent forwards last year, ending the season with 20 points and only his second season with more than 10 assists. He has the speed this Flyers team needs to emulate across the board, as they found out in a playoff heartbreak.

He will likely be looking to secure a multi-year deal, which may open things up for the Flyers, who aren’t exactly blessed with cap space.

The wildcard here though is that Aube-Kubel’s new deal may push him a little higher up the depth chart. If the team are choosing youth and plug-and-play talents, then Pitlick may be allowed to walk. With Joel Farabee’s postseason explosion, the team also have to facilitate his inclusion which could prompt a move to the right.

For depth purposes, Pitlick makes a ton of sense, but something tells me this is a little more up in the air than we seem to think.

Verdict: Stay

Nate Thompson

Thompson is a polarizing player in Philadelphia. The 35-year-old center was another new addition last offseason and he really didn’t make his presence felt until the postseason. But when he popped, it made quite the noise as our man Derrik Bobb recently explained:

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%.)

This decision could well come down to Derek Grant vs Nate Thompson and although the veteran is cheaper and the argument could be made that when afforded the opportunity, he added the grit and toughness needed on that line, especially in the playoffs, it’s Grant that has the higher upside and the player who the team will likely push to bring back.

Verdict: Go

Derek Grant

The 30 year old center was brought in to add some depth and stability to the bottom-six and provided exactly that in a pinch. Grant has become somewhat of a journeyman, but showed more than enough in 2019-20 to make Philadelphia a regular home.

After being traded during a career-year, he was keen not to let that slow him down, Grant added one goal and four assists in seven games with the Flyers. Thompson’s faceoff stats stood out, but Grant’s weren’t exactly average. He won 53.8% of his face-offs with the Flyers, and 51.6% altogether this season

Grant was one of the players who struggled in the postseason, which was a real shame after sparking a string of assists just moments after landing in the City of Brotherly Love. Grant is five years younger than Thompson and brings more offensive upside to the table. If his development continues to trend upwards, this decision is an easy one to make.

Verdict: Stay

Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre