Following Matt Niskanen’s retirement, the Philadelphia Flyers plummeted. The Flyers were a top ten team in the NHL during 2019-2020 with Niskanen. Without him (and a few other changed pieces,) Philadelphia hardly holds within the top twenty.
Before 2020-2021, Fletcher only made two signings. Erik Gustafsson and Derrick Pouliot made up the two defensemen signed following Niskanen’s departure. Gustafsson wasn’t ever an upgrade on defense, just a powerplay specialist. Pouliot spent the season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The leadership and well-rounded two-way style from Niskanen weren’t close to recovered.
Defensive struggles didn’t end with even strength play. The penalty kill was only a little better than the New Jersey Devils, who were the worst in the league. Combined, the Flyers allowed the most goals on average. A porous defense doesn’t help a struggling rotation of goaltenders. Justin Braun cannot keep up with top pair minutes, which is why a quality free agent is a must next to Provorov.
One of the players on this list is clear, as Philadelphia fans are already slamming their fists for Fletcher to sign him. The other two also are scheduled to be available in free agency.
Ah, yes. The free-agent defenseman that the Philadelphia Flyers fanbase is clamoring over. He’s 27-years-old and a nine-year NHL veteran. Already, he’s closer to a correct replacement next to Ivan Provorov than any other consideration by Chuck Fletcher. His quality of play is crucial, especially with all the question marks flocking the right side of the Flyers defense.
Throughout his career, Dougie Hamilton has been consistent with his quality of play. Comparably, 2020-2021 was an incredible year, better than any of Philadelphia’s defensemen. Adding Hamilton would allow Travis Sanheim to pair with Cam York on the second pair and Philippe Myers to balance Shayne Gostisbehere (or vice versa) on the third pair. Suddenly, the Flyers could some depth on defense, substituting Justin Braun or Robert Hagg as a seventh defenseman (suggesting the Seattle Kraken don’t draft a defenseman.)
During pandemic hockey, Hamilton continues to contribute at an alarming rate. He has two consecutive forty-point seasons from the blue line in shortened seasons. As many have struggled during the pandemic in Philadelphia, Hamilton continues to be dynamite.
Hamilton is streaky, scoring a point in fourteen consecutive games this season. His scoring consistency, not to outshine his defense, was on par with Auston Matthews.
He voiced that he would like to stay with the Minnesota Wild, which sets the scene for a bidding war.
“They’re young, and they’re certainly on the upswing. It’s something that I’d love to be a part of.”Ian Cole; 4/22/21
Ian Cole is 32-years-old, about the same age Matt Niskanen was before he retired. Finding a gauge for his future is vital for Chuck Fletcher if he considers Cole. Ideally, the Philadelphia Flyers would want to sign a player who will stay awhile. A one-year contract isn’t convincing to the fanbase, or the player, for that matter.
Cole wants to find consistency at this stage of his career. When receiving a new deal, he would likely take a pay cut. The veteran leadership he provides, along with two previous Stanley Cups on his resume, sounds a lot like Matt Niskanen.
If Dougie Hamilton doesn’t sign with the Flyers in the 2021 offseason, Cole is a solid alternative. Fletcher can’t lose by signing Cole, who excels at the physical aspects while playing either defensive wing.
Here is a fascinating parlay for a physical defenseman. The Philadelphia Flyers gain a physical, tenacious physical defenseman from the New York Rangers. Brendan Smith will be a free agent in 2021 and is stylistically endearing to Philadelphia. He fought Tom Wilson on the opening faceoff following the incident against Artemi Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich.
Over the last three seasons, Smith has thrown his body into another more than seventy-five times. Good physicality could arrive at a team requiring it if the Flyers make a play for him. His current pricetag at $4.35m is even a slight overpay. Of all the defensemen on the list, I believe Smith is the cheapest, easiest possible available.
This season was a bounceback of sorts for Smith. If Smith trends in the same direction in 2021-2022, this could be a bargain for Fletcher. Philadelphia struggled against the Rangers this season and could be a very accomodating inter-divisional addition.
Alain Vigneault is familiar with Smith. Reuniting with Vigneault, Smith could be the compliment to Ivan Provorov the Flyers get. As Wyatt Wylie continues to develop, Smith is another potential fit in Philadelphia.